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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 November 2018

Iraq's rebuilding cannot start without reconciliation

Nancy Lindborg tells The National that Iraq's unresolved grievances remain bare

Nancy Lindborg, president of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) visits The National in Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa / The National
Nancy Lindborg, president of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) visits The National in Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa / The National

The president of the United States Institute of Peace, Nancy Lindborg, who has just visited Iraq, says divisions in the country remain an underlining problem.

And although Iraq's Prime Minister, Haider Al Abadi, announced a military victory against ISIL in December, there must be a focus on reconciliation to bridge inter-sectarian differences, she stressed.

Iraqis are "alert that although the military campaign is over, Daesh and its ideology is still there," Mrs Lindborg told The National in an interview in Abu Dhabi.

"A person told us that Daesh didn't come from a different planet, it came from the grievances that existed in Iraq."

With parliamentary elections scheduled for May, Iraq's politics remain divided along sectarian lines, with Shiite politicians in the main positions of power, with many Sunnis - who have boycotted elections in the past - saying they remain sidelined. The future of the semi-autonomous northern region of Kurdistan also remains unresolved after an unsanctioned referendum on independence last autumn.

For Mrs Lindborg, reconciliation is people's necessary "mechanism for discussing what is the divide in their community without resorting to violence."

The government must ensure that it creates an "inclusive and accountable way of governing the country so it's a government for everyone," she said. Iraq's weakened social fabric along with widespread corruption are a stumbling block to efforts to recover from its three-year conflict with the insurgents.

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Following ISIL’s defeat, Mr Al Abadi started a new effort against corruption and launched a campaign designed to weed out offenders and force other officials to be transparent about their finances.

"Civil society has an important role to play," Mrs Lindborg said, in reference to the country's anti-corruption plan. "We've had a number of encouraging meetings with active members of civil society who see it as their role and responsibility to hold their government accountable."

Last week, Kuwait hosted a conference aimed to raise funds to help rebuild Iraq following its three year battle against ISIL.

Iraqi officials have estimated that almost $23 billion is needed for short-term reconstruction and over $65 billion in the medium term.

"The Kuwait conference with the emphasis on private investment, shines a light on the importance of addressing corruption," Mrs Lindborg added.

Washington has stressed that failure to help Iraq rebuild could unravel its gains against ISIL since economic and social problems create sectarian conflict, generating a political vacuum for extremists to resurface.

"If a state really wants to attract outside investors there needs to be confidence for them that their investments will go towards the agreed upon priorities - this will be a huge factor on the pathway for continuing peace in Iraq," Mrs Lindborg said.

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This issue is of essence especially as the parliamentary elections move nearer.

"We need to have local ownership and a vision that is led by the people and leaders of that country, it can't be imposed from the outside," she said.

Mrs Lindborg's believes she also witnessed a "growing sense of an Iraqi identity" when she visited the country, which can be backed by regional and US support.

The finding was summarised by the institute in a tweet, related to the recent Iraq visit: "A tribal leader told us, we have been bitten by a snake twice now, by which he meant the extremist uprising of Al Qaeda and then ISIL. The Iraqi people are smarter than that. We will vote for the right people this time."