The U.S. must acknowledge that its actions put greater stress on an already fragile region
Iraqis must realise that their reconciliation is in their best interest
The fire must be put out before it engulfs the entire region
A ray of hope could be the old idea of an international conference where all the Iraqi parties involved are invited along with representatives of neighbouring countries and the international parties concerned.
Amidst the solemn situation in Iraq, some are beginning to speak of the possibility of an international conference. It would also seem that the U.S.-U.K.-led United Nations Security Council Resolution, adopted on August 7 to expand the U.N. mandate in Iraq, is not convincing and has no means to achieve any substantial change in this war-torn state.
The new U.N. Security Council Resolution only enumerates counselling tasks and assistance to the Iraqi government in matters pertaining to the constitution, politics, elections, the judiciary, humanitarian issues, human rights, and refugees. These are tasks that the U.N. has been involved in since 2004 without any concrete effect or tangible results. This has altered its credibility and that of multilateral action in an already fragile region.
Pre-election climate in U.S.
The Resolution also comes in a pre-electoral climate in the U.S. that is increasingly tense. Unfortunately, the crisis in Iraq is merely seen as an internal issue that is only advantageous for electoral purposes. Perhaps the only new element is that the U.N. can now lead the debate on how best to tackle strategies for national reconciliation and peace-building initiatives. However, these efforts must be coordinated with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Given the various factional differences and conflict of interests within the Maliki administration, it would be very difficult to coordinate with it.
For over a year now the Maliki government, which wanted to become a government of national unity and reconciliation, has unfortunately not been able to convince Iraqis about its agenda or its activities. Iraqis have unanimously rejected all attempts to ensure their political participation while their country finds itself increasingly fragile and fragmented under foreign occupancy.
Worse yet, in the process, Mr. Maliki has lost many of his allies and has turned out to be incompetent, indeed unfit to accomplish any meaningful task.
Thus, this new U.N. mandate will evoke questions relating to its relevancy, its efficacy, and undeniably, its feasibility. The prominent question thus remains: should the U.N. see helping the Iraqi people to re-establish and rebuild their shattered lives after this long and painful agony as the ultimate objective of its mandate of the enforcement of international peace and security, which is defined in the charter? Or should the mission help the current American administration manage the consequences of its errors of a war that, since its beginning, went against one of the foundations of international order — multilateralism?
Aggravating the situation even more are the new international and regional realities in Iraq. On a humanitarian level, a third of Iraqis are now refugees, half of them internally displaced persons as a consequence of sectarian violence or ethnic and religious cleansing. The most reliable statistics reveal that up to half a million civilians have perished thus far.
At another level, political or religious extremism is stronger than ever in Iraq and the region. The Al-Qaeda ideology has become similar to a franchise, whereby groups continue to account for demands without having organisational ties among themselves. Meanwhile, the most realistic studies approximate that close to $20 billion of public funds have been misappropriated since 2003. Many of those responsible are now accustomed to spending more time abroad than in Iraq.
At the regional and international levels, the American administration is beginning to show signs that it has finally understood that it is impossible to have an exclusively American solution to the Iraq dilemma. What is needed much more than the last Security Council resolution is an acknowledgement by the Bush administration that its actions only put greater stress on the fractures in a region that was already fragile and complex.
Perhaps, a ray of hope could be the old idea of an international conference where all the Iraqi parties involved in the conflict are invited, as are the leaders of neighbouring countries and the international parties concerned. The Iraqi people can never be reconciled without the full support of regional and international actors.
For this, everyone must be convinced, particularly all the stakeholders in the country. Foremost are the Iraqi people. They must understand that their reconciliation is in their best interest; they have deeply suffered and have the right to aspire for a better future. Next, the region: adjacent countries must equally understand that it is in their best interests to have a stable and secure Iraq.
Lastly, the international community must put out the Iraqi fire before it sets ablaze the entire region: a region that is important not only for its history, but equally for its stability and utility to the international economy.
To this end, on the assumption that local, regional and international goodwill will unite, nobody knows how much this will require in time and sacrifice. The wounds will remain deep and the agenda of the countries implicated in the conflict will be contradictory.
However, at least one will know that in Iraq, we have potentially come to an end by finally attaining the bottom of the well. The collision course of the different actors will have ceased and these actors will have understood that they must learn again how to live with one another. Otherwise, the term ‘Iraq’ will no longer exist, with the exception of its mention in history books, similar to the significance of Mesopotamia.
(Mokhtar Lamani is IDRC Senior Visiting Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and former Special Representative of the Arab League to Iraq.)
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