National Reconciliation, Security Sector Reform and International Support All Crucial to Stabilising Iraq

25 June 2021

➡️ Watch the discussion

Iraq is at a crossroads and has a chance to put decades of war and upheaval behind it. But it must first achieve a genuine reckoning with its past. An honest appraisal of the crimes that have beset this country would reinforce national reconciliation efforts. The international community should support this process while assisting the Iraqi government as it develops its own democratically accountable security capacities.

The critical challenges that Iraq confronts, including longstanding domestic cleavages, intervention by malign actors like Iran, the ongoing terrorist threat and international efforts to support stabilisation, including the NATO mission in Iraq, were central themes of an online meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Mediterranean and Middle East Special Group (GSM) held on June 24, 2021. 

The discussions began with presentations by former US Ambassador to Iraq, Douglas A. Silliman, and Dr Marsin Alshamary, a Post-Doctoral Fellow with the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institute. Twenty participating parliamentarians from a dozen NATO member states and Algeria also considered the preliminary draft report on the Future of Iraq presented by GSM Rapporteur, Ahmet Berat Conkar (Turkey).  Sonia Krimi (France) chaired the meeting. 

“Every single community in Iraq has been, at some point in its history, a target of oppression, and, at the same time… perpetrators of violence and repression,” Dr Alshamary told the group. Failure to examine this history collectively and heal these divisions imperils Iraqi democracy itself. She suggested that even simple actions like the establishment of national museums and other forms of public education could go far in bringing positive change to Iraq – especially if these were undertaken as part of a broader national reconciliation effort conducted at all levels of society.

Members also considered Iran’s continued efforts to undermine the national government in Baghdad, in part, by cultivating sectarian divisions that are not necessarily aligned with Iraqi traditions. Ambassador Silliman noted that Iran’s intervention “is nothing less than a threat to the very basis of democratic governance in Iraq”. For that reason, Tehran’s continued meddling in Iraqi affairs could very well backfire. Iran’s continued push to recast Iraq’s political and economic institutions in its own image has alienated many segments of Iraqi society – especially young Iraqis who increasingly prize national ambitions over sectarian ones. 

NATO PA President Gerald E. Connolly (United States) welcomed the parliamentarians and guests to the meeting and explained that the United States House of Representatives had recently voted to repeal the Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq thereby ending an open-ended commitment previously passed in very different circumstances. “This decision”, he added, “is not about our support for Iraq – which remains. It is about our Congress’ constitutional responsibility and powers to regulate the deployment and use of military force.” 

In presenting his draft report on Iraq, Ahmet Berat Conkar pointed out that ongoing political violence, economic stagnation, and lack of social reconciliation undermine the Iraqi state while impeding the development of civil society. He noted that, “the security situation inside Iraq’s borders has improved markedly, but this peace is tenuous and fragile.  “We should not ignore the obvious. Iraq continues to face serious threats – both from within the country and outside of it.” Mr Conkar’s report will now revised and considered for adoption at the next GSM Session which will hosted by the Assembly’s Spanish delegation in Barcelona in November.  

The NATO PA Mediterranean and Middle East Special Group (GSM) provides a forum for parliamentarians from NATO countries and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to discuss political and security issues and to enhance cooperation.  The NATO PA was one of the first institutions to engage with the region, starting a dialogue with MENA countries already in the early 1990s. The GSM was launched in 1996 as a formal mechanism to address regional challenges and engage leaders from the region in constructive dialogue.