|al-Najaf peace initiative|
Those who would dismiss such initiatives forget that only a short time ago, ISIS was a terrorist organization on the verge of defeat by the Nusra Front in Syria. Today it controls much of Syria and northern Iraq. ISIS did not achieve its success by military means alone but was able to use negotiation, providing services to local towns and villages that it controlled, reigning in the power of local warlords (as the Taliban did to gain local support in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s), and lowering the price of gas and food, sometimes forcing bakers and merchants to sell goods cheaply as a form of zakat. ISIS has also provided its fighters with "brides," namely single women who are forced to "marry" them.
In the context of an Iraqi government that is promoting rather than confronting sectarianism, and creating more violence, doing nothing to reign in corruption and enacting policies such as allowing the formation of unregulated Shi'i militias that promotes more hostility and conflict among Shi'a and Sunnis, ISIS' message of unity and stability needs to be offset by a narrative of an inclusive, secular and civil Iraqi nation-state in which all cultures, religions and (non-violent) political perspectives are respected.
Antonio Gramsci's famous distinction between a "war of position" and a "war of maneuver" applies both to ISIS' efforts to impose a form of extremist hegemony on the areas that it has seized and the efforts of Iraqi nationalists and democracy activists to counter that would-be hegemonic message. The attack on Mosul was a "war of maneuver" in which ISIS terrorists went to the barricades on June 9th against an Iraqi army that had no cohesion or esprit de corps. Preceding this attack, there was a long "war of postion" in which ISIS infilitrated Moslawi society and convinced many city resident to support its cause. This support explains in large part how a few thousand ISIS fighters were able to defeat two divisions of the Iraqi army. For Gramsci, the war of position is of greater importance than the war of maneuver because the latter can never succeed without the success of the former.
In the current crisis, Iraqi nationalists face a two-prong "war of position." First, they need to fight against ISIS and convince Iraqis, especially youth, that it is a brutal, terrorist and criminal organization that will deprive those its rules of all their rights and subject them to an oppressive form of authoritarian that will be worse than that of Saddam Husayn's Ba'thist regime. Second, they need to fight the corrupt, autocratic and sectarian regime of Nuri al-Maliki whose policies have brought Iraq to the brink of becoming a failed state.
The two initiatives described below continue an Iraqi tradition that goes back to the Young Turk Revolt of 1908 of fighting dictatorship and sectarian efforts to divide and conquer Iraq by pitting its ethnoconfessional groups against one another (see my Memories of State: Politics, History and Collective Identity in Modern Iraq for more details http://fas-polisci.rutgers.edu/davis/ARTICLES/MEMSTATE/memstate.html ).
The first initiative, "Achieving Civil and Societal Peace to Defeet Terrorism and to Ensure the Construction of a Civil Democratic State," was sent to me by an Iraqi friend, and parallels a similar effort by another group of Iraqis that I published on The New Middle East on June 20th, "The Initiative of Iraqi Intellectuals for the Unity of Iraq" (http://new-middle-east.blogspot.com/2014/06/the-initiative-of-iraqi-intellectuals.html ). This initiative represents an effort by 94 Iraqi civil society organizations to work together to implement the goals listed below.
- In the face of the vicious terrorist onslaught against our country, and the inability of the ruling political blocs to fulfill the constitutional obligations in the aftermath of the recent elections, ninety civil society organizations have signed this declaration to launch the Civil Initiative under the slogan: “Achieving Civil and Societal Peace to Defeat Terrorism and to Ensure the Construction of a Civil Democratic State”.
- Defeating the schemes of evil terrorists requires, at the same time, correcting the course of the political process and dismantling the sectarian-ethnic power-sharing system (nizam al-muhassasat), as well as defending the freedoms of opinion and expression and human rights, ensuring media freedom, respecting ethnic, religious, sectarian and cultural diversity in our society, and combating financial and administrative corruption.
- The Civil Initiative is seeking, through a multifaceted and peaceful movement, to confront the current existential crisis by the following means:
- Organizing meetings with the political forces in order to find a common national platform to extricate Iraq from the crisis.
- Encouraging dialogue between various social strata to contain the tension, and stop sectarian and ethnic agitation, in preparation for convening a broad national conference of all Iraq's political forces that are committed to seeking an end to the crisis.
- Issuing an electronic information bulletin to inform the Iraqi public about the ongoing developments in a transparent manner and without falsification.
- Convening a meeting with representatives of the United Nations to exchange views, develop a support system for the political process in Iraq and preserve the unity of the nation.
- Contacting representatives of the diplomatic corps in Iraq to discuss national affairs and to help contain the crisis and confront terrorism in accordance with international obligations and laws.
- Mobilizing national, regional and international efforts and relief organizations to address the destructive effects of the armed conflict on civilians and the displacement of thousands of families to other areas where they lack the most basic means of sustaining human life.
Like the initiative described above, this effort brings together writers, clerics, professionals, labor union representatives, intellectuals and civil society activists, namely a cross-section of Iraqi society. The effort of this initiative is to explain to the populace of al-Najaf the danger posed by ISIS, to support the Iraqi army in its efforts to defeat ISIS and to promote unity among all Iraqis regardless of sect or ethnicity.
As I learn more details about these two initiatives I will post them to The New Middle East. One thing is clear, however. Most thoughtful and politically conscious Iraqis realize that ISIS cannot be defeated by military means alone. Only a political strategy that invokes Iraqi nationalism to bring Shi'a, Sunnis, Kurds and other confessional groups together in a national unity government can successfully defeat this threat and prevent Iraq from becoming a fragmented and ultimately failed state.