Wednesday, 9 April 2008

The religious initiative behind progress in Iraq

(Ed: This (rather long) article is commended by Andrew White, writing from Baghdad. Personally I always thought the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland were exacerbated and prolonged by the refusal or inability of politicians on this side of the water to understand, admit to or engage with the religious dimension of the situation. Who knows if thirty years could have been ten without this refusal?)

[...] After a slow and painful learning process, U.S. government civil and military authorities in Iraq came to the conclusion that they must engage with religion. Since then, they have been very supportive and began funding the process from the beginning of 2007. What is unique about this reconciliation initiative is that the U.S. military has participated directly in the entire process by working through the religious dynamic. By using the Office of the Command Chaplain, the engagement has military involvement and reports directly back to Commanding General David Patraeus. Relying on a shared identity as religious leaders, the Command Chaplain is able to work with Canon White's FRRME and the senior Iraqi religious leaders to help advise the process in support of U.S. military campaign objectives in Iraq.

The results have been electric. In June 2007 at the inaugural meeting of this process in Baghdad, more than 60 religious and tribal leaders attended from every corner of Iraq, including Baghdad, Basra, Tikrit, Sulimaniyah, Fallujah, and other regions, some traveling several hours with intensive security. Participants varied from across all Iraqi religious divides — Sunni and Shia as well as minority groups such as Christian, Yazidee, and Mandean — in what became the most diverse gathering for a reconciliation initiative in Iraq in over six decades. With transport and access facilitated by the U.S. military, the delegates met in the Al Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad for several days to begin discussions on how to reduce religiously motivated violence in Iraq. The Minister of Human Rights, members of the Iraqi Reconciliation Committee, representatives of the National Security Council of Iraq, and various Iraqi Parliament members attended the sessions. All delegates showed tremendous courage amidst threats of violence and regular power outages on days in which the temperature rarely dropped below 115 degrees Fahrenheit.

On the final day after intensive discussions, the Iraqi Inter-Religious Accords (reprinted at the end of this article) were signed at the Al Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad in the presence of a wide-ranging diplomatic community including the U.S., British, Danish, and Italian ambassadors. The agreement was the first of its kind in many ways and received the personal endorsement of the Prime Minister and his directed signature on the Accords, which were signed by Sayyid Dr. Fadel Al Shara, his personal representative and advisor on religious affairs. It is the first broad-based religious accord to recognize the government of Iraq and call for integration and action by the Iraqi government on all previous and future tribal or religious formal conferences to achieve reconciliation. The Accords are the first religious document to publicly renounce Al Qaeda by name, and to declare the spread of arms and unauthorized weapons as a criminal act. Crucially, the document provides a way ahead for committed public action by religious leaders to denounce violence, deny terrorism, demonstrate support for democratic principles and the constitution, and display national unity. The event was the first religious conference facilitated by a non-governmental organization with the coordinated support of the U.S. Mission-Iraq and the Multi-National Forces-Iraq. Read more

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