November 19, 2007

More Ecumenical Cooperation In Baghdad

The Los Angeles Times reports more good news coming from Iraq, and this time they focus on Baghdad. The ground-up reconciliation started by Sunni sheikhs in Anbar has spread to the capital, and now it includes Shi'ites as well. The Shi'ites have formed their own groups to work with Americans and Iraqi Army soldiers to expel terrorists, but more importantly, they've formed groups with the Sunnis as well (via The Corner):

Despite persistent sectarian tensions in the Iraqi government, war-weary Sunnis and Shiites are joining hands at the local level to protect their communities from militants on both sides, U.S. military officials say.

In the last two months, a U.S.-backed policing movement called Concerned Citizens, launched last year in Sunni-dominated Anbar province under the banner of the Awakening movement, has spread rapidly into the mixed Iraqi heartland.

Of the nearly 70,000 Iraqi men in the Awakening movement, started by Sunni Muslim sheiks who turned their followers against Al Qaeda in Iraq, there are now more in Baghdad and its environs than anywhere else, and a growing number of those are Shiite Muslims. ....

As late as this summer, there were no Shiites in the community policing groups. Today, there are about 15,000 in 24 all-Shiite groups and 18 mixed groups, senior U.S. military officials say. More are joining daily.

One of the potential issues that could arise from this new movement is the formation of new militias. So far, the US military has been able to head that off, although it has not really been much of a problem. The Iraqis have seen enough fighting, especially with the al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorists attempting to ignite a sectarian civil war in 2005 and 2006, and nearly succeeding.

Iraqis remember when they could live with their neighbors, even when they lived in mixed neighborhoods, and they want to return to that state. They resent the foreigners who have attempted to fuel division, and as a result, they have begun to unite in Iraqi nationalism, putting their sectarian identities to a lower priority. They now man checkpoints in their own neighborhoods, knowing who belongs and who doesn't, and keep the AQI infiltration out. Increasingly, they do this in joint patrols as they gain confidence in their cross-sectarian brethren.

This gives a number of secondary benefits, even outside of decreased violence in these areas. It employs a number of young Iraqi men, which also helps keep violence down. Part of the trouble in Iraq has been young men with nothing constructive to do; the new Concerned Citizens slots, which are paid positions, resolves that problem. It also creates a recruitment pool for the Iraqi Army and national and local police. This pool will avoid the earlier problems of mixing Shi'a and Sunni because of their experience in working with each other in this new program.

As they bring security to these neighborhoods, the commerce that existed before will return. That will create its own momentum for security, as the US saw in Anbar, and the need for these Concerned Citizen patrols will decrease -- and the men who man them will find private-sector jobs. This creates stability and reconciliation from the ground up, and establishes a political reality that will organically be reflected in the representative government in Baghdad.

Iraq has turned into a success story. All we need is the political will to continue that success.


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