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  • Author: Fanar Haddad
  • Publication Date: 11-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: In Iraq, as elsewhere in the Middle East, the social, political, and technological changes of the 21st century are giving birth to a new sectarian landscape. The three most consequential drivers behind the change in sectarian relations have been the political change in Iraq of 2003; the near simultaneous spread of new media and social networking in the Arab world; and – perhaps as a consequence of the first two – the ongoing search for alternatives to familiar but moribund forms of authoritarianism, as demonstrated most dramatically by the “Arab Spring.” 2003 highlighted the uncomfortable fact that there were multiple, indeed contradictory, visions of what it meant to be an Iraqi and by extension what it meant to be a part of the Arab world. New media, social networking, user-generated websites, and private satellite channels helped to make Iraq's accelerated sectarianization contagious. The mainstreaming of sectarian polemics has increased the relevance of religious, doctrinal, and dogmatic differences in views regarding the sectarian “other,” a particularly dangerous development.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Islam, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Arabia
  • Author: Kathleen Kuehnast, Hodei Sultan, Manal Omar, Steven E. Steiner
  • Publication Date: 11-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: In transitioning countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, women are increasingly finding their rights limited by state and religious leaders. Cultural and national stereotypes can be quickly overcome by the shared backgrounds, accomplishments, obstacles, and aspirations of women in transitioning countries. Women living in countries in transition value opportunities to network with women from other countries in similar situations. Women leaders from Afghanistan and Iraq have genuine concerns about the challenges facing women in the Arab Spring. Their valuable opinions are based on their own experiences of overcoming those challenges. It is essential that women work together and with men to further women's rights. Women must plan for a transition before it happens and have a strategy of work going into the transition process. Laws empowering and protecting women do not work if they are not enforced. International donors need a long-term view of women's programming, as much of the required work will take time. Donors should consider nonurban areas when working with women, and when possible nonelite partners, as these leaders understand the limitations of local conditions. It is possible for women's groups to find common ground with religious leaders.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Democratization, Development, Gender Issues, Islam, Regime Change
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Iraq, Middle East, Arabia
  • Author: Paul Wee
  • Publication Date: 03-2007
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: The interfaith peace movement in the Middle East has foundered recently, a casualty of major geo-political events, among them the war in Iraq, the increase in hostility between Iran and the West, the Israel-Hezbollah war, and the failure of efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In addition, fallout continues from the Danish cartoon controversy and the remarks of Pope Benedict XVI in 2006. These and related factors have contributed to undermine interfaith efforts and limit opportunities for meaningful dialogue and common action.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Islam, War
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Israel
  • Author: Mona Yacoubian
  • Publication Date: 09-2007
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: Parliamentary elections across the Middle East have led to a wave of Islamist victories. Islamist parties typically boast leaders who are young and dynamic, with strong ties to the community; their party organizations brim with energy and ideas, attracting those who seek change. The U.S. government has quietly engaged moderate Islamist parties for several years. U.S. engagement has been most successful where democratic reform is already underway and where the government is genuinely committed to political opening. Other factors include the Islamist parties' political sophistication, popular credibility, and openness to working with U.S. organizations. A successful Islamist engagement strategy both empowers individuals and strengthens institutions to yield greater transparency, more accountability, and shifts toward greater moderation. Of the three cases addressed in this paper—Morocco, Jordan, and Yemen—Morocco appears to hold the greatest promise for U.S. engagement with moderate Islamists. Meanwhile, Jordan and Yemen offer important though limited instances of success. U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East affects the ability of U.S. organizations to promote democracy there. At times, Islamist parties have cut off contact with U.S. democracy promoters to protest specific aspects of U.S. foreign policy, such as the war in Iraq. Ultimately, U.S. engagement of moderate Islamists must be understood within the broader political context of the ideological battle in the Muslim world over the place of Islam in public life. Moderate Islamist parties that reject violence and practice democratic ideals are an important counterweight to Islamist extremism, and their work should be encouraged.
  • Topic: Democratization, Islam, War
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East, Yemen, Jordan, Morocco
  • Author: Babak Rahimi
  • Publication Date: 06-2007
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: Since spring 2003, Sistani has become the preeminent and best financed of the grand ayatollahs remaining in the city of Najaf—and by extension, in Iraq. He remains one of the most powerful figures in Iraq and he brings the Shi'is closer together across the greater Middle East. Since 1997, the Internet has increased the size and the prestige of Sistani's social organization to an astonishing degree on a global basis. Like his father, Sistani is an adherent of a democratic Shi'i tradition that dates back to the Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1906 to 1911 and continued with the Khatami reformist movement (1997–2005). As the general representative of the Hidden Imam, quietist Sistani can remain totally aloof from all political matters, while at times of perceived moral decadence, political corruption, great injustice, or foreign occupation, he can become more active in political affairs by engaging in activities such as consultation, guidance, and even the promotion of sacred norms in public life. Sistani's religious network is increasingly becoming an important source of local governance in southern Iraq, where many Iraqis are hired and at times agree to conduct duties that are usually carried out by the state. Sistani's insistence on recognizing Islam as a fundamental component of the Iraqi constitution is not intended to make Iraq an Islamist state based on juridical sharia strictures, but rather to limit the total secularization of the constitution, which would deprive a Muslim country of an “authentic” national identity based on its Islamic heritage. Sistani could contribute to reducing sectarian tensions by working with other Sunni and Shi'i religious leaders (including tribal leaders) to organize a National Reconciliation Initiative in order to display a united, powerful Sunni-Shi'i front with an emphasis on common Islamic ideals; to express condemnation of anti-Shi'i Wahabi extremism and anti-Sunni Shi'i radicalism; and to form communal solidarity through the ceremonial process of intersectarian group gatherings. Sistani remains a key religious figure who has influence as a peacemaker and mediator among various Shi'i factions and ethnic groups in Basra and Kirkuk that are competing for economic and territorial dominance in the northern and southern regions of the country. As long as the state army is unable to independently fight off the Sunni insurgency and Shi'i militias, it is highly unlikely that Sistani will call for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Sistani is mainly concerned with maintaining stability in the region while rejecting any form of U.S. military adventurism that could seriously endanger the integrity and autonomy of Muslim countries in the greater Middle East. Although Sistani is still a powerful figure within Iraq, his influence has diminished since the bombing of the Shi'i shrine in Samarra in February 2006 and the ensuing increase in Sunni–Shi'i violence. Washington should recognize that until the sectarian warfare subsides, there is no effective way for Sistani to become involved in the Iraqi political process. However, Washington should engage Sistani now, because of the positive role he would have in the democratization of Iraq if the sectarian tensions subside.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Democratization, Islam
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East, Kirkuk, Basra