Iraq After ISIS: Sunni Leader Says It’s Time to Heal

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Parliament Speaker Saleem al-Jubouri Visits Paul Ryan, USIP

With ISIS on the ropes in Iraq, now is the time to put in place political solutions that will reduce sectarian strife and prevent the resurgence of ISIS or similar groups, according to the speaker of Iraq’s parliament. “Military victory alone is not sufficient to confront terrorism,” said Saleem al-Jubouri, one of the highest-ranking government officials from Iraq’s Sunni Muslim minority. “It needs to be accompanied by political victory that addresses the mistakes that led to the existence of ISIS in the first place.”

Al-Jubouri said Iraq is entering a post-conflict stage that requires winning the hearts of the people and convincing them that peace and stability are possible. 

“We don’t need more weapons or training as much as we need open minds and a willingness to co-exist peacefully and respect diversity,” he said.

“It is essential to protect society from all forms of extremism, rejecting the polarization and the militarization of the street, and achieving civility and justice through good governance. We must not allow sectarian interests and propaganda to win the votes of those who are afraid and concerned about an unknown future.”

Delay for Elections?

Al-Jubouri was in Washington to meet U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan and other American officials as Iraq prepares for elections next May and keeps a wary eye on the increasing regional tensions between the Gulf Arab states and Iran.

He told a public forum at USIP that scheduled parliamentary and provincial elections could be delayed pending “a number of important steps” that include the return of displaced persons, more country-wide stability, and the guarantee of wider participation by Iraqi citizens.

Iraq also will have to settle the status of the Kurdistan region after Kurds voted for independence in a September referendum.

Al-Jubouri said he came to Washington to demonstrate his government’s willingness to confront these challenges, fight extremism, and sustain the security gains made against ISIS. But he stressed that “there is a responsibility by the international community to help us in our efforts to achieve these objectives.”

Disbanding ‘Popular Mobilization Forces’

Another post-ISIS issue Iraq must contend with is the status of the Shia-dominated forces that fought alongside the army to defeat the extremist group. Al-Jubouri repeated the call from other Sunnis for the government to disband the auxiliary units, called the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). 

Iraqi Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi, another Sunni leader, made a similar call this month at USIP, saying the PMF are too heavily connected to Iran, which provides them with weapons and training.

Child Marriage Proposal

During a question-and-answer session, al-Jubouri was asked about a controversial proposal in Iraq to legalize marriage for children as young as nine. The amendment to Iraq’s personal status law would allow religious interpretations by clerics of Muslim sects to govern marriage contracts of people in the same sect. It has been widely condemned by Iraqi and international civil society and women’s groups.

Al-Jubouri said he’s against the proposal and stressed that it’s unlikely to become law. 

“One of the things the media has gotten wrong is that it’s not a bill. Right now, it’s only a suggestion, an idea. There are so many more stages it would need to go through to become a bill and then a law. It won’t find a way to be passed,” he said.

Speaker al-Jubouri’s discussion was the latest in a series of conversations with Iraqi leaders at USIP as they visit Washington to share views on their country’s future and America’s role in helping to assure stability. In recent months, USIP has hosted Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi

In Iraq, USIP works with Iraqi government agencies and non-government groups that promote reconciliation and prevent further violence.