400 Internally Displaced Families Return Home to Tikrit City – Salahaddin Province in Iraq

On June 15, 2015, 400 internally displaced families returned to the city of Tikrit City, Salahaddin Province, after coordinated efforts by the Network of Iraqi Facilitators (NIF) and Sanad for Peacebuilding. Even though the city was retaken from the self-styled Islamic State (also known as Daesh, ISIS or ISIL), people were unable to return due to fear of reprisal, in addition to strict security measures. The families were particularly afraid of revenge by the Popular Mobilization Forces, some of whom are relatives of the victims of the Camp Speicher Massacre, which took place in June 2014 near Tikrit where about 1,700 air-force cadets and soldiers (mostly Shia) were massacred by Daesh (ISIS).

Amid the fallout from the massacre, and supported by the U.S. Institute of Peace, Sanad and the NIF have led a dialogue process between Sunni and Shia tribes to prevent an escalation of tensions and revenge killings. Positive outcomes have already materialized from the intervention. Tribal Sheikhs from Salahaddin and Southern provinces agreed on a set of action items, some of which have already been implemented. For example, tribal leaders from Albu Ajeel and Albu Nassir tribes publically affirmed their non-involvement in the massacre, and committed to help bring to justice any of their tribesmen who may have taken part. The tribal leaders also expressed urgent demands to facilitate the return of internally displaced families to Tikrit after its liberation from Daesh, as many families have been displaced for over a year.

A working group, which consisted of facilitators who lead the Speicher Massacre intervention, and key tribal leaders, investigated the main obstacles that were keeping the displaced families from returning back to Tikrit. The group came to the conclusion that the primary issue holding back the families’ return was indeed the fear of reprisal against them. Many were apprehensive that during the post-liberation period, members of the Popular Mobilization Forces in Tikrit would not welcome the return of displaced families. The Salahaddin tribal sheikhs in the working group held a conference in Al Alam township gathering tribal leaders of Tikrit outskirt’s region, in which the families’ concerns about returning to Tikrit City were echoed by the leaders. The working group, including tribal leaders from southern Iraq, communicated the concerns of the displaced families to the National Security Adviser and Head of Popular Mobilization Body, Mr. Falih al-Fayadh. Mr. al-Fayadh showed his support for the cause, and the tribal leaders of Salahaddin subsequently provided him with the names and information of approximately 400 families who needed to return home. The families’ records were checked by security forces, and all have been cleared of any charges pertaining to the Speicher massacre. Thus, these names were delivered to the Tikrit District Office, and eventually all of the families were able to return to their homes.

Despite the concerns of many, the Popular Mobilization Forces prepared feasts welcoming the returning families, and were pleased as the families arrived in the city. This was considered an accomplishment of the Speicher intervention team, and contributes to preventing potential tensions that might have resulted due to the return of the displaced families during the tenuous post-liberation period. Of particular note was the fact that some members of the PMF, who are related to Camp Speicher victims, welcomed the arriving families to Tikrit.

Introducing Speicher Camp intervention to International Committee Europe, June 19th, 2015

During the visit of Mr. Abdul-aziz Al Jarba, a member of the Network of Iraqi Facilitators (NIF) to the Europe from June 17-June 19 in correspondence to the invitation of PAX organization to discuss the potentials and requirements for the return of internally displaced minorities to their lands in Nineveh plains, Mr. Abdul-aziz introduced the role and activities of the Network of Iraqi Facilitators (NIF) in peacebuilding endeavors in Iraq, and stressed on the role of the network in providing analysis, peacebuilding, and sustainable peaceful coexistence in Nineveh province after liberation, in addition to the efforts of the network in mitigating the tension resulted from Speicher camp massacre that took place in Tikrit city in June, 2014. Several meetings were conducted with ELBO organization; (which is an organization comprised of other institutions that that are specialized in peacebuilding). He also attended a meeting with 20 representatives of the countries in the International Alliance against terrorism, in addition to meeting with Mr. Allen Smith, A member of the European parliament, a meeting in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in Gravenhage city, and a meeting at PAX headquarters in Altrecht city in Netherlands.

During these meetings, it was convenient to discuss the strategy and methodology adopted by the United States Institute of Peace, Network of Iraqi Facilitators, and Sanad for Peacebuilding organization in the mitigating the tension resulted from Speicher Camp massacre, in which about 1700 men were killed, most of which came from areas in southern Iraq by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The outcome of this project so far has been discussed, most importantly discussing the phases of the project according to the methodology, where each phase included analytic and investigative procedures. A mechanism for communication and outreach between the sides of the conflict was established, as well as the mechanisms of integrating the support groups as in figures and parliamentary and executive institutions, adding to that the participation of Religious Supreme Authority in Iraq as a supportive body to the intervention and mitigation process. Some of the previously mentioned accomplishments were the return of a large percentage of the internally displace families to Tikrit city after it had been liberated from ISIS through facilitating dialogues and coordinating between related official institutions and the participants of Speicher intervention project, represented by tribal leaders from central-southern Iraq and tribal leaders from Salah Al Din Province.

It is noteworthy that a significant deal of attention was paid to the methodology during the meetings, in which they it was requested to have the discussion on a broader level in order to make use of this experience, and examining the possibility of replicability in other areas in Iraq, it was also decided to appoint future meetings on this subject.

Important outcomes of the meetings:

  1. Informing the Dutch government and the EU about the role of, USIP, NIF, and Sanad for peacebuilding in conflict management in Iraq, especially what is related to Speicher intervention.
  2. Drawing the attention of effective international institutions (e.g. The European Union, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs) by the mechanisms used by USIP, Sanad organization, and NIF.
  3. Advocacy was found highly important for the workgroup, especially that the international community has a big role in peacebuilding process in Iraq as a step towards national reconciliation.

Nineveh Dialogue Intervention – Religious Rituals Overlap between Shebak and Christians in Bartilla, January 5th, 2014

The religious rituals overlap in identified by the Dialogue Committee as one of the elements causing the conflict between the two components, mainly in Bartilla. This is because at the same time the Shebak are mourning the memorial of Ashora event, the Christians are celebrating the Christmas days. This was fed by the political power in the area that the Shiite parties financially supporting the mourning rituals that were reaching to the Christian zone.

For many years, since 2003, the Christians never had the freedom and capacity to celebrate as they used to. This has resulted in many accidents on yearly basis as they equally feel, that the other is not respecting their religious occasions, and eventually conflict is arising in the community.

Since the initiative of Nineveh Dialogue started in 2012, the team of facilitators made a significant progress by developing communication with the ruling parties in Hamdaniya/ Bartilla such as the PDK, PUK, Supreme Council, Badir Brigade and Christian Assembly in order to prepare the ground for free and peaceful religious rituals by both components.

During 2013, nuber of critical events occurred, most significantly, the Bartilla Friends Conference (24-25 Nov, 2013) which was hosted by Christians and sponsored by KRG. This conference called for anti- demographic change in Ninewa Valley and accused aggressively the movement of Shebak into the Christian zone in Hamdaniya. This event, among others, has helped developing a potential for conflict between the two components as the Shebak leadership responded with the same level of tension. While this occurred very close to the religious overlap, the team of facilitators through the dialogue mechanisms they invested in this project, raised the level of communication and interaction between the two components in order to contain the tension in the area, especially that the event of Ashora and the 40th anniversary of Imam Hussein will take place the same day the Christian will celebrate the Christmas (25th of Dec, 2013). On this day, members from the dialogue committee paid a visist to the church and congratulated the Christians and expressed the genuine will to sustain the peaceful co-existence, especially during the religious overlapped occasions. Again, members of the dialogue committee as well as the communication committee mentioned that for the second year, the Christmas and Ashora events pass peacefully without any accidents.

In the conclusion, the Network of Iraqi Facilitators adopted a realistic approach in designing the process for intervention by developing a community level dialogue mechanisms (Dialogue and Communication Committees) that helped remarkably in sustaining the peaceful overlap during the religious occasions in Bartilla. Furthermore, the identification of stakeholders and the initiation of develop dialogue with them had proved success. This was represented by the number of meetings and dialogues with the key personnel in different political parties in the taking control of Ninewa Plain. It was anticipated that in 2014 onward, the overlap will be distant and there will be no potential for conflict between Shebak and Christians.

Local religious and political figures both of Shebak and Christians declaring a new start of positive relations and co-existence, December 25th, 2013

Basic Conflict Management Training in Tunis, October 2012

A selected group of five NIF members conducted a three days Basic Conflict Management Training in Tunis (19-21 October 2012).

Some Tunisians participants were cautious about the Iraqi team’s capabilities to deliver such material, but it soon proved the opposite. The Iraqi team spent long hours at night before the training starts, discussing with 37 Tunisian participants general issues in the Arab landscape. These side discussions helped in developing the confidence in the Tunisians that these trainers have so much to learn from.

Right from the first day of training, it was noticeable the participants were hundred percent engaged through their questions, notes, and discussion. The participants’ engagement was even more effective when the trainers went through the negotiation and mediation parts of the training material. Some of the participants are lawyers, who received intensive training on these two specific topics in Europe, and elsewhere, yet they said “The trainers have practiced the skills and tools of negotiation and mediation themselves. They have enriched out knowledge with more than stagnant theories, which made this training significantly different”.

Immediately after the Iraqi team returned home, the Tunisian Lawyers Syndicate requested from the NIF to conduct a training course in BCMT for the members of the Syndicate. Other participants were exploring the chances to get NIF members to Tunis as speakers and/or trainers in some events they are planning to set up in the future.

Another success indicator is marked out when some participants set up a meeting for the NIF team with the Tunisian Minister for the National Assembly Affairs, Mr. Tahir Yahiya. Mr. Yahiya expressed his gratitude for the Iraqi efforts to supporting the Tunisian civil society, as well as his direct support to the NIF to continue their efforts in Tunis.

This event in Tunis is a proven success for the NIF when they are given the chance to transfer their experience and knowledge to other communities.

“The trainers have practiced the skills and tools of negotiation and mediation themselves. They have enriched our knowledge with more than stagnant theories, which made this training significantly different”.

– Haifa Abdul-Aziz, Lawyer