In the context of rebuilding Iraq after ISIS, The Shaikh Group won a major multi-year commitment in late 2019 from the German

Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), to convene dialogues among a broad, politically diverse spectrum of Iraqi actors to address the roots of conflict in the country today, including the gap between authorities (central or local) and citizens, and between de facto rulers and the formal bureaucracy. The Iraqi-led initiative

will be based on the idea that only a bottom-up approach can bring the peripheries and marginalised populations into a political process and sustain peace and prosperity for all Iraqis. Relevant dialogues will be implemented by Iraqis, and inside Iraq, to the greatest extent possible, which marks an important innovation for The Shaikh Group.

The process will go beyond past Track I and II interventions, by 1) facilitating conversations across both horizontal (cross ethno-sectarian) and vertical (class-based) divides and 2) focusing in particular on the most underrepresented segments of society, including the economically underprivileged, youth, and women. The dialogues will build political understandings on core issues that threaten the fragile peace, such as lack of service provision, unemployment and ineffective governance. Vast parts of the Iraqi population do not feel that their governments (national or local) meet their basic needs or legitimately claim to speak on their behalf. As long as this disconnect between local constituencies and their representatives persists, the potential for further conflict remains.

The TSG project views the Iraqi state as composed of a multi- layered relationship between the executive, formal bureaucracy, de facto authorities, and society. The project will convene dialogues  aimed at strengthening the connective tissue among these different entities. There are actors within each of these groups willing to engage on such a basis, in return for a greater stake in the state-building process. Dialogue and network building initiatives within this project will work toward promoting consensus-driven, inclusive approaches to reconstruction and governance/economic reform, while also providing opportunities and lessons for institutional capacity-building and technical assistance at the local level.

The dialogues will focus on four axes that represent particular sources of tension with the central Iraqi government:

  1. Basra
  2. Baghdad (and periphery)
  3. Recently-liberated areas/Mosul
  4. KRG

The project will also aim to inform the approach of the wider international and donor community, bringing together local civil society, political actors, armed groups, and the private sector to develop consensus-driven proposals for shaping reconstruction and stabilisation efforts. By involving regional and international actors, it will aim to encourage a more coherent and sustainable approach to those efforts, referencing the model of “stability pacts” applied in other post-conflict settings, such as the Balkans.

For the purpose of this project, TSG is building a dedicated team to be led by Renad Mansour (Director of the Iraq Initiative at Chatham House), which will include both country and thematic experts, with significant experience in post-conflict stabilisation and reconstructionand with a track record of deep and longstanding engagement with the relevant local actors and networks inside Iraq.

This project, which will be implemented starting in the summer of 2020, is especially relevant today, as Iraq faces persistent challenges in delivering functional governance to address citizens’ everyday needs, and overcoming the political paralysis that has been compounded by escalating US-Iranian tensions after the killing of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.