Some of the most welcome images coming out of the war against Islamic State (IS) have been pictures of Sunni civilians, especially children, flashing V signs at Iraqi Army soldiers during the ongoing liberation of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.
The soldiers are mainly Shiites yet they have acted with patriotic discipline as they steadily defeat the terrorist group, aid the city’s Sunni residents, and reunite Iraq.
Iraq will need more examples of Shiite-Sunni reconciliation as it prepares for the fall of IS, which took Mosul in 2014. To many Iraqis, the nearly 14 years of sectarian strife triggered by the 2003 US-led invasion have only created openings for the rise of such terrorists. A military defeat of IS (and before it Al Qaeda in 2008) will not be enough. The political vacuum caused by religious competition must be filled with a common identity, one based on shared civic values and a dispersal of power under Iraq’s embrace of democracy.
In recent weeks, the hard work toward reconciliation has picked up as the Army retakes Mosul. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has further united the various militias fighting IS to operate under Army command. And a prominent cleric, Ammar al-Hakim, who heads the largest Shiite parliamentary bloc, is working with Sunni leaders to come up with a “national settlement,” or a power-sharing plan that ensures Iraq’s political unity and respect for minority interests.
Mr. Hakim has also traveled to Iran, Jordan, and other Middle Eastern states to gain their support. The effort is under the watchful eye of the United Nations office in Iraq as well as other foreign diplomats. Meanwhile, the United States and its allies have helped rebuild a professional Iraqi military.
Much still needs to be done to dispel distrust between Sunnis and Shiites, as well as with ethnic Kurds in the north. In the Iraqi parliament, however, old divisions may be breaking down, perhaps enabling compromises on such issues as a fair distribution of oil wealth. The tone of reconciliation has been set by Hakim’s call for an agreement that defies a “win-lose” approach, or what he calls “no victor, no vanquished.”
Even after its defeat in Mosul, IS may still pose a threat by its use of suicide bombers. But such violence can be overcome by political and social reconciliation among Iraqis. By the time of its next elections in 2018, Iraq may even have major political parties that cut across religion divides. That would deserve a victory sign.