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Iraqi Ambassador: Demands of Reconstruction in Iraq ‘Humongous’

WASHINGTON – Iraqi Ambassador to the United States Fareed Yasseen said Iraq needs help from the international community with a “massive effort in psychological assistance” for survivors of violence in the country.

Yasseen also said the “demands” of reconstruction in Iraq are “humongous.”

“For most Iraqis and certainly for the Iraqi government, Iraq is not Iraq without its minorities. I mean, you know, we’re not North Korea, OK? And their preservation and their active preservation as vibrant participative members of society with their role intact and protected is vital,” Yasseen said during a discussion Tuesday on “Stabilizing Iraq: What is the Future for Minorities?” at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).

“It is recognized by the constitution and this is why we have parliamentarians representing minorities by constitutionally mandated law in Iraq,” he added. “And as we move ahead, we will have to contend, like I said, with the liberation of the rest of Iraq” from ISIS.

Yasseen said the humanitarian and stabilization work is going “remarkably well,” according to the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Iraq.

“We have to complete our stabilization of the liberated areas and then we’ll have to engage in reconstruction, and there the demands are humongous. Nobody, I think, has really come up with a definitive figure, but I look forward to a pledging conference that our Kuwaiti neighbors are planning to hold beginning in 2018 to try to help us do that. And we look beyond that to all our neighbors to chip in because our stability and the well-being of Iraqis is part of the stability of the region,” he said.

“But then beyond that we will have to look at the issues of governance and, for that, the trend of the politics that you see in Iraq and the intentions of the government are quite distinct. First of all, there is a genuine will towards decentralization, not only because it’s the right thing to do but also because it’s the efficient thing to do. Nobody’s governed better than when people govern themselves, and so this is what is in the plan. We intend to have elections at the beginning of next year,” he added.

Yasseen said another issue of “prime importance” for Iraq is “justice” because “people have been wronged.” Yasseen mentioned more work needing to be done to prevent “young Yazidi men from seeking revenge.”

Yazidis have been targeted as apostates by ISIS, with men killed and woman taken as sex slaves. According to a Reuters report in 2015, “Yazidis returning to their northern home area of Sinjar are uncovering one mass grave after another, evidence of Islamic State’s rule from last August until its fighters were driven back there late last year. Now some are striking back. More than a dozen Sunni Arab residents told Reuters that armed groups of Yazidis raided four of their villages in Sinjar two weeks ago, killing at least 21 people. A further 17 went missing.”

“Transitional justice, it’s not an easy thing to do and we’ll need all your help to do that, but beyond that we will need to heal the survivors. I mean, we will need a massive effort in psychological assistance,” Yasseen said. “I think all Iraqis are subject to PTSD, myself included, with varying degrees and I’m a mild form, so this is something that we need your help with.”

Yasseen read suggestions for helping Iraq that he drafted back in May 2003, shortly after the war in Iraq began.

“Iraq needs the help of experienced human rights organizations, medical and legal associations and donor agencies. Independently, Iraq human rights groups must be formed. These organizations should establish human rights centers in all major Iraqi cities. Processes and mechanisms for documentation and for identification of remains should be formulated and implemented. Iraqi lawyers should be trained on how to document and follow up on cases of disappearances,” he said.

Yasseen referred to the mass graves of Iraqis killed for opposing Saddam Hussein’s regime, which were discovered at the beginning of the Iraq war.

“Iraqi judges should be trained on how to prosecute them. Iraqi psychologists and psychiatrists should learn how to counsel survivors. Iraqi doctors should be trained on how to identify human remains and the Iraqi government should be helped to establish the institutional framework for all this to happen, and this can’t happen without a concerted international effort,” he said.

“The sad thing is I wrote this in May 2003 when those mass graves were discovered first and we’re still at point zero, and we have even more pressing cases for this and as opposed to what happened earlier. Now the wound is extremely raw and if it’s not dealt with very quickly it will fester, and God guard us from that.”