New Iraqi president puts focus on mending ties, starting at the top

Iraq's minorities in particular have embraced Fuad Masum as their protector after his crucial role in securing aid to Christians and Yazidis when ISIL attacked.

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Reconciliation has been marked as one of the main tools for political and economic stability in Iraq.

The strategy, initiated and spearheaded by the new president, Fuad Masum, brings together the offices of the speaker of the council of representatives, the prime minister and presidency for talks and negotiations at least once a month.

This is a drastic difference from the previous regime, where the former prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki, and the other offices met only once throughout his second four-year term.

"We need to have dialogue between the different political groups," Mr Masum told The National. "It is vital to gain better understanding and consensus between the different components that make up the Iraqi society."

These monthly meetings have helped to ease relations among the political rivals, encouraged agreements between Erbil in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region to the north and Baghdad, align the war efforts against ISIL and boost humanitarian efforts to help the millions of people displaced in Iraq.

The country’s minorities in particular have embraced Mr Masum as their protector after his crucial role in securing aid to Christians and Yazidis when ISIL attacked.

His direct call for help on August 8 last year after the exodus of Yazidis, a Kurdish ethno-religious group which lived primarily in the Nineveh Province of Iraq, to Mount Sinjar was answered by the US administration, which airdropped aid to the besieged group.

But this plan of reconciliation is not just limited to Iraq’s borders. Mr Masum and the prime minister, Haider Al Abadi, have made official visits to neighbouring countries to open up diplomatic talks and establish Iraq as a partner in the region.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq has been a hotbed for regional conflict. But the strategy is now clear – Iraq will no longer be party to regional hand-wringing. It is keen to rebuff outside influence and work towards a stability that comes as a result of cooperation rather than foreign intervention.

Mr Masum’s latest visits to the GCC – Saudi Arabia last November and Qatar last week – followed widespread public commendation of Iran’s aid to fight off ISIL.

“Saudi Arabia in particular is an extremely important country in the region and as a partner to Iraq,” says Mr Masum. “We want to re-establish our ties with our GCC neighbours as Iraq.”

Over the past few years, Iraq was shunned by the GCC and increasingly became isolated as a result of Mr Al Maliki’s policies towards Arabian Gulf countries. Both Mr Masum and Mr Al Abadi are now working to establish independent ties with both Iran and the GCC.

“We want clear-cut and honest diplomacy,” said Mr Masum. “This is the only way we can strengthen ourselves and rebuild our country – by working with our neighbours and re-establishing dialogue among ourselves.”

It will, however, take time. The political situation is still tense, the fight against ISIL is still ongoing with no end in sight and the country’s economy is still struggling.

But the journey on the road to reconciliation has already started, and there is a determined sense of hope among those in power.

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