Local leaders in Iraq's Ninawa Plains are beginning to implement the provisions of a new peaceful co-existence covenant, which aims to heal social divisions that began to fester during the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) era.
Government officials and representatives of the region's various religious and ethnic groups signed the "Peaceful co-existence in Ninawa Plains" covenant during a March 14th conference in the city of Bartella in al-Hamdaniya district.
Ninawa Plains comprises the districts of al-Hamdaniyah, Tal Keif and Shikhan, which are home to a number of diverse communities.
The agreement is intended as a kind of roadmap, to help local leaders build peace and prosperity and tackle the negative legacy of ISIS.
"The peaceful co-existence covenant has specified clear frameworks for putting the region’s affairs back in order," al-Hamdaniya district council head Faisal Iskandar told Diyaruna.
"The assault perpetuated by ISIS elements and their three-year occupation of Ninawa towns, along with the crimes that ensued, have all negatively impacted the local community’s social fabric," he said.
"After the liberation of our cities in November 2016, we launched our efforts to correct the situation and try to solve the problems based on a clear vision, through which we restore cohesion and co-existence," he added.
These efforts attracted interest from the federal government and from local and international organisations, which sent representatives to visit the region and examine conditions on the ground, Iskandar said.
These led to the "Peaceful Co-existence in Ninawa Plains" conference, held under the patronage of Prime Minister Haider al-Abbadi.
During the conference, participants formally signed the eight-provision covenant they formulated together -- the fruit of nearly half a year of meetings.
"They are currently working on completing what they have started and consulting with each other on how to translate the document's decisions on the ground," Iskandar said.
"We have begun to prepare for the establishment of a body we call the Elders Committee, comprising 30 members representing all components of the region," he said.
This committee "will work with the government to put the covenant into practice", he added.
Healing social rifts
The covenant includes provisions that "criminalise sectarianism and racism, renounce violence and hatred, promote the creation of social harmony and guarantee citizens’ rights", Iskandar said.
It calls for the application of the law and judicial decisions and the use of reason in resolving individual abuses and infractions.
It also asks people to abide by the orders of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and the security agencies to maintain security and protect people and property.
"The covenant drew a roadmap that is defined by a realistic approach to tackling the challenges of the region related to the restoration of stability and civil peace," said Duraid Hikmat, an adviser to the governor of Ninawa.
It provides a path for rehabilitating service facilities destroyed by ISIS, he told Diyaruna, though healing social rifts is the main focus.
"To achieve co-existence, we must work to combat extremist ideology and consolidate the culture of acceptance of others and their right to worship and tend to their affairs without restrictions," Hikmat said.
The Ninawa Plains covenant spells out the obligations of all signatories, said al-Hamdaniya local council member Luis Marcos Ayoub, who also serves as vice president of the Hammurabi Human Rights Organisation.
Implementing the covenant requires carefully thought-out mechanisms that take into account the region’s unique demographic makeup and values, he told Diyaruna, noting that "without implementation, the document is worthless".
"Changing the tragic reality created by [ISIS] is a responsibility that falls to everyone," he said, noting that the first step must be to support the families of the group's victims.
It also requires the development of the region's resources, upholding the rule of law and preserving the rights of Iraqi citizens of all affiliations, he added.