THE BLOG
11/30/2016 01:11 pm ET Updated Dec 01, 2017

Lessons from Kirkuk for Mosul and Nineveh Province

Lessons from Kirkuk can inform plans to stabilize Mosul and Nineveh province after Mosul is liberated from the Islamic State.

Kirkuk and Nineveh have similar characteristics. Both are made up of diverse ethnic and sectarian groups. Nineveh has four major regions: Mosul City, Tal Afar, Shengal, and the Nineveh Plains.

Mosul is almost entirely Arab with some Chaldean and Assyrian Christians. Tal Afar, just west of Mosul, is Nineveh's second city. Both Sunni and Shiite Turkmen reside in Tal Afar. Adjoining the Turkish and Syrian borders, Shengal is mostly Kurdish with a large population of Yazidis in Sinjar, as well as Sunni and Shiite Shabaks. The Nineveh Plains are sparsely populated by Sunni Arab tribes, dotted with Christian villages such as Tall Kayf, Qaraqosh, and Shikhan.

The battle for Mosul will cause extensive physical damage from improvised explosive devices, booby traps, and street-to-street combat. Mosul's residents are traumatized by occupation and the imposition of brutal sharia law.

Plans for Mosul must be part of a larger plan for Nineveh Province. Delivering services are at the core of post-conflict stabilization. Decentralized government is also critical. Decentralization includes local security and community control over the economy and natural resources.

Mosul requires an urgent infusion of humanitarian assistance, including food, water, and shelter. Temporary camps can accommodate people displaced by the conflict, while local officials work with international agencies to create conditions for the return of those displaced. Even with emergency preparedness, it will be some time until Mosul's inhabitants can return home.

Reconciliation must be a part of the post-conflict plan. To break the cycle of violence, it will be important to prevent reprisals against Sunnis who may have collaborated with ISIS. Actions by the Iraqi Armed Forces and Shiite militias called Al-Hashd Al-Sha'abi must be monitored to prevent revenge-taking. Transitional justice incorporates reconciliation as the basis for social reconstruction.

Services will require money. The UN and donor countries can contribute to emergency relief. However, the Government of Iraq (GOI) will be responsible for ongoing costs of water, electricity, and other energy supplies.

The Iraqi constitution requires the central government to distribute funds to every province based on its population. However, Baghdad has been notoriously slow to disburse funds. Iraq is experiencing a financial crisis. Restarting distributions in territories liberated from ISIS will take time and vetting. Delays risk polarizing Nineveh's Sunnis from the Shiite-dominated central government.

Local councils have a critical role, making decisions about how funds will be spent. Nineveh has districts and sub-districts whose local leaders know what communities require. Financing decisions should be made at the local level, avoiding bureaucratic delays imposed by the provincial council and the Governor.

Transparency will be essential to make sure that funds flowing to local councils are spent in ways they are intended. Audit committees could be established in each community to mitigate corruption and ensure efficiency.

Article 1 of the constitution defines Iraq as "a federal state." Article 122 of the Iraqi constitution provides for power and resource sharing at the local level. In addition, the Iraq Parliament passed the "Decentralization Law" (Law 21 of 2008) further enshrining power-sharing arrangements. Practical steps decentralizing power in Nineveh could be a model for devolving powers in other parts of Iraq.

Decentralization must first and foremost affect the security sector. Local police should be drawn from the communities they serve, reflecting their ethnic and sectarian make-up.

Local governance must have resources to provide basic services such as health care. Supporting local schools is critical to preventing a "lost generation" of youth in Nineveh. Health care and education have been priorities for Kirkuk.

Funds are also needed to stimulate jobs through reconstruction and development. The best way to reduce local tensions is through an economic stimulus that creates jobs at the grass-roots. The Kirkuk authorities regularly consult with directly affected groups to ensure their participation in investment decisions.

The Governor has a critical role to play. The Nineveh Governor should meet regularly with the provincial council and local councils so there is a routine dialogue on conditions and best practices, guiding decisions. As in Kirkuk, dialogue can help diffuse tensions.

Kirkuk is a complex environment with many competing interests. For sure, Kirkuk could have done better, but Kirkuk has done well to promote peace and progress through services for the people and giving local leaders a real voice in decision-making.

The problem with Iraq has always been too much power exercised by the central government. In response, Kirkuk has established informal ties to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Aggregating interests has proven useful in dealing with regional challenges, such as populations flows.

Similarly, Nineveh may want to form a region comprised of other provinces in western Iraq that have a Sunni majority, such as al-Anbar. Forming regions is sanctioned under Article 119 of Iraq's constitution.

Iraq's political reconciliation rests on a commitment to power-sharing and decentralization. Kirkuk's leaders and residents can advise their brothers and sisters from Nineveh, who face the daunting challenge of stabilization in wake of ISIS occupation. US and international experts are also ready to provide useful expertise, in coordination with local partners.

David L. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University's Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He worked on "The Future of Iraq Project" at the State Department's Near Eastern Affairs Bureau during the Bush administration.