Peace Programme for Iraq and Syria: The Design Sketch

As I was putting together the design components for the follow-up post to the Programme’s introduction (Peace Programme for Iraq and Syria: An Outline), the news about terror attacks in Brussels shocked the world—once again reminding of the peace initiative’s urgency and importance. In this week’s edition, The Economist concluded its respective article in the following way: ‘The best protection would be peace in the Middle East — a distant dream, alas. The coalition has made progress against IS in its caliphate, which is shrinking and loosing people. But eradicating it needs Iraqi troops (as yet unprepared) and ground forces in Syria (as yet non-existent).’ Fully agree. What I don’t accept, however, is submission: to me, all this is not a source of frustration but the call for action. It will obviously take years—so be it; then let’s don’t waste time and get started. So here we go–


Two threats v. Two objectives

Today (and for quite some time already), the sovereign states of Iraq and Syria each finds itself confronted with two existential threats. These threats endanger their territorial integrity and political independence (in intelligence, each would qualify as strategic surprise, the one where wars belong). They are closely related but vary independently; together they represent an unprecedented challenge—to these states, their people, as well to the neighbours and the broader region. Moreover, this tandem increasingly poses a global security threat which does not limit itself to terrorist attacks alone, but puts enormous social, economic, and psychological burden on everyone, from individuals to the nations.

The goal of this Programme therefore is two establish a long-lasting sustainable peace in Iraq and Syria by means of eliminating both threats—that is, defeating the militant Islamists and ending the civil wars on the territory of these two states. Thus, the Programme rests on two pillars: military and political.

Below I present the Programme’s functional architecture, which top to bottom consists of pillars, blocks, components, and sub-components. I made an effort to ensure that the Programme’s design content is as concise and focused on the task at hand as possible (meaning that, driven by ‘less is more’ virtue I tried, to the best of my skills, to create a winning combination with a minimum of ingredients). Still, designing innovative programmes in complex organisational settings is always a challenge, and peer reviews and constructive discussions will be needed (and here I expect your contribution) before the Programme (or any of its elements) faces the ultimate test of and the adjustments from the real life implementation itself. As the management researchers Ethiraj and Levinthal have put it: ‘Designers engage in acts of creation, but unlike a divine creator, they lack omniscience. Choices of modules are guesses about appropriate decompositions—decompositions that even in reality are only partial.’ [1]

Military pillar

The objective of military pillar is to defeat the ISIL and other Islamist militants on the territory of Iraq and Syria by means of military engagement (e.g. to free them from the invasion) and to build the security capacity sufficient to maintaining the peace afterwards. With that said, it does not set an objective of defeating ISIL or al-Qaeda altogether, but aims at contributing to this ultimate goal of international community. Putting the management of this pillar under the regional command (as presented in the previous post) also serves the purpose of better coordinating the military operations across the MENA region (especially due to the relocation to other territories of the militants’ headquarters and major operational units; take for example, the recent US airstrikes at al-Qaeda in Arabic Peninsula training camps in Yemen, or possible future similar engagements in Libya and Tunisia).

This pillar’s results will be delivered through two building blocks (one per each objective): military operations and security capacity building. The first block brings together direct military engagement measures of two components: Land operations and Air operations. The second block consists of three components: Security Sector Reform (SSR); Intelligence systems; and Resource supply. Figure 5 illustrates this hierarchy.

PeaceProgram_Figure 5_PolicyLabs

Some sub-components are indicative at this stage. The following is proposed–

Military operations

1.1 Military operations: Land operations

— It is functionally grouped around four permanent sub-components:

* manoeuvre tasks (by air and mechanised infantry);

* special operations (by SOF);

* combat support and logistics (artillery, close air support, supply, reconnaissance, transportation, maintenance, medical support); and

* reconstruction tasks (by engineer units).

1.2 Military operations: Air operations

— Its function is performed through four permanent sub-components (through Main Operating Bases):

* air strikes (by fighter jets and attack helicopters);

* targeted attacks (by drones);

* transportation (by transport aircrafts and helicopters); and

* support (air traffic control, maintenance, repair, logistics).

Security capacity building

2.1 Security capacity building: Security Sector Reform

— It is delivered through five permanent sub-components (delivered, depending on the task, either in-country or at the nearest NATO base, e.g. in Turkey):

* institutional framework for providing security;

* strengthening the governance of security institutions;

* building capable and professional security forces;

* civic-military cooperation;

* democratic oversight of security institutions.

2.2 Security capacity building: Intelligence co-operation

— Is functionally limited to two permanent sub-components (delivered, depending on the task, either in-country or in the region, e.g. in Jordan):

* inter-agency co-operation (intelligence sharing with the allies and the host governments;

* technical capacity (setting information gathering/ surveillance systems and respective training on using the systems and the analytical skills).

2.3 Security capacity building: Supply of military equipment and arms

— This is included here merely for the sake of having this function along with others to complete the picture (given that this task is being conducted normally on bilateral basis). However, in the face of all other financial difficulties of the recipient countries, it is advisable to do so through flexible schemes, to make the deals affordable (this is where international lenders could step in to provide loans).

Political pillar

The objective of political pillar is to address the root causes of political instability and, consequently, Islamist militancy in Iraq and Syria through both soft and technical means of international assistance.

This pillar’s objective will be accomplished as a result of concerted efforts of politicians, diplomats, and intelligence and development specialists. Assistance here can be delivered directly, on bilateral basis by national (and supra-national) governments, or through multilateral coalitions and implementation consortiums, as well as international organisations (such as UN agencies).

The political pillar’s results will be delivered through three building blocks: Mediation (delivered through diplomatic efforts and political leveraging), Governance and Human security (both delivered through project-based technical assistance of bilateral and specialised international development agencies and their implementing partners). Figure 6 illustrates this pillar’s hierarchy.

PeaceProgram_Figure 6_PolicyLabs


The first block, Mediation, consists of two components: Political dialogue and Strategic communications. The co-ordination offices for this Programme block will be co-located with the office of the UN Special Envoy in Syria and an equivalent office in Iraq. There is no need for an extensive permanent presence of technical implementers, as its activities can be conducted through diplomatic representations, ongoing collaboration through the established channels, along with temporary working groups and task forces established on ad hoc basis.

3.1 Mediation: Political dialogue

The function of the former component is to facilitate the talks between the warring political actors, make them make reasonable concessions and agree on mutually acceptable solutions, and broker formal and informal agreements to stop the civil war and to overcome the immediate bottlenecks in the political processes of state-building.

— Consists of three permanent sub-components:

* coalition building (with the participation of key regional and global actors, with an aim of  confronting and effectively discouraging the states and individual institutional actors from supporting, organisationally or financially, the spill-over of the extremist ideologies);

* consensus building (including (a) championing and facilitating an inclusive and constructive negotiation process—before and after the respective peace deals; and (b) brokering framework agreements—for global coalitions and local political processes alike);

* legal service (providing legal assistance and advice for the constitution-building and legislative processes).

3.2 Mediation: Strategic communications

The functional role of Strategic communications component is outward oriented—it primarily aims at effectively countering the terrorist propaganda, in communicating with primary audiences in the region via broad range of mediums—all in all to limit the militant Islamists’ influence, diminish the appeal of their key messages as fraudulent, and prevent spreading further the extremist views onto the young generation.

The rationale behind setting this component as distinct part of the Programme rests on the notion that terrorist attacks inspired and prepared from the Islamist militants’ centres in the MENA region serve primarily as propaganda activity. It is not enough to counter them by means of law enforcement; they must be prevented and confronted professionally, through a set of activities among which the strategic communications play the central role. [* I have addressed this in one of the previous posts: The Perils of Security Policy-Making in 21st Century. Planning to elaborate on the topic in one of the forthcoming posts.]

— Its tasks are delivered through four permanent sub-components:

* counter-intelligence (including but not limited to surveillance, cyber security, and content related measures);

* advocacy (promotion of tolerance, shared values and common future; especially among the primary audiences of teenagers and young adults);

* vigilance (raising public awareness and managing reputational effects);

* public image (building of the host governments’ communication capacity—internally and with external audiences, particularly citizens and their interest groups).


Governance function is imperative to long-lasting solution, for without effective and legitimate governments there won’t be any meaningful and sustainable peace established, thus feeding further into mistrust and violent contestation and leaving the door wide open for various extremist groups to enter the game. This concerns not only the central governments in Iraq and Syria (and other countries in the region, to this matter), but very much those at the local level of authority.

The Governance block consists of three components: Public administration; Local authorities; and Justice.

4.1 Governance: Public administration

The role of Public administration component in the Programme is to ensure that the government is capable of exercising its authority effectively in terms of making rational decisions and enabling the financial stability. This will be achieved through a limited number of targeted interventions at the centre of government.

— Its functional tasks are grouped into three sub-components:

* public policy (strengthening the government central executive office’s decision making and policy co-ordination capacity—vertically and horizontally, as well as between the executive and legislative);

* public finance (maintaining fiscal discipline and transparent public procurement procedures, to ensure the realistically planned and stable revenue collection, transparent expenditure, and justified redistribution measures);

* economic security (enhancing the planning and execution capacity of revenue generating ministries—to ease the burden and bring in investment; for example, introducing regulations for energy efficiency; allowing private ownership in the electricity system; privatising the state-owned enterprises; or using advanced methods of oil reservoir assessment/exploitation).

4.2 Governance: Local authorities

Decentralised governance* is a very important, albeit nuanced, aspect of power in the Middle East, considering the historically fragmented nature of the region’s political landscape (divided along ethnic, religious, sectarian, tribal lines). I believe that finding the right balance in the distribution of power (and the control over resources) between the centre and lower levels of authority is essential to establishing peace in the region. [*I mean administrative decentralisation but use it in general terms here—whichever type is applied and at whatever administrative level (federal entity, region, or province) it is exercised]

— Its functional tasks are grouped into three sub-components:

* policy instrument (decentralisation legislative instruments, strategies, and implementation mechanisms; including funding facilities, external technical assistance etc.);

* capacity-building (in strategic planning and essentially in core horizontal systems, such as human resource, public finance, communications);

* development (instruments to enable participatory development planning and transparent expenditure aimed at economic growth and social infrastructure—such as local economic development [LED], natural resource management [especially with regards to conflict-sensitive land allocation or resource distribution]).

4.3 Governance: Justice

This component is closely related to the security sector reform, but the practice has shown that is better placed separately. Its functional role in the Programme is to ensure that citizen’s personal safety and security are guaranteed, that they have equal access to justice, and that societal conflicts are resolved peacefully. It falls under the broader theme of the rule of law; however, considering the narrow focus of this Programme, the component will aim at limited number of outcomes, such as ensuring independence of courts, building capacity of judges, high professionalism of the police, effectiveness of community policing and their adequate resources, and setting the mechanisms for peaceful resolution of conflicts.

— Its functional tasks are delivered through two sub-components:

* judiciary (institutional and regulatory framework, capacity; at a later stage may also include prison reform elements, especially with a focus on juvenile delinquency and detention centres);

* policing (with particular focus on the accountability, professional norms and integrity).

Human security

The Human security component aims at addressing the humanitarian crisis in both countries that resulted from the war, destruction and atrocities. Its quick and effective implementation has a bearing not only on the countries in question, but also on their neighbours and the European countries.

This component has two immediate tasks, or sub-components:

5.1 Human security: crisis management

* in-country camp management (dealing with refugees and internally displaced persons within the country);

* co-ordination (information sharing and other necessary measures related to ensuring the concerted effort between the country authorities, international organisations, and the authorities in the recipient countries).

The preconditions for moving beyond these tasks are based on the maintenance of ceasefire, liberation of territories occupied by ISIL, and the establishment of peace and order. And even then, it will take quite a long time to rehabilitate the areas affected by war, rebuild the physical infrastructure, transport and communication and supply networks—to ensure that, once returned, people have a minimum standards of living provided. Perhaps, this would be better addressed by other initiatives/programmes (when the time comes).

However, for those who would be negotiating the peace and devising the strategies and mechanisms for the peace implementation in both Syria and Iraq, it makes sense to consider the following issues, along with the reconstruction works:

* mechanisms for return and reintegration of refugees and displaced people;

* reconciliation process;

* repossession of property;

* social security, especially of vulnerable groups of population such as women, youth and children, and the disabled; and the last but the least

* the rights of minorities (whether ethnic, religious, or sectarian).

All and each of the above have direct impact on the future peace prospects in these countries. Moreover, the success with their implementation would (in tandem with the guaranteed peace and security) serve to encourage the sustainable return of refugees from Europe and the neighbouring countries.

Post scriptum, for now

Certain things were left aside when producing the outline of the proposed Peace Programme. One of them is decision-making. The operational method of this Programme, which is concentrated at tactical level and delivered through accomplishing a dynamic series of ‘limited tasks’ requires new forms of organisational setting (such as flexible organisational structure; decentralised management; small, mobile, and specialised projects; more collaboration through such vehicles as hybrid organisations, temporary working groups and task forces). The dynamic nature of such an operational environment makes the old methods of centralised decision-making that is reliant upon massive databases and sophisticated computational techniques less effective, if not irrelevant at times. Simple decision-making tress shall be designed and standardised, to enable the middle level managers taking effective decisions under the constraints of limited time and knowledge. Combined, those tools (such as probabilistic methods of choice) would equip the Programme management with heuristics for qualitative estimation and categorisation—not very precise quantitatively, but still effective enough to make decisions in the real-life situations.

Another subject missing herein is monitoring and evaluation. It, too, deserves a special treatment and shall be designed in such a way that does not turn the M&E system into an expensive, time and effort consuming (and as frequently the case, self-serving) industry, but instead makes it a supplier of simple, useful, and readily available data and information, to feed into decision making methods described above. Therefore the decision-making method should specify which type of data the Programme management requires, and not the other way around. One approach is to explore into direction which offer such methods as outcome mapping (OM). Another is to look at the interfaces between the outputs to find out how the context reacts to the Programme interventions and the interplay between its project tasks; and to do so not only in quantitative terms but (and for the analysis and evaluation, increasingly in categorical terms) with an emphasis on values and interests of beneficiaries and stakeholders. This should help keeping the M&E system relevant and up to the task at hand.

That is it, for the time being. Your comments, ideas, recommendations are welcome as ever!


[1] S. K. Ethiraj and D .A. Levinthal, ‘Modularity and innovation in complex systems’, Management Sciences, 50/2 (2004), pp. 159-173 at p.172


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