The research conducted by the Open Think Tank (OTT) as part of the PAVE project in Iraq aimed to examine the relationship between state and religious actors and their impact on community vulnerability or resilience to violent extremism in the country. Specifically, the study sought to understand the extent to which the rise of violent extremism is connected to the absence or dysfunction of state institutions or inactive and mistrusted religious institutions. The research focused on two districts in Nineveh Province, Hamdaniyyah and Tel Afar, which experienced the rule of the Islamic State and the devastating consequences of violent extremism.
Through 59 in-depth face-to-face interviews with various stakeholders, including civil society members, political representatives, grassroots communities, and religious representatives, the research gathered data on the influence of religious institutions on countering and preventing violent extremism (C/PVE) initiatives. The study also collected socio-demographic indicators to ensure the representativeness of the sampled populations, including gender and ethno-religious groups.
The PAVE research in Iraq addresses the gaps in existing literature, which often provides descriptive accounts of C/PVE policies without considering the involvement and impact of different stakeholders, particularly religious actors. The research analyzes the actions, legitimacy, and interaction between religious and political spheres within the context of Iraq's post-2003 state apparatus. The hybrid political and legal system in Iraq since the removal of Saddam Hussein has created a shared space of governance and challenged traditional dichotomies of formal-informal and secular-religious institutions.
Contrary to the dominant narrative that attributes violent extremism in Iraq solely to the collapse of the state and sectarian politics, the research suggests a mutually reinforcing relationship between violent extremism and the sustainability of the Iraqi political structures. The absence of a functioning state has hindered social transformation and contributed to the grievances and desire for radical change that fuel violent extremism. However, preventing violent extremism without the involvement of the state is impossible, emphasizing the need for an innovative and inclusive approach to address the complex network of stakeholders with diverse backgrounds and objectives.
The research findings highlight the contested legitimacy of religious institutions in Nineveh Province, the limited interactions between religious institutions, political systems, and civil society, and the fragmentation of the state apparatus reflected in uncoordinated C/PVE strategies. Additionally, the study emphasizes the interplay and competition between different forms of resilience in Iraq, where the resilience of the state or political system undermines community resilience to violent extremism.
Based on the research findings, several recommendations are provided for the government, civil society, and the international community. These recommendations include efforts to rehabilitate liberated areas, prioritize psychological reconstruction alongside material reconstruction, support women's engagement in public life, establish local peace committees, reform the legal framework, encourage interfaith dialogue and cooperation, and promote inclusive development policies.
In conclusion, the PAVE research in Iraq offers insights into the interplay between state and religious actors in relation to violent extremism and emphasizes the need for an inclusive and holistic approach that addresses the complexities of the Iraqi context. The findings provide valuable recommendations for various stakeholders to foster resilience, prevent violent extremism, and promote sustainable development in Iraq.