By the Secretariat of Iraqi Civil Society Initiative – 19 May 2018

As a part of the project “Paths of Coexistence in Mesopotamia and Middle East”, local forums made up of civil society groups, volunteers and activists have emerged in several Iraqi cities overlooking the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. These forums are united by the founding principles of the Iraqi Social Forum and a common conviction that another Iraq is possible, one that is peaceful, just and united. On 27-28 April 2018, Salman Khairallah a coordinator from the Iraqi Social Forum, went to Wasit to offer a training to young men and women in the city of Kut. This training, the first of its kind in the province of Wasit, attracted volunteers from voluntary teams, organizations and unions in the city. And from it emerged a new forum, “We Are Wasit”, open to all those who want to work for peace. Like the other forums in the project, “We Are Wasit” believes in the importance of teamwork and inclusion.

Volunteer teams participating the training came from several organizations, including: We Have a Fingerprint, We Can!, the Association for Culture and Media, the Friends of the Environment Association, some trade unions, and groups supporting women and children.

The training covered key information about developing, planning and managing campaigns, as well as a small presentation highlighting the objectives and activities of the Iraqi Social Forum and some of their experiences and successes. Volunteers learned how local forums can carry out joint work connecting all the cities involved in the project with the Iraqi Social Forum in Baghdad through different activities in their respective cities (relating to for instance, protection of the environment and cultural heritage). The training then moved on to a discussion about the major challenges and social problems faced by the Wasit community, and which of these civil society might be best able to address. The 3 central issues identified during the training which will shape the immediate future of the work of the We Are Wasit forum are:
1.) managing water resources in the governorate and those areas in the city that lie along the river (Wasit is facing a serious water crisis and is unable to meet local needs).
2.) preserving the cultural heritage and archaeological sites in Wasit (the area is home to many neglected cultural landmarks and archeological sites, including the historic Wasit Gate).
3.) raising awareness about labor laws (workers in the province are vulnerable to exploitation due to the fact that families from villages on the outskirts of the Wasit governorate often move to industrial cities to work in the brick factories there; most often, these workers are unaware of their rights as workers).

By the end of the training, it was agreed that most important campaign at this time would be the one aimed at raising awareness about labor laws, and its actives would be done with the cooperation of trade unions in the city. In addition to this focus, there would be two other campaigns, the first aimed to preserve and protect the heritage sites, specifically Wasit Gate; and the second, to educate farmers to ration their water consumption and to seek to use modern methods to irrigate crops.

The Iraqi Social Forum has now spread its model to many Iraqi cities. This has been the result of the project mentioned above: “Paths of Coexistence in Mesopotamia and Middle East”, implemented by the Iraqi Social Forum in cooperation with the Information Center for Research and Development, Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative and the Italian organization Un Ponte Per… with the support of the Swiss Foundation FAI.