Baghdad / 1-3 October 2015
On the banks of the Tigris River in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, the Iraqi Social Forum convened the activities of its second session to celebrate the ideal that “Another Iraq is Possible”. The Forum adopted “Civil Peace and Coexistence” as the theme for all of this session’s activities and events. The Forum was attended by more than 2,500 activist from inside and outside Iraq. In addition, dozens of international activists followed the Forum through social media and the live streaming of the extended forum.
This second Iraqi Social Forum included more than 170 different civil activities organized with the participation of more than 120 organizations, associations, trade unions and social groups. All the participants faced great challenges as a result of the unstable political and security conditions people in Iraq are currently experiencing. This was compounded by the heat wave and dust storms in Baghdad during the days of the Forum.
The Opening Session: Greetings from the National Committee and International Solidarity
The 1st of October saw the opening events of the Forum in Abu Nawas Gardens, near the statue of Shahrazad and Shahriyar. Duaa Najem, a young activist, opened the Forum activities in the name of the National Committee of the Iraqi Social Forum. She welcomed people to the second session of the Forum specifically noting the difficult conditions the country is experiencing. And she praised the ongoing civil demonstrations advocating for reforms, stressing the seriousness of the situation and the urgent need for initiatives to promote and maintain peaceful coexistence among all Iraqis.
Also at the opening ceremony, words of solidarity from the Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative were presented by Alessia Piva from the Italian NGO, Un Ponte Per… She stressed the unity of international activists with their Iraqi colleagues in improving the country’s conditions and wished them a successful Forum. Anja Wehler, Director of the German Foundation, Friedrich Ebert office of Jordan and Iraq, confirmed the need for openness by international organizations and activists to work with their colleagues in Iraq because it represents a fertile environment for effective civic activities that serve society and contribute to its development. For his part, our Zambian friend, Gershom Kabaso, from the Zambia Social Forum presented the greetings of his colleagues to the Iraqi activists and praised their efforts to challenge difficult circumstances and maintain their love of life. The speeches of the International delegation were concluded with motivational words from our Palestinian friend, the activist, Yousef Habash, who stressed the unity of the Iraqi and Palestinian causes. He remarked on the joint suffering of the people of the two countries from injustice and threats, and conveyed greetings from his colleagues to all the Iraqi people.
The opening ceremony continued with musical performances by youth bands that varied between Western, Iraqi and Arabic songs, spreading an atmosphere of great joy and happiness. On the other side of the gardens, there were a great number booths and exhibitions presenting the activities of many different organizations. There were also many charitable enterprises working to collect donations for IDPs and other people in need.
Maintaining Civil Peace is the Way to Stabilize Iraqi Communities
The Forum activities that followed on the 2nd and the 3rd of October, beginning each day at 10:00 in the morning, included tents and booths organized by civil campaigns, art galleries and photo galleries, on one side of the gardens, while on the other side, participants held workshops and seminars on a variety topics. It would be impossible to describe all the workshops and discussions, but the most important issues addressed during the Forum included: “Civil Peace Initiatives of Both Social and Political Aspects” (organized by the National Committee of the Iraqi Social Forum), “International Solidarity and its Role” (The Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative), “Women and their Presence in Iraqi Drama and Cinema” (Iraqi Women Journalists Forum), “Save the Tigris River from Construction of the Ilisu Dam” (Save the Tigris and Iraqi Marshes Campaign), “The Role of Youth to Achieve Peace” (Tammuz Organization for Social Development), “Social Protests in Iraq” (Information Center for Research and Development), “Civil Peace in Iraq” (Iraqi Council for Peace and Solidarity), “Trade Unions and the Role of the Economy in Civil Peace” (Union of Engineering Professions), “Transparency in Government Spending” (Iraqi Institute for Economic Reform), “Immigration: Disease and Displacement” (Rafidain Women Organization), “The Role of Trade Unions in Social Peace, Freedom, and Social Justice” (International Solidarity Center with the Iraqi Social Forum), “The Deterioration of the Iraqi Economy and its Impact on the Reality of Women” (The Iraqi Women’s Association), and a seminar to introduce the Campaign of Balabel Al-Basrah, along with many others.
The second session of the Forum featured the prominent presence and participation of women and girls throughout all the days and events, reflecting the great confidence Iraqi women place in the Forum and all civil activities. There was also a strong presence of minority groups as a result of the participations of the Azidi Solidarity and Fraternity League, the Assyrian Assembly, and other participants from Erbil.
It is worth mentioning that the booths and exhibitions of the organizations and associations remained on the site, despite worsening security conditions during the Forum’s second day, as a result of the Friday demonstrations in Al-Tahrir Square. These security concerns led to the temporary suspension of Forum activities and the postponement of Baghdad Marathon to the Forum’s third day. Also, a large dust storm struck the venue and ruined many of the Forum tents and booths, which prompted the organizers to “shake the trees” in order to rebuild and restore the site as it was before.
Baghdad Marathon: We Run for Peace in Iraq
On the third day, after the reconstruction of the Forum site, which was destroyed because of the dust storm, workshops, seminars and booths resumed while organizers put the final touches on the launch of the Baghdad Marathon for Peace, in which about 200 runners, including several international activists, participated in either a 5 km race or a 20 km race.
In a truly joyful atmosphere, the runners proceeded down Abu Nawas Street, and at the end of the race, there was the special closing ceremony of the Forum. Awards were given to the winners, and then the ceremony continued with speeches from the international activists. Our Italian colleague Nicola Visconti from the organization Sport against Violence, stressed the importance of establishing this marathon to contribute to the building of a peaceful society that loves freedom. Next, Nadra Bint Ali, an activist from Tunisia affirmed Iraq’s great will to continue and thrive, despite the tragedies that surround them. The closing ceremony also featured a mixture of youth musical bands and artists. The Maestro Karim Wasfy played several pieces on his cello and concluded the ceremony in one unified voice saying: “Another Iraq is Possible”.
At the same time, many events of solidarity with the Iraqi Social Forum were organized by our friends in Italy, and Norway.
Final Recommendations of the National Committee of the ISF on Civil Peace and Coexistence
The National Committee of the ISF confirmed that there are many efforts and initiatives related to promoting peace in Iraq, but they are too often limited to specific, sometimes narrow audiences. There is an urgent need for coordination among these efforts and initiatives, in order to reach a much wider audience and a greater number of people. There is also a need to continue to develop the diversity of efforts and increase the variety of tools for achieving peace.
The following are the most important recommendations in these regards:
- National reconciliation efforts do not yet have truly effective programs that yield results on the ground, therefore, activists in Iraq and from the international community must be jointly involved in developing projects to achieve true reconciliation.
- Political reform is one of the most important means of peace building, and should include reforming service and security institutions, strengthening the “Social Contract”, and promoting the formation of an Iraqi national identity.
- For true reform to occur, there must be efforts to strengthen the popular will, reflecting Iraq’s pluralism, and upholding the rule of law and the Iraqi Constitution, all of which reflects the “Social Contract”.
- Ensure freedom of expression, a free media, and general freedoms.
- Work to apply rules of transitional justice, ensuring fairness for all Iraqis, according to the rule of law and without discrimination, and promote principles of tolerance to overcome current tensions.
Another Iraq is Possible, an Iraq of Peace, Human Rights and Social Justice.
The National Committee of the Iraqi Social Forum