The Iraqi Social Forum between Two Seasons
Istanbul – February 2016
Despite the extraordinary situation currently gripping Iraq, and the myriad problems facing Iraqi activists, we – proudly – announce that – we were able to achieve a remarkable accomplishment at the level of civil and social society, through the Iraqi Social Forum that took place in Baghdad in October 2015. This is the ever-widening scope of the Iraqi Social Forum itself, embodying a single voice while embracing a diverse and far-reaching civil and social movement within Iraq. With this seed firmly planted, we now rely upon attracting even broader spectrum of Iraqis who believe as we do, that another Iraq is possible.
The involvement of a large number of people in ISF events and activities was a key factor contributing to the success of the two recent seasons of the Forum in September 2013 and October 2015, as well as those events that occurred between them. The ISF meetings were deliberately left open to the public, distinguishing them from the other celebratory events which took place in Iraq at the time to which only select people had access. At the forum anyone interested in its ideas and aims could participate in the sessions it organized, the participants have been discharged from the deflation with working papers and joint activities and future plans.
In its second season, the theme of the Forum was identified as civil peace, and its activities were focused on this general aim. At the same time, progress toward this goal was made only given the concerted work of those individuals and groups who made this broad theme concrete, that is, explored it in light of specific problems and issues now facing Iraq. This focus allowed the Forum to make genuine progress, for it drew on the expertise and specialization of the participants involved in the meetings and activities allowing us to focus on specific and concrete topics, and to identify our social and civic priorities, rather than chasing multiple threads with no unified and established priorities.
The Forum then succeeded in a very important goal: it focused its aims and activities on the issue of civil peace, and identified concrete steps to be taken in order to achieve it.
Just as there were successes, so too were there failures. These failures, as you might imagine, did not come from inertia, but from the exceptional nature of the reality in which we live now in Iraq. The most important factor currently is perhaps the complex government procedures, which contributed to the postponement of the marathon twice, and shut down the Forum on the evening of the second day of the second season (in October 2015, in the Abu Nawas Gardens in Baghdad). The government has also directly impeded the transfer of resources within the Forum itself and prevented groups from getting the equipment and tools they need to carry out their work. That said, I do not deny that we have not achieved all we would have liked as the Secretariat, as volunteers, and as members of the National Committee. But these failures resulted because we are still in the process of learning, of gaining vital experience, and our progress, though perhaps not always as quick as we’d like, is steady and ongoing.
My experience in the Forum in the last two seasons has led to my hope for a common space (though not necessarily a physical one) for Iraqi activists from which to launch initiatives and campaigns, managed by civil society and providing continuous coordination between trade unions, social movements and civil organizations. But this requires the involvement and integration of many Iraqi social and civil groups, joining together activists involved in a range of different particular movements, trade unionists and organizations with various aims and goals that is not a select and homogenous group. But together, with raised awareness and faith, even within our own ranks as actors in the Forum to the idea that the forum and its movement is a social movement and not a network is important and necessary for the civil society.
Sustaining the hard work and continuous communication between the Forum, the various social movements, and the trade unions currently active in Iraq — especially those that are now in the field and who are inspired by the protest movement — is the most important task at hand. It is after all, it is the involvement of these groups in the Forum which will broadcast — loudly and clearly — the enthusiastic spirit of the social struggle that the Forum seeks to ignite. The Forum’s links to these groups must be grounded in concrete tasks, ongoing campaigns and innovative initiatives.
At the moment, a focus on civil peace is the highest aim of the Forum, for only with this in mind we can avoid the potential fragmentation of what should be shared projects and goals, and the resulting destabilization of the movement as a whole. Without civil harmony, the threat of racism and sectarianism is ever-present. Civil peace comes through common activities and integrated campaigns. Initiatives launched by the Forum seek to weave together input from many diverse actors with distinct and particular interests. These campaigns then must be studied and assessed so that we can see clearly what has worked well and what less so.
This broad strategy can therefore support a wide range of activities and aims, it is inclusive of any people or group that seeks a peaceful, unified and just Iraq. Furthermore, the Forum’s reach extends beyond the borders of Iraq, drawing on the experiences of International organizations as well. We ask for outside support and enthusiastically give ours to struggles outside out national boundaries.
*Member of the Iraqi Social Forum Volunteers team.
This paper has been prepared for the strategic meeting between the Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI) and the Iraqi Social Forum.