Friday, October 26, 2012
Mission Possible: Saving the Craddle of Civilization
After the lecture at Basra University-Marine Science Center and the peace run, things were pointing in the right direction. Being in Basra was historical, and after months of preparations, it was actually happening. Hundreds of Iraqis were gathered together, talking about non-violence and the issues currently challenging civil society to move into a democratic and participatory Iraq.
It was a mixture of feelings; I was a bit nervous but happy and excited. For the first time I was going to talk to Iraqis about the water issue and the Ilisu dam. Not that they didn’t know about it, but that we were going to be developing strategies to stop the dam. Sheikhs from the marshes in the provinces of Thiqar and Amara had come to Basra to participate in the discussion together with members of the campaign from Babel and Baghdad. They were coming together to present their experiences and discuss the impact of Ilisu dam on Iraqi people.
This was really powerful; I was sitting in the middle of the sheikhs, who in Iraq represent authority and respect, and Iraqi activists, and I thought, what a privilege. As we were trying to organize the order of the workshop, suddenly the meeting turned into a discussion of the issue and we started to develop strategies at the local, national and international level. The sheikhs together with members of the campaign discussed for more than one hour and I sat there really excited as they talked about advocacy and direct action.
During the workshop we had a presentation from Jassim Al-Assadi, from Nature Iraq' office in Chibayish about water and peace. Jassim has been a strong advocate for the restoration of the marshes. A “son of the marshes”, he advocates passionately to keep this natural and millenary cultural heritage, dating back to the Sumerians. He showed pictures of the marshes back in 2007 when restoration efforts by the community had being successful to bring water back after Saddam’s regime intentionally drain them after the Iran-Iraq war. Then in 2008-2009 there was a devastating drought that dried the whole landscape. With these pictures he was trying to show the impact that projects like Ilisu dam are going to have in the south marshes of Iraq.
Zaid from the Iraqi People’s Campaign to Save the Tigris, a grassroots initiative started by Iraqis is working to bring awareness about the impact of Ilisu dam on Iraqi water resources. He presented some of their activities, which includes collecting signatures to support the submission by the Iraqi government of the Central marshes as a World Heritage Site to UNESCO.
The Sheikhs At this point, the workshop broke into two groups to discuss strategies at the local/national and international level to stop the construction of the dam. The two groups came up with ways that Iraqis can bring attention to the issue at the international and national level.
It was really powerful to see youth together with the sheikhs discussing the use of media as tool a tool for advocacy and awareness. There were strategy disagreements; for example, the sheikhs disagreed with the youth on the use of social media as facebook, while the youth were more inclined to use it as a tool for increasing awareness. In the end they both agreed that Iraqis need to be informed about the issue. The sheikhs were eager to organize more workshops in different provinces. Although we could have stayed for hours discussing the issue, the workshop was an opportunity for organizing and engaging new people especially youth from Basra.