Women in Bastan Village, Kurdistan

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Good Morning from Baghdad, A City of Peace

September 25, 2013, Baghdad, Iraq

We were received by one of the young Iraqi volunteers, who took us to the hotel. As soon as we went out on Baghdad’s streets, I felt a sense of familiarity. We drove to the hotel on the morning’s rush hour. We were exhausted, but extremely happy to be in Baghdad. We hadn’t slept much, as our flight was in the middle of the night. Baghdad had the air of any other of the Arab capitals, Amman, Beirut, and Cairo; except for all the checkpoints and military cars.

Once we got to the hotel, all our colleagues were already waiting; they were really happy to see us. It was very emotional, a meeting of old and new friends, that can’t believe they are reunited despite difficult conditions. We joined part of the last day training on advocacy for Iraqi activists, some of our colleagues from Spain had organized the training to strengthen the skills of activists that are organizing campaigns for human rights in Iraq, teaching them communication skills, listening, team work, and how to build strategies, organize resources and identify needs.

The day was slow, with many of the international activists arriving at different times. I stayed in the training listening to my colleagues from the Save the Tigris campaign, and how they identified resources and needs, set goals, and timelines, and then developed strategies to achieve the desired goal.

Then, I went to take a nap, and then joined the group once more. The young volunteers were ready and eager to help, if they saw that I was listening, they will come close to me and started to translate what had being said in Arabic.

If I try to describe these young Iraqis, they are not different to other youth around the world. Well, the only difference might be that they have a different appreciation about life. The sense that they are here today, but they don’t know if they will be here tomorrow. They are children of the war, the latest war; some of them were so young, that they might not remember how things were before the war. Yet, this experience has transformed them into what they are and what they believe, that Iraq can be a place of freedom and peace. You only have to sit with them to feel their positive vibrations. Some days ago, when I opened my Facebook, one of my Iraqi friends post read: Good Morning from Baghdad of peace- Sabah al khair min Baghdad al Salaam. I just smiled and I thought: this is why I have to go to Baghdad.

I’m not saying there are no risks; there are risks in every decision you make. When I went to Palestine, when I participated in a peaceful demonstration in Beit Ommar that was teargased by Israeli soldiers, when I went to south Iraq, Basra, Babel, Nasriya, Najaf, all these times there were risks, but I was with locals and I felt protected by them. There is no sense of security that a convoy, a tank, or armed guards can give you; on the contrary, they make you a target. I felt safer wearing a hijab, or an abayah (a traditional black women dress) and following the locals’ advice. Three months ago, I was in Babel, and saw the Babilonian Lion, the Ishtar Gate (the replica, the original is at a German museum), went to Ur, sat by the Euphrates and the Tigris River, navigated on the Mesopotamian marshes, and felt completely safe, trusting my colleagues and knowing they will put me in any danger.

In the next few days I hope to see another Baghdad, a Baghdad full of energy and hope, of dreams of peace and unity. That might not be the Baghdad portrayed in the media, because what they mostly show is blood and killings. I think the mainstream media will not show news of the Iraqi Social Forum, but I will try to convey this other Baghdad through my experience, my thoughts and feelings as I take part in this historic event with the slogan “Another Iraq is Possible.”

The anxiety of the trip has gone, and now I am happy to be in Baghdad, to show solidarity with Iraqis, to support their work and to bring a message from abroad that Iraqis are not forgotten, the work of justice is not easy, but that they are not alone. There are people out there doing the same in their own countries, because the work of building a country relies on the citizens of that country. Democracy comes, not with occupation by a foreign country, but when its citizens work actively to build a strong civil society that can support democratic institutions. How do you build democracy in a country destroyed by war, that is using religion as an instrument of division? You have to stop supporting the propaganda that uses terror and sectarianism and support that part of society that believes in the values of inclusiveness, social justice, freedom of expression, workers rights, and the protection of the environment. These are the principles that the Iraqi Social Forum promotes. These are the values that Iraqi activists have been working hard to shape, using sports, art and culture to unite Iraqis. These are the things I believe that will hold Iraq together and that is why I came to Baghdad, because I believe that if we support these principles, a peaceful Iraq can be a reality.

Advocacy Training


Advocacy Training, a set on Flickr.

In the context of the Iraqi Social Forum, there was an advocacy training for activists working on campaigns in Iraq