Iraqi Social Forum meets in Nassiriya
Iraqi Civil Society is working to build “Another Iraq” . For the first time the Iraqi Social Forum meeting was held in Nassiriyah, a gathering of men and women activists from 10 different towns.
The third national Iraqi Social Forum (ISF) meeting was held in Nassiriyah from 1 – 3 May 2019, with the slogan “We love you Iraq”. This location was chosen because – just like the ancient towns of Ur and Babilonia – it is part of the country’s massive shared heritage. Located in the ‘cradle of civilisation’, Nassiriyah was the birthplace of the first human alphabet: the ISF meeting, previously held in Baghdad, was held here in recognition of Iraq’s ancient heritage.
The meeting took place at Nassiriyah’s Dhi Qar Social Forum. Forty young men and women from 10 Local Forums from towns along the banks of the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates, met for the third consecutive year.
Each Local Forum presented their work, upcoming initiatives and campaigns as well as an overview of conditions in the various towns. The ISF secretariat also participated, together with representatives of the various masarat (ISF thematic working groups), and representatives of the Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI).
All 10 Local Forums have adopted the principles of non-violent action, as the best way to encourage social change. They support the peaceful protests in Iraq, which show that part of the population wants to influence policy-making and try to correct mistakes made within the country’s social and political system.
Three days of planning, learning and solidarity
Day 1. The meeting began with a presentation of ISF’s history and background, and how its work has developed and spread from Baghdad to many other Iraqi towns. “This meeting is the climax of a series of IFS activities for the creation of Local Forums in 10 Iraqi towns: Tikrit, Diyala, Babilonia, Fallujah, Hit, Ramadi, Najaf, Diwaniyah, Maysan and Nassiriyah,’ explains ISF coordinator Ali Saheb. “These Local Forums help us facilitate peaceful co-existence, social cohesion and the conservation of the Iraqi natural and cultural heritage. Our ultimate goal is to build “a different Iraq”, he added.
Saheb emphasises the tight links that unite the Iraqi population, with a special focus on the symbolic connection of the country’s rivers: “The link between this city and the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates is very strong and goes beyond ethnic and sectorial divisions.”
Participants also took the opportunity to express their solidarity with the many Iraqi men and women workers in observance of 1st May (International Workers’ Day). They made a joint appeal for social justice for Iraqi workers and agreed to advocate for implementation of workers’ rights.
Every Local Forum presented an overview of their activities in 2018, including key events, problems, challenges and results. The day ended with a discussion of ‘lessons learned’ through the various local experiences, so that respective strengths and weaknesses could benefit others in the future.
Day 2. The Local Forums discussed the best ways to implement specific ISF projects in their respective towns. Karar Al Hassan ran a workshop on financial management. Representatives of each forum discussed possible dates for festivals in their towns and agreed a shared calendar for 2019. They also had the chance to meet Amer Abdul Razzaq, Director of Nassiriyah Museum, who presented important information about conservation of the local heritage.
Day 3. Participants debated the future of Local Forums, based on funding, vision and ideas, and created working groups to review respective strategies for the next 4 years. Up-coming Local Forum initiatives range from cultural heritage conservation to the protection of rivers and the environment, to education, to women’s rights.
The day came to an end with a group evaluation of efforts made by the men and women volunteers of the Dhi War Social Forum which hosted the meeting for the first time. Coordinator Naseer Baqer commented: “We could organise the meeting here this year because the Local Forums have developed their work and accumulated enough experience to host this kind of event. After all this work, we were able to present ISF with a plan and to guarantee a successful event in Nassariyah.”
The national meeting of the Iraqi Social Forum was part of the “Building the Paths of Peaceful Coexistence of Mesopotamia” project, established in collaboration with the Information Center for Research and Development, ICSSI and Un Ponte Per… (UPP).