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The kids reclaiming Baghdad: ‘This is the real face of Iraq’

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Reportage. Students, musicians, boys with slick hair and girls with or without a veil: the volunteers and activists gathered here in Baghdad have clear ideas and energy to spare. “They are an advance guard ... an authentic expression of the energy that can be felt throughout the country.’

written by Giuliano Battiston

Topic Middle East and North Africa


February 16, 2019

“What images do you find online if you look up the cities of Mosul, Fallujah, Ramadi, Tikrit?” asks Ahmed Al-Baghdadi, a smiling kid flipping through images on a screen. Gutted buildings, armed men, destruction. “Here’s what we’re doing instead,” he says.

Iraqi youths are now reclaiming spaces long occupied by armies, militias, and men armed with Kalashnikovs. Here in Baghdad, in the large conference hall of the Society of Iraqi Engineers, Al-Baghdadi compares the difference between what was before and what is now, between stereotypes and reality. He is showing us images of the activities of Sports Against Violence Iraq: “initiatives that create cultural bridges, social ties and cohesion through sports.”

Al-Baghdadi is one of the activists of the Iraqi Civil Society Initiative (ICSSI). Established in Italy in 2009, thanks to a network of international and Iraqi NGOs, trade unions and social movements, the ICSSI held a four-day conference in Baghdad, from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3, to take stock of their achievements and of what remains to be done.

“A positive bottom line: civil society is expanding its spaces and is more effective than before, but activists are still facing risks,” Martina Pignatti Morano tells il manifesto. She is responsible for the peacebuilding activities of “Un ponte per…”, an Italian NGO that has been working in Iraq for years, side by side with the movements fighting for social transformation. The key word: non-violent.

“It is not just a practical choice, but a prerequisite for building a new society,” says Ismaeel Dawood as he shows us sights from Baghdad, places that hold many personal memories. The city has changed a lot. In recent months, it has even managed to do so for the better. There is less violence, fewer terrorist attacks and less insecurity. The population is breathing a sigh of relief.

“It’s very important that the conference is taking place for the first time here in Baghdad. This is the real face of Iraq!” say Taif Alwachi with great passion, who just turned 28 years old and has an infectious smile. It is also the first time since 2003 that “such a large delegation of foreigners came without armed escort,” Martina Pignatti Morano adds. In the hall are present nearly 200 Iraqis and 41 foreigners.

An Iraqi by birth and an adoptive........

© Il Manifesto Global