Eleven local social forums from different Iraqi cities met in Baghdad to discuss their role in the Iraqi social forum process.
“We Love Iraq” meeting
The Karrada district, located in the heart of Baghdad, hosted a 3-day meeting of 11 social forums representing 11 different Iraqi cities. The gathering “We Love Iraq II”, was attended by 50 young men and women from newly liberated cities from Daesh’ occupation in the Upper Euphrates and Tigris River area and their counterparts from the Mesopotamian cities in Southern Iraq. These city forums are part of the Iraqi Social Forum process.
The participants shared updates on their activities of the past year, which included trainings, campaigns as well as festivals, with the Iraqi Social Forum and the Iraqi civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI). Through selected working groups the city forums discussed how to intensify their impact and how to increase coordination among each other.
Water pollution is becoming increasingly acute in major rivers and tributaries in Iraq. The city forums have campaigned on this issue: The Social Forum of Diyala launched a campaign to save the Khorisan River, which is heavily laden with garbage and waste, while the Babylonian Social Forum ran a similar campaign to save the Jewish River in the city of Hilla. Other forums, including the Hit Peace Forum, the Ramadi Peace Forum and the Falluja Peace Forum, decided to do campaigns on community dialogue and social cohesion to help their cities overcome divides among local communities. Other forums focused on the preservation of cultural heritage. For example, I Love Dhi Qar is currently collaborating with authorities to protect the site of the ancient city of Ur and the archaeological museum of Nasiriyah, while the Social Forum of Maysan is intensifying its campaigning to protect the Marshes and the cultural heritage of the city.
Young females were well represented at the national meeting. A seminar was dedicated on how to create a suitable environment for females to participate in local social forums in different cities of Iraq. Participants agreed to work to “create a stimulating environment for girls to work within the forums instead of repeating the old saying that our society does not allow girls to participate,” from the locality of each city forum.
Who are the local social forums and why are they important?
The local social forums represent a first-of-its-kind joint space that coordinating the work of youth teams and civil society organizations in each city. These forums adhere to the values and principles following the Iraqi Social Forum movement in Baghdad, which was founded in 2013. The local social forums generally campaign on the following topics: peace and social cohesion, water and environment, cultural heritage, labor and social rights, women’s rights. Each of these forums have been organizing localized campaigns on these issues. With the aim to sensitize communities and advocate with authorities in order to make a tangible difference in Iraqi society. Each forum has held an open annual festival celebrating their city.
Six of these forums are on the Euphrates River: the Hit Forum – in city of Hit, the Ramadi Peace Forum – in the city of Ramadi, Falluja Peace Forum – in the city of Fallujah, the Babilia Forum – in the city of Hilla in Babylon, Najaf social Forum – in the city of Najaf And “I love Dhi Qar” Forum – in the city of Nasiriyah. The other five forums are located along the banks of the Tigris River. These are: Tikrit Forum – in Tikrit city, Diyala Forum – in Diyala city, Kut Social Forum- in Kut city, Diwaniyah Environment and Peace Forum – in Diwaniyah city, Maysan Social Forum – in Amara city.
The participation of the National Committee of the Iraqi Social Forum in this meeting was an excellent opportunity for the city forums to familiarize with the democratic participatory process that exists within the Iraqi Social Forum, the “mother” forum in Baghdad. The National Committee is a committee composed of about 19 organizations, voluntary teams and masarat (paths) that form the backbone of the Iraqi Social Forum.
Different paths of the Iraqi Social Forum were present in the meeting, representing different thematic spaces within the forums. They have encouraged activists from the city forums to integrate these different paths in their cities. In particular the path of Kahramana, which focuses on women’s participation in decision-making, has been invited to expand its work to most of the cities.
This was the second national meeting organized by the secretariat of the Iraqi Social Forum with a diverse group of volunteers and the ICSSI team. The first meeting was held in 2017 during which eight forums participated. The local social forums are part of the program “Paths of Coexistence in Mesopotamia”, supported by the Swiss Foundation FAI, in partnership with the Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative, the Italian organization Un Ponte Per, and the Information Center for Research and Development. The program aims to promote and pass the core values and principles of the Iraqi Social Forum through local forums that work for social cohesion and peace building.