Iraq Mounting Violence Moves Iraqi Citizens to Action
Mounting Violence Moves Iraqi Citizens to Action
by 8 hours ago
Iraqi students carry a mock coffin during a ceremony in 2008 at Baghdad's al-Mustansiriyah University commemorating the anniversary of the deaths of 70 of their colleagues killed in a suicide attack. Photo: AFP
By Judit Neurink
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—Fine arts student and blogger Noof al-Assi felt she could no longer just sit and do nothing, after a bomb attack in April at a Baghdad cafe once again targeted young Iraqis.
The same night, al-Assi called five friends to meet, and they decided not to keep quiet any longer. They felt they had to do something to make fellow Iraqis understand that they themselves have to stop violence, and possibly a new civil war.
The message they wanted to convey next day at Baghdad’s Paradise Square was, “If you keep quiet, you’re next.” And that was the start of the You’re Nextcampaign, which found immediate support. “There would be just the five of us, but because we mentioned it on Facebook there were 30 of us,” she said.
It was a simple, straightforward act. They all wore T-shirts that read, “Anta al-Tani,” or you’re next, and burned candles.
“We did not have a permit, but when I explained to the security police what we wanted, they left us in peace, because we are not against the government,” al-Assi explained. “We implore the Iraqi civilians to call on the government for change. We are all afraid to lose a loved one, afraid for a new religious war. We’re all human, and we all have red blood.”
The action was copied in universities and at squares around the country. The Facebook page had a thousand ‘likes’ in one night, and 3,000 three weeks later.
Now the base group counts 12 members. They do not organize, just advise and share the logo with anyone who wants to copy the protest. Social media are the way they communicate. “Because of the dangerous situation, we are very careful. We do not want to lose anyone,” al-Assi explained.
She said what incensed her after the Baghdad cafe bombing, which killed about 30 people, was the government’s reaction.
“They again just mentioned numbers and which religious sect the victims were from, as if it is unimportant when people from the other side get killed, as if they are not humans with dreams and families who will miss them, as if they are only statistics,” she complained. “I thought, ‘we are losing our humanity.’”
They again just mentioned numbers and which religious sect the victims were from, as if it is unimportant when people from the other side get killed, as if they are not humans with dreams and families who will miss them, as if they are only statistics,
With more than 1,000 people dead every month, and last April and May the deadliest months since the widespread sectarian violence of 2006-2008 that had turned Iraq into a bloodbath, Iraqi citizens like al-Assi are demanding an end to the violence.
Many fear that the deadly Shiite-Sunni war is heating up again. But instead of turning to the government, they are addressing the Iraqi government the activists are targeting their peace campaign at Iraqi citizens themselves.
Every week, 23-year-old Shahad Deya Aldeen goes to Baghdad’s Revolution Square with a single friend to show support for the Iraqi security forces. The student, journalist and photographer tries to address the increasing violence by going to checkpoints and handing out flowers and messages from Iraqi people to the security police.
“I tell them that Iraqis support them, and that they are not each other’s enemies. I try to convince them that Iraqis to not kill one another,” Aldeen said, adding it is a risky venture, and not for everyone.
“Everybody is scared to take part in such a dangerous experiment. My friend understands what I want to achieve,” she explained.
She did meet some unexpected situations: An older officer was so touched that he started to cry. “I will never forget this. I kissed his hand. His men came to hug him.”
But she also gets threats, on social media and by phone. “Someone who called himself ‘mujahedeen’ called me at home and said that I would be killed if I did not stop working with the security forces.” But she believes what she does is too important to be stopped by threats.
Her ultimate goal is very clear: “I hope Baghdad will again be the city of peace and love.”
Outside Iraq, the violence also has inspired people to action. The Education in Iraq Centre (EPIC), an NGO that is run from the USA but works to develop peace and democracy in Iraq, started a signature campaign called, “Put Iraq back on the agenda”.
The initiators ask US President Barack Obama to understand that his country has a special obligation to Iraq, to stop the spiral of violence that it started with the war in Iraq in 2003.
“If left unchecked, renewed civil war in Iraq and a widening regional conflict are all but inevitable. Strong US and international diplomacy are urgently needed to reverse that trend,” the group says.
Catch 22 for the people of Iraq... They want independence, but because of differences that inflame unbridled violence, they are unable to achieve it on their own.. Distrust, and deeply seeded differences has always been a major problem for many Middle Eastern countries... Especially when it comes to the different sects of Islam... Which is why the dividing of Iraq may very well be a necessary solution to this problem...