“Promotion of peace and the preservation of civil peace; renounce all forms of violence an demilitarization of society; foster a spirit of citizenship and social justice; strengthen the role of civil society and its active participation in addressing community issues peacefully; defend the right of minorities and activate their role in Iraqi society; reject the occupation and war.”
These are the objectives of the first Iraq Social Forum presented last week at the bi-annual meeting of the International Council of the World Social Forum in Montreal, Canada (and reported by the mobilizing document of the Forum). Yours truly, member of the Council as representative of the Network Institute of Global Democratization (NIGD, Finland), was present at the presentation given by an Iraqi delegate who invited the members of the Council and their networks to this endeavour of the Iraqi civil society. The Iraqi Social Forum for Peace will take place, within the framework of the WSF, in November of 2010.
In a context of sectarian violence and harsh oppositions within the Iraqi political sphere, a number of organisations of the Iraqi civil society have designed a preliminary Preparatory Committee toward the establishment of a Social Forum for Peace. Among the members the Iraqi Democratic Future Network, whose representative was speaking in Montreal, Tammuz Organisation for Social Development, Iraqi, Nonviolence Group (La Onf), MASALA, The General Federation of Trade Unions of Iraq and the Federation of Oil Unions. A conference of the Iraqi civil society was organised in Velletri, Italy, in March, sponsored by a number of international NGOs from, among others, Britain, USA, Norway, Japan, Italy, and Lebanon. Two follow up meetings took place in Rabat (in occasion of the Maghreb Social Forum) in early May and in Erbil in July 2009, which established the birth of the Iraqi Social Forum. The main reasons that motivates its members are stated in the launch document:
“1. According to the security agreement signed between the U.S. and Iraqi government, the U.S forces will withdraw from Iraqi territory in January 2011. The lack of readiness of Iraqi security forces may cause increased rates of violence and the return of militia control in Iraq
2. Failure to resolve the differences between the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government on the issue of Karkuk, the disputed areas, oil and natural resources, could escalate and threaten the civil peace within Iraq
3. the struggle for power and the continuation of sectarian and ethnic quota system, threatens civil peace
4. Intervention from neighbouring countries in Iraq’s internal affairs contributes to increased violence and political differences
5 Remnants of the dictatorial regime, especially the militarization of society, adversely affect the community.”
On this basis and with the support of some international partners and the members of the WSF, a meeting was held in Baghdad in late September towards organising the next step of the Iraqi social forum process: a meeting in Erbil to be held in November to draft a Charter for the Forum. The principles of the organisers as expressed at the Montreal meeting and as drafted in the document circulated by its representative seem to stress the progressive and pacifying nature of the Iraqi civil society. Most importantly the Iraqi social forum and its members suggest that they could provide the antidote to sectarian and political violence and a recipe for regional integration and for the promotion of civil participation in the Iraqi political life and the creation of an inclusive citizenship based on dialogue and nonviolence.
The IC members of the WSF showed warm interest and full support to this embryo of social forum in Iraq. It seems to me that the ideal of peace, inclusiveness, citizenship and participation, central in so much of the debate on the “necessary” progressive contribution of civil society to national and global peace have been fully embraced by the Iraqi organisers. Time will show how those principles will apply to the work of this most inspiring representation of the global Social Forum movement. Further, it will be even more interesting and educative to observe, if so will be the case, the generation of such a virtuous cycle of participatory citizenship and peace in a country devastated by war and occupation in which social, political and religious conflict has been nurtured by violence, insecurity and ruthless instrumental interests by local and international actors.