Consisting of many ethnic and religious groups, Iraq has had episodes of relatively peaceful coexistence between its citizens. However, after the invasion of ISIS in 2014, tensions between the communities grew as ISIS militants killed, enslaved and sexually abused women from the Yazidi community and other minorities. Now that ISIS has been defeated, efforts to restore relationships between these Iraqi communities have increased.
In the city of Najaf, an office for coexistence and community peace has been opened in cooperation with the Iraqi General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, the UN Development Office, and civil society organisations.
According to its organisers, the objective of the office is to “renounce sectarian identity and sub-identities, adhere to the mother identity of Iraq… give a role to youth, women, the elderly, clans, elites and competencies”. Noor al Khaqani, the Media Coordinator for the office placed emphasis on the anti-sectarian aspect of the office. “Enough division, we must be united,” said Noor. “Enough disagreements and enough harassments.”
Such initiatives are welcomed in Iraq especially after ISIS’ defeat, which is allowing Iraq to promote and foster social harmony. Some activists hope that such initiatives are successful and go beyond merely opening the office.
“We hope that this effort will be crowned with continued success and will not end with the opening of the office,” said Ali Abboud, a civil activist. “After defeating terrorism and defusing sectarian differences, Iraq seems desperately in need of such projects to restore social cohesion and peaceful coexistence”.
Similar projects and initiatives have been started elsewhere in Iraq. In commemoration of the Yazidi New Year, a festival was planned in the Nineveh Plains, a diverse region of different ethno-religious groups in northern Iraq, which sought to empower Yazidis and other minorities living in that area.
Officials in the Iraqi Government have expressed their interest in opening several offices like the one in Najaf throughout all cities in Iraq to help bring together the various communities living in Iraq, and encourage peaceful coexistence.