Civil society is rising from the ashes in areas liberated from Daesh

Across liberated areas of Iraq, civil society is reviving after the removal of Daesh. The group sought to destroy the everyday life of Iraqis, as well as the country’s rich cultural and ethno-religious diversity.

Daesh attempted to assert their own contorted ideology, which after three years of rule is finally coming to an end. The Prime Minister al-Abadi announced the liberation of Hawija on Thursday, leaving Daesh with only a small pocket of territory in Iraq’s western Anbar Province, which they are rapidly losing.

Iraqis are finally coming together once again to play music and sports, rediscover art and theatre, all of which were banned under Daesh.

Last month, Mosul’s first major football game took place between Mosul FC and the Nineveh Police Team. Although smaller teams had previously played on pitches surrounded by rubble, this marked the first large-scale game in three years. Local football coaches have also been gaining qualifications; a recent initiative saw 24 coaches secure their ‘Asian C’ diploma. The positivity of this cannot be overemphasised. In September 2016, Daesh militants killed six children for simply playing football on the streets.

Amidst this sporting revival, Mosul is enjoying a cultural revival too. Two weeks ago, civil activists from Iraq held a peace festival. A few days later, actors returned to the stage at al-Rabia theatre to perform The Era of Brothers, which uses the memory of Iraq’s past and bright future to explore political issues. Performers and Iraqis alike believe events like these will galvanise the city’s cultural scene.

But life is not only returning to normal Mosul. In Ramadi, locals have used art and music as a means of expressing the pain the city endured. During the war against Daesh, fighting destroyed nearly 90% of Ramadi. A local musician Hamid al-Arabi wants his music to be heard and his city’s rich cultural history to be preserved. “Today we are conveying our message to the whole world so that they can see the reality of what is happening in the city, regarding the ruins and destruction,” said Hamid.


Hamid al-Arabi stands among the ruins of a house in Ramadi, his hometown

Initiatives like these are a sign of people taking control and rejecting the destructive impact of Daesh. Citizens in Samarra are coming together to put up street lights, which they hope will improve security both at night and for the guards working at checkpoints, who periodically face threats from Daesh.

Unfortunately, these attacks are not uncommon. Last week in Ramadi, Daesh attacked the southwest of the city causing panic and displacement. Although Iraqi forces put the attack down swiftly, it highlights how Daesh wants to undermine security, development and ever-increasing stability.

But for local residents, life and reconstruction will continue. Following the attack, locals in Ramadi undertook a campaign to return basic services and replant trees on the main streets in the city. 45km further east in Fallujah, citizens launched a humanitarian campaign to rebuild homes and infrastructure. And it is this strength of collective activity that will continue to drive Iraq’s civil society forward.