As the rule of ISIS becomes an evermore distant memory across Iraq, activists around the country continue to hold events to foster a sense of unity among the Iraqi people and to celebrate the very things the militants tried to destroy. The latest such effort comes from Ramadi, the capital city of Anbar, which held its first peace festival.
Ramadi fell to ISIS on May 2015. It was one of the last major Iraqi cities to be taken by the militants and the first to be liberated by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in December 2015. Despite the short time spent under the militant rule, the city suffered immensely. Not only did Ramadi suffer from the same depredations other ISIS-held cities in Iraq suffered, but the liberation of the city came at a big cost due to the militants rigging nearly every building in the path of the ISF with explosives. Despite liberation, the ISIS threat remained close, with the militants launching several attacks on the city following liberation.
It is therefore unsurprising that the city was among the first to celebrate the demise of ISIS in Iraq and continue the efforts to foster the sense of an Anbari identity separate from what was forced on them by the militant group. The Peace Festival was the latest such events. It hosted virtually everything ISIS abhorred or tried to ban. Paintings by local artists depicted the city’s experiences under ISIS rule while theatre performances, musical acts and dances sought to help the people of Ramadi come to terms with the recent history. Ultimately, all the acts and performances here sought to send the message that the austere practices of the militants that banned or co-opted every work of art and beauty is not welcome in Ramadi.
There is no denying that a number of practical issues remain. In particular, reconstruction in Ramadi and other cities in the region have been a recurring problem. However, events such as the Peace Festival in Ramadi, coming shortly after the city of Fallujah celebrated the Army Day despite the traditionally-suspicious attitudes towards the Army in the city, is a promising sign for the future on Anbar and the whole of Iraq.