Residents from the city of Fallujah in Anbar Province celebrate the second anniversary of their liberation from ISIS control. Representatives from different provinces came to Fallujah to send a message to the world that Iraq is non-sectarian and united.
Iraqis from the city of Fallujah have come together to celebrate the two-year anniversary of their liberation from ISIS. The celebrations, which were attended by members of the armed forces that participated in the liberation operations as well as people from other Iraqi provinces, featured songs and speeches from distinguished guests from the city.
“We have seen people from Karbala, Najaf, Kirkuk, Salahuddin, Mosul and all parts of Iraq. We are amazed at how this city that was once divided can now come together in this blessed occasion,” said one local. “We are all brothers and we are all celebrating the liberation of Fallujah and we are all hopeful that we can make a similar event in Mosul, Kirkuk and Salahuddin.”
“The choir groups have accepted our invitation from Mosul, Salahuddin, Baghdad, Ramadi and our beloved singers from Fallujah,” said another local. “They have all come to attend this great event which celebrates the second anniversary of the liberation of Fallujah from the grasp of ISIS abuse and the horrors that they committed in this city.”
Known as a former insurgent hotspot, Fallujah was the first city to fall under the control of the so-called Islamic State in January 2014 back when the group was known as the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI). Fallujah came to be one of ISIS’ symbols of its alleged caliphate along with its capital, Mosul, located in Iraq’s northern Nineveh Province.
The city only returned to the control of the Iraqi Government in June 2016 after Iraqi forces besieged the city for more than three months and waged a gruelling five-week battle to oust the militants. Upon liberation, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi stood in front of the city’s main hospital and waved the Iraqi flag, vowing to chase ISIS out of every corner of Iraq.
Following liberation, reconstruction remained slow as attention was directed to other towns and cities across the country that eventually fell from ISIS control.
However, one of the main characteristics that the people of Fallujah are now trying to dispose of is their perceived links to extremism, not only with ISIS or ISI, but also the groups’ previous iteration Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Locals have led workshops to foster peace and tolerance, as well as tackle inter- and intra-communal issues; imams from Fallujah recently held a gathering to discuss how to theologically combat ISIS’ distorted religious narratives; and during last Christmas, activists took to the streets dressed as Santas to give out present to children, which would have been almost unthinkable in Iraq’s recent history.
“We have begun by introducing new narratives through satellite channels, intellectual programmes, social events and religious ceremonies by training clerics and mosque imams,” said Mohammed al-Nouri, the Deputy Head of the Rabbat al-Mohammedi, a national religious institution with its headquarters in Fallujah. “The celebration today is a clear message to observers about the activities that we are accomplishing in Fallujah, Anbar, and Iraq, which demonstrate our continuous efforts to block sectarianism.”