Young people from Fallujah gathered with their counterparts in the city of Najaf to celebrate the country's victory over ISIS
In an unprecedented move, young people from the city of Fallujah in Iraq’s western Anbar Province travelled to the city of Najaf, located in the south of Iraq.
In Iraq’s highly polarised recent history, the idea of people from Fallujah simply visiting Najaf would have been a rare occurrence, given the contrasting confessional makeup of these two cities.
Now, however, after the defeat of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the burgeoning growth of Iraqi nationalism that is transcending confessional identity, this type of visit has become more of a reality.
The young people from Fallujah came to see their fellow Iraqis, visit graves of fallen Popular Mobilisation Fighters (PMU) and emphasise unity in the face of the common, existential enemy ISIS. The visitors also visited the shrine of Imam Ali, the cousin of the Prophet Muhammed.
“We are young people from the city of Fallujah and came today to the holy city of Najaf to say that the martyrs are the symbol of Iraq, who with their pure blood unified the country,” said one man. “Our message, as young people from Fallujah, is a message of love and brotherhood sent to the city of Najaf and its youth”.
Once known as a ‘hotbed of extremism,’ Fallujah was the first Iraqi city to fall to ISIS in 2014. It was also a major site of contestation between the Iraqi Security Forces and Al Qaeda in Iraq, the precursor to ISIS, in the mid-2000s.
But following the defeat of ISIS, people from the city are attempting to dispel this reputation. Last month, the city held its first Counter Extremism Conference, attended by local grassroots activists and security personnel. Fallujah also celebrated Army Day, despite the historically strained relationship between the city and the armed forces, and during the festive period, a local activist took to the street dressed as a Santa Claus to help the city celebrate Christmas.