Communicating Iraq’s civil society needs in Washington
February 20, 2012
WASHINGTON – Iraq’s citizens will be the key to whether their country moves toward greater democracy and freedom in the coming years.
This is the message that a delegation of four prominent civil society leaders from Iraq brought to Washington, D.C., in early February.
It was part of a larger project to articulate a message from Iraq’s civil society to the U.S., as Iraq transitions to a new phase with the withdrawal of U.S. troops last December.
The project was jointly sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and 3P Human Security, based in Washington, D.C., a program of Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding in Harrisonburg, Va.
The project included a survey conducted by MCC Iraq staff and 3P Human Security staff in the fall of 2011 to see what Iraqis identified as their current priorities. More than 100 nongovernmental organization leaders from across the country responded.
The survey revealed strong interest in U.S. support for human rights and freedom of expression. It also highlighted the ongoing need for Iraq’s government to provide basic services such as water and electricity, as well as the need for improved security.
Hanaa Edwar, a prominent lawyer and activist who heads one of Iraq’s largest and oldest nongovernmental organizations, the Iraqi Al-Amal Association, was one of the delegates.
In meetings with U.S. officials, Edwar noted the key role of civil society groups in pressuring Iraq’s Parliament to resume its work in the fall of 2010. She also said that Iraqi organizations have declared 2012 to be a year of civic peace.
“There are huge challenges facing us as a country, and the civil society is working to safeguard democratic space and create a better future,” said Hashim Al-Assaf. Al-Assaf is the coordinator of an umbrella organization for both Iraqi and international nongovernmental organizations working in the country.
Other delegates included Abdulsatar Younis, who leads a network of civil society organizations in Iraqi Kurdistan, and Noof Assi, an activist who last year monitored and reported on the Arab Spring demonstrations in Baghdad.
In Washington the delegates met with staff in key congressional offices, as well as officials from the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development. They also spoke in several public forums and met with like-minded U.S. organizations.
The delegates recommended that U.S. support focus on women and young people. They called for similar U.S. attention to victims of war crimes and vulnerable populations such as minorities, detainees and those who have been displaced from their homes due to the sectarian conflict.
“We believe that Iraq is for all,” said Edwar. But, she said, the U.S. needs to support those who are working to make this vision possible.
Mennonite Central Committee: Relief, development and peace in the name of Christ