Can Iraqis Reclaim Baghdad for Peace?

By Qais Qasim

In an infamous park in Baghdad, where killing squads used to dump bodies, one group of residents are building peace with a book, and arts, festival.

A'adhamiya is a Sunni majority neighborhood to the north of Baghdad. It was the site of clashes between Iraqi insurgents and US forces, as well as sectarian tension. Gangs were known to dispose of victims in a local park, Al Akhtall , and the park was nick-named Al Akhtar (The Dangerous) for its violent reputation.

But local residents are re-claiming it for peace. They recently organized a fair for literature, music, and art.

One of the festival’s organizers, Mohammed, said the community is deeply affected by the region’s violent past.

"This festival could be called a proactive event, to resist - and defeat - violence, and fanatics,” Mohammed said.

“Today, these young activists are trying to show the real image of A'adhamiya," he said.

Another organizer, Bakker, said all of the workers and performers at the festival had volunteered, and that the books were free for visitors to take.

“It is all about solidarity," Bakker said.

"Our message, as young people of this neighborhood, is to spread the culture and habits of reading,” said another festival organizer, Ameera.

“Also, to encourage civil spirit inside Baghdad city," she said.

"We are a contemporary, civilized, society. Our society used to be built out of grudges, revealed after 2003. We need to shine - Baghdad is a beautiful city, filled with signs of love and life. A'adhamiya was denigrated by violence for a certain period of time, but that doesn't reflect the local population."