Magazine article New Internationalist

Iraq

Magazine article New Internationalist

Iraq

Article excerpt

Driving through the tangled mess of police roadblocks and concrete barriers that wall off neighbourhoods in Baghdad, it's hard to believe this place was once known as the city of peace, and was, until recently, a model of cosmopolitan urbanism.

More than eight years have passed since the 2003 US-UK invasion, and the fragmentation of Iraq's capital mirrors the soul of the nation, still struggling to survive after years of war and occupation. A decade ago, most of the city's neighbourhoods were mixed. Today, the majority are Shi'a enclaves and a fifth of the Iraqi population remain displaced or refugees.

Iraq's once exemplary public health and education systems have been ravaged and the status of women has declined dramatically; religious and sexual minorities are under attack and over 400 academics have been murdered by death squads since the invasion. Despite $53 billion in 'foreign aid', basic infrastructure is still in dire need of repair, unemployment is over 50 per cent and the Iraqi government barely pays lip service to the concepts of human rights or democracy.

And yet, even with ongoing car bombs and militia violence, Iraq has faded into the international background, barely a blip on the screen of Western media. Ongoing countrywide anti-government protests that began last February have often been violently suppressed but have been virtually ignored in Western coverage of the 'Arab spring'.

All the horror melts away when you arrive at an old villa on the Tigris that has been converted into a makeshift theatre. Here a mixed-sex group in their late teens - Sunni, Shi'a and Christians, many from workingclass backgrounds - rehearse for a play, practising dance moves that combine a little Martha Graham with breakdancing and traditional Iraqi chobi.

These young people embody a new choreography of hope and speak to the future of their long-suffering nation. …

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