Iraq's culture shock: The impact on society of 10 years of war

Published March 19th, 2013 - 17:13 GMT

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The National Youth Orchestra of Iraq was born in 2009, with the aim of bringing together young Sunni and Shia musicians from all across the divided country. With a mission of showing ‘the real face of Iraq,’ the orchestra has performed across Europe and are currently well underway with preparations for a summer 2013 tour.
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Image 1 of 10: The National Youth Orchestra of Iraq was born in 2009, with the aim of bringing together young Sunni and Shia musicians from all across the divided country. With a mission of showing ‘the real face of Iraq,’ the orchestra has performed across Europe and are currently well underway with preparations for a summer 2013 tour.

Parkour, or freerunning, may be more associated with the hip cities of London and Paris than the buildings of Baghdad but it seems Iraqis are getting in on the action too. Videos have sprung up on YouTube of people running, jumping and flipping through cities across the country.
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Image 1 of 10: Parkour, or freerunning, may be more associated with the hip cities of London and Paris than the buildings of Baghdad but it seems Iraqis are getting in on the action too. Videos have sprung up on YouTube of people running, jumping and flipping through cities across the country.

Following years of sectarian strife and soured relations with the Kurds of northern Iraq, last year the government debated introducing a new flag and national anthem in an attempt to bring unity to the divided country. The decision followed a redesign in 2008 that saw the flag lose its stars, leaving just the words: ‘God is great’.
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Image 1 of 10: Following years of sectarian strife and soured relations with the Kurds of northern Iraq, last year the government debated introducing a new flag and national anthem in an attempt to bring unity to the divided country. The decision followed a redesign in 2008 that saw the flag lose its stars, leaving just the words: ‘God is great’.

Last year, after almost a decade of conflict, Baghdad began building the city’s social scene back up with the reopening of its nightclubs. However, the party was cut short as a number of Baghdad’s hottest spots were raided by security forces, allegedly under the orders of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki.
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Image 1 of 10: Last year, after almost a decade of conflict, Baghdad began building the city’s social scene back up with the reopening of its nightclubs. However, the party was cut short as a number of Baghdad’s hottest spots were raided by security forces, allegedly under the orders of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki.

In 2012, Baghdad’s ‘emo’ community were targeted in a wave of killings. Their long hair, tight clothes and makeup attracted the ire of violent extremists who associated their alternative appearance with homosexuality. But late last year, the country was on the fringe of change as former al-Qaeda militants reportedly started donning the look.
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Image 1 of 10: In 2012, Baghdad’s ‘emo’ community were targeted in a wave of killings. Their long hair, tight clothes and makeup attracted the ire of violent extremists who associated their alternative appearance with homosexuality. But late last year, the country was on the fringe of change as former al-Qaeda militants reportedly started donning the look.

In 2009, Reel Festivals organised the first major festival of Iraqi culture from Babylon to the present day in the UK. Marking 10 years since the US-led invasion, 2013’s event will celebrate the resilience and diversity of the country’s art and culture, which has flourished in the face of war.
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Image 1 of 10: In 2009, Reel Festivals organised the first major festival of Iraqi culture from Babylon to the present day in the UK. Marking 10 years since the US-led invasion, 2013’s event will celebrate the resilience and diversity of the country’s art and culture, which has flourished in the face of war.

Iraq doesn’t spring to mind when you think of great footballing nations but in 2007, at the height of sectarian violence, Iraqis put their differences aside to cheer on the national team to victory in the Asia Cup. In a brief moment of national unity, Iraqis poured out onto the streets, firing guns into the air and not at each other!
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Image 1 of 10: Iraq doesn’t spring to mind when you think of great footballing nations but in 2007, at the height of sectarian violence, Iraqis put their differences aside to cheer on the national team to victory in the Asia Cup. In a brief moment of national unity, Iraqis poured out onto the streets, firing guns into the air and not at each other!

Following the US-led invasion, huge numbers of highly skilled and intelligent Iraqis sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Those leaving continued the so-called ‘brain drain’ that started under Saddam Hussein. With many still not returning, academia and skilled industries are still struggling with a chronic shortage of staff.
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Image 1 of 10: Following the US-led invasion, huge numbers of highly skilled and intelligent Iraqis sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Those leaving continued the so-called ‘brain drain’ that started under Saddam Hussein. With many still not returning, academia and skilled industries are still struggling with a chronic shortage of staff.

The tenth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq is not only a time for remembering but also a year for celebrating the cultural achievements of the country’s capital. Flying in the face of Iraq’s religious militias who try to shoot down the liberal art scene, Baghdad has been voted 2013’s Arab Capital of Culture.
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Image 1 of 10: The tenth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq is not only a time for remembering but also a year for celebrating the cultural achievements of the country’s capital. Flying in the face of Iraq’s religious militias who try to shoot down the liberal art scene, Baghdad has been voted 2013’s Arab Capital of Culture.

The last decade has changed Iraq, the US and its so-called “coalition of the willing” for generations. Thousands have been killed and injured and the invasion has left a scarred landscape in its wake. But will Iraqis ever receive any form of justice from the International Criminal Court or is time to move on?
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Image 1 of 10: The last decade has changed Iraq, the US and its so-called “coalition of the willing” for generations. Thousands have been killed and injured and the invasion has left a scarred landscape in its wake. But will Iraqis ever receive any form of justice from the International Criminal Court or is time to move on?

In the ten years since the US-led invasion, Iraqi society and culture has changed dramatically. In part two of Al Bawaba’s retrospective on the last decade, we look how society has responded to the invasion and the almost daily violence that has followed.

From a continuing ‘brain drain’, leaving academia understaffed, to vicious attacks on the ‘emo’ community, killing up to a hundred people.

 As Iraq’s residents become more and more used to the violence, social problems have become endemic.

But within the the murky depths of sectarian violence flourish signs of hope for this once great nation, including the successes of the National Iraqi Youth Orchestra and the surprising performance of the football team in the 2007 Asia Cup.

Perhaps the most important cultural achievement was left to last. Exactly ten years after the invasion, Baghdad has won the region’s title for ‘Capital of Culture’.

Here are our highlights, and lowlights, of the last ten years in Iraq’s society and culture.


Tell us what you think. How has Iraq’s society and culture changed? Where can Iraq go next? What memories do you have of the last ten years? Add a comment below and join in the conversation!

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