It’s startling how quickly Iraq has fallen off of our collective radar. There are good reasons for this, I suppose. Notwithstanding carnage such as the bombings suffered by Baghdad this week, the level of violence continues to trend sharply downward. He wont get it, but former president George W. Bush deserves credit for reversing Iraq’s slide into anarchy with his troop surge gamble, which he approved in the face of opposition from just about everyone. President Barack Obama derided the strategy and is now mimicking it – albeit with less resolve – in Afghanistan.
This morning I was reminded of how far Iraq has come, how far it still has to go, and why we can’t yet afford to look away. I met with members of La’Onf, a network of Iraqi civil society groups committed to human rights, democracy, and, above all else, non-violence.
This year, Rights and Democracy, a Canadian institution created by Parliament in 1988 to promote and defend democracy and human rights abroad, awarded La’Onf its ‘John Humphrey Award,’ which comes with at $30,000 grant. Ibrahim Ismael and Saba Al Nadawi were in town to accept it.
Both deserve more space than I am giving them here. Suffice to say they’re brave and resilient. They have worked as journalists or for organizations that promote press freedom. Al Nadawi’s husband, Mohammad Al Sadoon, did as well. He was murdered on his way to Fallujah last December. He was Sunni. Al Nadawi is Shia. He might have been murdered because he married a Shia, or because of his work with Western NGOs. Al Nadawi couldn’t say. Her grandfather used to worry that they both would be kidnapped every time they left the house.
She hasn’t been deterred, though. Al Nadawi now trains journalists with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. Lately she’s been focusing her training on how to cover elections – a skill that wasn’t necessary under Saddam.
You can learn a bit more about La’Onf here.