Young Iraqis in Baghdad hold a peace carnival

The goal for next year: a ‘day of peace’ celebrated in every province of the war-torn country.

Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters
An Iraqi woman attended the Baghdad City of Peace Carnival Sept. 21.

During the past few months, young Iraqis met each evening in a sparsely furnished building in Baghdad’s Karada neighborhood to do something revolutionary – rebrand their city from one of war to one of peace.

Baghdad, best known in recent years for bombings, kidnappings, and terror, is also the heart and soul of Iraq’s culture. It is the New York City of Mesopotamia – cosmopolitan, diverse, and dynamic. And since the first carnival four years ago, young people have worked to reclaim that image through the annual Baghdad City of Peace Carnival.

The Sept. 21 event, attended this year by more than 15,000 people, provided opportunities for some 500 young people to volunteer, collaborating across political, ethnic, and religious lines in an effort to show the positive side of Baghdad that they see.

This year’s carnival included displays of paintings and handicrafts from local artists, readings of traditional poetry, performances by Iraqi and Western-style musicians, a book fair, free health checkups from medical students, and fundraising  by local organizations.

For Caesar Alwardii, the carnival is a second job. “I work from 8 to 4 every day, and then I come here,” he explains. “I spend more time on this than my actual job because this makes me happy.”

Now the idea of the carnival may be spreading.

“Our goal is that next year every province in Iraq, on one day, will have a Day of Peace,” he says.

Mr. Alwardii, a photographer, attended the carnival in 2011 only because his friends were going. Impressed with what he saw, he has become more involved each year. Today he holds the title of media coordinator. Next year he would like someone new to take over that post and bring fresh ideas.

“These guys,” Alwardii says, gesturing to a group of high school students, “are the target group – high school and college students.... We want 60 percent new volunteers every year who have never done Peace Day before, never been volunteers before, so that we can reach as many people as possible.... This carnival gives hope to young people. It reminds people that there are things to be proud of and happy about in Baghdad.”

This year, the carnival took place on the heels of protests in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. They began in response to a heat wave that left the city without adequate water, which brought people into the streets to demand better services.

Even after temperatures cooled, the protesters remained, insisting on better governance.

“We want the removal of the head of the justice department,” says Noof Assi, one of the organizers of the carnival and a leader in the demonstrations. “He’s corrupt. He hasn’t done anything in 12 years, and he’s actually made things worse.”

Thousands of people demonstrated a few weeks ago, but by the time the carnival opened, “it was way less. I could have walked around the square without people pushing or anything,” she says.

The carnival and protests are only small symbols of progress, but Ms. Assi sees them as a sign of hope for a better future, especially as struggling Iraqis continue to flee to Europe.

“At least we are trying, and we keep pushing,” she says. “It’s better than just sitting at home, or thinking,... ‘let’s go to Turkey, and then swim to Greece.’

“Let’s try it this way first,” Assi says with a wry smile. “At least there’s no water in Tahrir Square.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Young Iraqis in Baghdad hold a peace carnival
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today