- A seminar about the situation in Iraq, the Sandö Process and the road to meaningful citizenship
Pictured: Jonas Alberoth, acting director general of FBA in profound discussion with Dr Batool al-Mussawi, cultural attaché at the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm.
In the biting cold, delegates had made their way to the Human Geography book launch and seminar at the Folke Bernadotte Academy. The subtext to the debates of the day was how human interractions can help build a new Iraq. Swedish-Iraqi politicians and religious and cultural leaders sat at the table. Also present were representatives of the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm and the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, as well as participants and instigators of the Sandö Process.
''We shall probe and be informed by the past but also connect to the present,'' said Jonas Alberoth, acting director general of the FBA as the seminar began.
A cultural laboratory
Picking up from Alberoth, Iraqi embassy representative Dr Hikmat Dawod described the bridge that links Sweden and Iraq. Dr Hikmat said that the main objective of the evening debate and of the book Human Geography was to lay the groundwork for Iraqi and Swedish dialogue.
''The new Iraq needs every possible positive contribution it can attract to overcome its problems. The most sincere offer of support was Sweden's. The Sandö Process is a true example of a common project in which we built a framework to conduct a strong dialogue and contribute towards solving Iraq's problems,'' said Dr Hikmat who poignantly defined the Sandö Process as a cultural laboratory.
Intentions and dialogue
Joel Ahlberg, the FBA project leader for the Sandö Process, explained the background to the seminar. He stressed a feature of the Sandö Process which he argued had ensured its success - the parties' willingness to discuss their intentions.
'To discuss one's own role and intentions in a process, and those of others, helps build commonality of purpose. How can one enter a relationship if one is not clear about one's intentions?'' he asked.
Arguing that the Sandö Process's outcome was unknown in advance - with no set agenda or expected results. The constant objective was to lay foundations upon which human dialogue could be constructed. Ahlberg made the point that Sweden faced its own challenges in this respect
The actors of the conflict and how to build citizenship
Holding up the sand-coloured cover of Human Geography, Dr Batool al-Mussawi, cultural attaché of the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm, suggested the title script resembled patterns in the sand. She had hoped that the title and results of the Sandö Process would have been carved in stone, not drawn in the sand. Sand blows away but stone carving lasts forever, said Dr al-Mussawi. She was among several speakers who stressed the complexity and historical roots of the situation in Iraq.
''In the current conflict, it is important to understand two groups. One is the political leadership, facing many obstacles and characterised by a lack of clarity over its objectives. The other is the population of Iraq which wishes to live in peace and be governed in a manner that befalls a rights-based and constitutional state. To solve the question we have to understand who the actors are. The problem lies with the political leadership far more than with the people,'' said Dr al-Mussawi.
She underlined the importance of a solid constitution in Iraq and the problems related to the many foreign interests in the country. She also felt a need for discussing intentions; whose intentions are the politicians focused on?
''In this repect the educational institutions, civil society and the media play an important role in boosting general morale and getting citizens and politicians to feel a sense of loyalty towards Iraq, first and foremost, rather than towards a clan or religious group,'' said the Iraqi cultural attaché.
The toughest job in Iraq
Faraj al-Haydari, chairman of the independent electoral commission, was presented as the man who for many years has had the toughest job in Iraq.
'Iraq faces a crisis of credibility which is a hereditary problem. Many Iraqis feel contempt towards government and position-holders. They are first and foremost worried about their safety and that of their families,'' he said in a somber tone.
al-Haydari joined the chorus asking when Iraqi citizens would be ready to look to their nation's best interests over those of sects or clans. His view was that the moment would come only ''when all people feel equal before the law''.
But he said things are moving in the right direction; it is just that the process will take time. The polical elite must take responsibility and put Iraq's wellbeing first, he said.
Forging the ramparts of the City of Peace
After the four speakers' contributions it was over to the audience. Explanations were sought for the current situation in Iraq, suggested solutions were offered, and a lively discussion blossomed around citizenship and the role of remembrance in the pursuance of harmony. Is it possible to forget all the conflicts between different groups and just move on? Al-Haydari among others said looking at the Iraqi election results - which almost without fail reflect clan and religious loyalties - it is clear that voters have a long way to go before they unite around a shared vision of their country.
One man in the audience attempted to cast cautious optimism on the proceedings: ''We need a dialogue that starts with peace and ends with peace. Let's not forget that our capital city is called Madinat al-Salam, the City of Peace,'' he said.
Sweden's ambassador to Baghdad, Carl Magnus Nesser, brought the seminar to a close with the words: ''Iraq needs to find its own political solution through discussions between the different groups so that everyone's voice is heard. The people of Iraq deserve a bright future.''