Basra Official Says Reports Influential

Senior Basra official believes IWPR stories on social, economic and cultural issues in region will concentrate minds of authorities.

Basra Official Says Reports Influential

Senior Basra official believes IWPR stories on social, economic and cultural issues in region will concentrate minds of authorities.

Friday, 27 November, 2009

A report by IWPR on Basra’s attempts to revive its rich cultural heritage will give fresh impetus to the need to build up the city’s infrastructure, a top Iraqi culture ministry official said.

The official, ministry director-general Jamal al-Atabi, also said the IWPR report on the marsh Arabs would help in reviving the area of southern Iraq where they live, which suffered badly under Saddam Hussein.

Local editors acknowledge these are subjects that have not received enough coverage.

IWPR, which recently opened a bureau in the southern province of Basra, reported in May on the difficult lives of marsh dwellers and attempts to revive culture in the city of Basra.

Once known as an Iraqi centre for arts and poetry, Basra’s culture deteriorated as the south suffered under Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1990s and Shia militia control following the US-led invasion. Basra is now attempting to bounce back from decades of hardship, but its renaissance is hampered by a lack of infrastructure, IWPR reported in the story Basra’s Battered Culture Re-Emerges.

“This story will push officials to think about rebuilding infrastructure such as theatres and [creating] a cultural community,” said Atabi. “The city still has great potential for social and cultural development.”

Basra was named Iraq’s cultural capital for 2009, a step Atabi said “was like breaking through a concrete wall” given Basra’s recent difficulties.

Atabi reported that after reading the story, the culture ministry is now thinking about the types of events it will hold when Baghdad is named the cultural capital in 2013 “and what we should do to make these festivals great successes”.

He also singled out IWPR Iraq’s report Grim Prospects for Basra Marsh Dwellers. The story focused on the struggles of marsh residents, who are also trying to rebuild their lives and revive their ancient culture.

Atabi called the situation in the marshes “the most important issue in Basra”.

“The story could draw attention to and push for the revival of an area that was once the largest wetland in the Middle East,” Atabi said.

IWPR Iraq’s reporting “tackles some unique issues”, said Kadhim al-Zuhairi, head of Basra radio. “Amid rising tensions and political and economic crises, there are those who still dive into the life of marginalised citizens to reflect a kind of suffering that is forgotten by the politicians and hidden from the journalists and their cameras.”

Praising IWPR for “portraying the reality” of Basra province, he said the government should take care of its marsh citizens and “cherish and support culture”.

Zuhairi said the stories placed the “ball in the government’s court”.

Hadi Jalo Marai, a writer with Azzaman newspaper in Baghdad, said the report on Basra’s struggling culture should prompt the government to enforce law and order to protect freedom and culture in the city.

“It’s not only important to publish this story,” Marai said. “It should also impact officials and build public support. It’s important for this story to be republished widely.”

Militias controlled Basra for several years, but Atabi was encouraged that culture could thrive even under the most difficult circumstances.

“The story showed that life can’t stop, even though the forces of fear are controlling it,” he said. “They won’t be able to kill the spirit of creativity and renewal in the new generation.”

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