Iraqi youth plant olive trees in Anbar cities
By Saif Ahmed in Anbar
Iraqi youth recently traveled to Anbar to plant olive trees along the streets of Fallujah and Ramadi and take part in sporting and cultural activities with their peers in the country's westernmost province.
The four-day campaign, organised by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, saw a "sizeable turnout from activists, youths and volunteers from different Iraqi provinces", said Anbar provincial council member Hamid al-Dulaimi.
The young people, who came from Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, al-Nasiriya and Babil, planted more than 2,000 olive trees in Ramadi and Fallujah, he told Diyaruna, and also participated in artistic and sporting activities.
"This campaign sends a message of peace, love and fraternity among the people of Iraq following the expulsion of the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' (ISIL) from Anbar," he said.
The campaign "is a clear message directed at terrorist organisations that our people stand as one", said Ramadi sports director Mohammed Obaid al-Fahdawi.
It makes it clear that Iraqi youth reject sectarianism, discrimination and ideologies that espouse extremism and violence, he told Diyaruna.
'Land of Steadfastness'
The campaign included a theatre production about the people of Anbar titled, "The Land of Steadfastness", al-Fahdawi said.
"It shows how they fought terrorism and liberated their lands, restored security and stability, and brought life back to their cities after three difficult years of suffering as a result of displacement and destruction of their homes," he said.
Other cultural activities included a poetry evening featuring poets from Anbar and other provinces, he said.
Through their poetry, the writers expressed their love for their country and the unity of its people in defiance of terrorism, which has tried but failed to destroy the cities of Anbar, al-Fahdawi said.
"The olive trees have been planted in school yards as well as at street junctions and public parks as a symbol of steadfastness," he added.
Khalil al-Amiri, a poet from Baghdad, told Diyaruna he traveled to Anbar "to support our people in Ramadi and Fallujah who are in our hearts".
"There are rumours going around saying that Anbar province is still a dangerous place and is unlivable, but we can attest to the opposite," he said. "We are happy as we see reconstruction and people moving freely."
"Cultural, artistic and athletic life in Anbar is significant on a national level," al-Amiri said.
"There are poets and writers here across a range of disciplines, so we are able to benefit from their expertise and also strengthen our relationships to pave the way for joint events in the next period," he added.
"Anbar and its people are connected with the rest of Iraqi provinces via strong tribal, religious and social ties," said Hussein Kanaan, of Karbala.
"As we are now among our people, we can only be happy as we celebrate liberation with them and the return of normalcy to their areas," he said. "We say no to terrorism and yes to peace, unity and love."
"Taking part in activities such as football games with talented and promising local teams is an invitation to government and sporting authorities to take notice," he said.
Soccer stars such as the late Ammo Baba, have emerged from Anbar in the past, he said, along with Iraqi soccer player Hisham Mohammed who currently plays for al-Talaba team and other star athletes.
Raising morale in Anbar
"The youth and sports delegation's visit to Fallujah was a morale booster," said Captain Hayder al-Shimmari of Fallujah.
"We will repay the visit as we organise upcoming sports and art-themed events in Baghdad, Karbala, Najaf and Basra in the near future," he told Diyaruna.
"Terrorism tried to obscure the facts in Anbar and to sequester the province from other Iraqi provinces, but it has failed in the face of the firm stance of its residents," he said.
Life and sports have returned to normal, al-Shimmari said.
However, he added, local teams are still in need of newly refurbished stadiums and upgraded sporting equipment so as to enhance their performance.
Restoring infrastructure and investing in new equipment will allow them to take part in national championships and discover up-and-coming talent, he added.