Today however, a dramatic transformation is underway and new ties of cooperation and friendship are being built between security officials and local intellectuals in a bid to cement security and stability in the city.
Niqash attended a recent seminar gathering together local policemen and intellectuals. The seminar, organized by the province’s police department and attended by intellectuals, journalists and police officers, discussed ways of promoting Najaf’s intellectual life. By the end of the session participants were involved in close and animated discussion and contact details were readily being exchanged.
“This is not the first time we’ve attend such seminars. In the last few years many similar events were held in Najaf,” said one attendee, Wihab Sharif, a poet. “Events like this help liberate Iraqi intellectuals from the painful memories of the past, especially those intellectuals who did not support Saddam’s regime,” he said.
According to Colonel Kathim Naser, director of the legal department of Najaf’s police department, the aim of these seminars is to establish friendly relations between departments of the ministry of interior and various segments of society. Interior ministry officials have been holding similar cultural meetings in the city since 2006.
“The priority is to establish relations with opinion leaders, and this is why we are meeting with writers and intellectuals and talking to them,” explained Naser, saying that more transparent relations will make security a more common concern.
Another official, Captain Ali al-Sharifi, director of the police department’s information office, said the new relations with local civil society reflect the police department’s liberation from its dark past when regime interests stifled out honest relations with local society.
Najaf city, chosen to be the Islamic capital of culture in 2012, has long held a central role in Iraq’s cultural life. According to one study, eight out of every ten Iraqi poets come from the city and it is said that there are more poets in Najaf than in Egypt and Syria combined.
But this cultural prominence has often been the cause of harassment and repression, particularly during the days of Saddam Hussein, as rulers have sought to clamp down on the spread of new ideas. Indeed, the tension between writers and authorities has become part of the very fabric of the city.
Lu'ay al-Yasiri, a fomer police chief and now a member of the provincial council, says that cultural and security elements must work together to create a new, more open, reality in order to improve the lives of the Iraqi people.
Local intellectuals say they are optimist that the past legacy of repression and mistrust can be overcome. Hussein Naser, a poet and the administrative affairs secretary of Najaf’s writers union, said that seminars and the building of new links with officials are helping to construct a better future for the city’s intellectual life. He said that intellectuals are keen to help authorities achieve stability in the city.
"We see in such initiatives a messages from the interior ministry to Iraqi society, reflecting a new role – that of a contributor to peace and security – and we are happy and ready to cooperate with the ministry in achieving this goal," said Naser.