The 23-year-old fine arts student spent all day crossing checkpoints in central Baghdad. In one day, Shad Diaudin managed to have almost 20 meetings with security forces and government officers. But strangely enough, she didn’t mind – and in fact, she did it all with a smile and a confident stride. She also carried an Iraqi flag with her.
This is because Diaudin has launched a campaign to build bridges between the ordinary people of Baghdad and the city’s various security forces. Diaudin believes there’s a destructive lack of trust between Baghdad locals and security staff and she wants to change this. She would like security staff and police officers to be more aware of their duties toward their fellow citizens and she also believes citizens should support security forces in their work. She’s hoping to build up more of a feeling of respect and tolerance that could help make Iraq a more peaceful place.
In an interview, Diaudin told NIQASH how she hopes to achieve these ambitious aims and why ordinary Iraqis need to play more of a role in the fight against violent extremists.
NIQASH: Tell us why you started this campaign?
Diaudin: I started the campaign because people don’t feel safe with all these terrorist operations happening in Baghdad and in other parts of Iraq. I thought that the campaign could support the security forces and help mend the lack of trust that citizens feel toward them.
Because I think many Iraqis still have a fear of the security forces that goes back to the former regime [of Saddam Hussein]. Some of it is justified – there are still members of the security forces abusing their positions of power.
But my most important goal is to try and help support the security forces in Iraq, in their work. I hope we can do that by encouraging a feeling of tolerance and respect and the spirit of citizenship.
I also want to encourage the idea of team work and community feeling when it comes to fighting terrorism. I think we should be supporting the police and army who are protecting us. Part of this would be educational, teaching people about the methods that extremist groups use and how to look out for them and guard against them.
And finally, I’m hoping that this campaign can help end the sectarian divisions in Iraqi society.
NIQASH: That sounds like a fairly big job. Have you achieved anything as yet?
Diaudin: Our campaign is still new but I believe we’ve taken some pretty big steps. We’ve already noticed this in the way that those manning the military checkpoints treat us when we visit. There is much more appreciation and respect. I think the people of Baghdad also notice this.
We now have more than ten volunteers, both male and female, and we’re growing. We’ve also launched a Facebook page to spread this culture of peace and understanding.
NIQASH: What are you and your volunteers currently working on?
Diaudin: At the moment we’re visiting various security forces and planning activities that raise awareness of human rights among security forces, as well as how they can best deal with ordinary people on the streets. We’re also giving out symbolic gifts, like thank you cards and roses and Iraqi flags to them.
We’ve also been walking around in recreational areas and parks talking to Iraqi families about it too, urging them to support security forces and to let them know if they see anything suspicious.
NIQASH: So what have been your biggest challenges so far?
Diaudin: There have been a lot. First of all, there are the threats to our own security when we go to visit the military checkpoints. Secondly, it’s difficult to convince people that we’re just a group of young volunteers and that this is not a government-funded initiative. It’s also difficult to get permits to visit schools to spread awareness, especially when it comes to educating people about what to look out for, in terms of threats.
NIQASH: How do those manning checkpoints react to you when you’re there?
Diaudin: In the capital we’re always received with a smile. They’re enthusiastic about our campaign because they understand that it supports their efforts and serves the public interest. They also understand that we want to build bridges between them and the community and that we want to defeat terrorism and rebuild Iraq.
NIQASH: What are your plans for the future, for this campaign?
Diaudin: I’ve got a lot of plans. I’d like to start pressuring the Iraqi government to re-introduce compulsory conscription actually – I think this would help create a better, more peaceful atmosphere in the country – especially when different people have to learn to work with another and also feel part of the security effort.
I’d also like to see an end to attacks on journalists by our security forces – the police and military seem to have a lot of unjustified fears about media reports and cameras. So I believe that all of our plans can help create a better, more secure society but that we’ll also need to work hard to achieve those goals.