By Luke Wilcox, Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project
On July 31st, 2009 the Minneapolis City Council passed a resolution by unanimous vote establishing Minneapolis, USA and Najaf, Iraq as official Sister Cities. The resolution came after more than a year of work to build support in the two city councils by the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project (IARP) and its partner organization in Iraq the Muslim Peacemaker Teams (MPT). Najaf is now the tenth Sister City for Minneapolis and the first in the Middle East.
Soon after the resolution passed, IARP received the following note from Malka ali Kadhim al-Haddad, Assistant Professor of Arabic Language and Literature at the University of Kufa in Najaf:
Dear IARP, Friends and Citizens of Minneapolis,
Warm greetings from Najaf. I’m so glad for the approval of the twining of our two cities, and I’m eager to meet you all in Minneapolis. I hope we will achieve our goals through the Sister City program that makes everyone happy here. I am grateful for your efforts. Looking forward to continuing to work together for peace in the fall. Best,
Malka ali Kadhim al-Haddad
Malka will travel to Minneapolis this September with a delegation from Najaf in the first official exchange between the two cities (see below for more information).
The definition of a Sister City relationship is a formal agreement signed by the governing bodies of each city committing to long term sharing of cultural, educational, and citizen resources. It is a symbolic statement of friendship and cooperation, but also an official commitment to build tangible connections. A core belief of both IARP and MPT is that close interpersonal and community connections are critical for building international peace.
The new Sister City relationship is important for a number of reasons. Many people, including myself, feel strongly about the past, present and future U.S. relationship with Iraq; beginning a Sister City relationship is a mutual statement of friendship and cooperation between the people of Najaf and Minneapolis. Considering how damaged the U.S.-Iraq relationship currently is, the importance of making this statement official and “legitimate” should not be underestimated. While there is still a lot of work to do, the Sister City resolution is a significant step toward the large goal of reconciliation.
People on both “sides” who have doubts about the other will be exposed to exchange programs and events, in the media if not in person. While media coverage can play a large role in building support FOR war and vilifying the “enemy,” it can also be effective in countering such attitudes. Those in the Twin Cities who are willing and open to listening and participating in exchanges will experience Iraqi culture first-hand, and some will develop long-lasting friendships. Iraqis in the Najaf area will also be exposed to aspects of American culture and community not often seen from an occupying military.
As Minneapolis City Council Member Cam Gordon points out in his July, 2009 newsletter, the Sister City relationship with Najaf is “the City’s first such relationship in the Middle East, and (it will) help create a positive, peaceful, and non-imperial relationship between Najaf residents and Minneapolitans.” Gordon’s Policy Aide Robin Garwood also reports that “we don’t have any reason to believe that this new sister city relationship will entail any additional cost to the City.”
The first official exchange between the two cities will come during the last two weeks of September, when a delegation from Najaf will visit the Twin Cities for two weeks. Coming as peacemakers and visitors, these professors, former city council members, business professionals, NGO directors and members of the Muslim Peacemaker Teams (MPT) are like us, curious, smart and interested in making friends.
The Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project is working with Friends for a NonViolent World, the University of Minnesota, Meet Minneapolis: Official Convention and Visitors Association, Twin Cities Peace Campaign: Focus on Iraq, Women Against Military Madness, and others to plan an extensive agenda for the visit. Planned events include a trip to a Minneapolis City Council meeting, a talk on the local co-op movement, meetings with local “green” developers, and a Water Symposium at the University of Minnesota. If you would like to participate in the delegation visit, please contact IARP or visit our website and sign up to receive email updates.
IARP is grateful for the many people who worked to get the resolution passed. Council Member Betsy Hodges, the original sponsor of the resolution, took the lead. The final resolution, voted on July 31st at the full Council, was sponsored by Council Members Hodges, Gordon, Hofstede, Glidden, and Remington. IARP also thanks City staff members Jenny Chayabutr, Lauren Maker and “Meet Minneapolis” International visitors point person, Bill Deef. Thanks also to the many others who supported the resolution.
For further information, please contact IARP or visit our website at http://reconciliationproject.org.
Kathy McKay, Executive Director
The Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project (IARP) seeks to promote reconciliation between the people of the United States and Iraq in response to the devastation affecting Iraqi families, society, and culture. IARP recognizes the common humanity of the people of Iraq and the people of the United States.