Even after a long flight and jet lag, 11 female, Iraqi athletes and three coaches arrived to the United States this December bright-eyed and ready for an empowering experience. They were eager to listen, ask questions, and talk about their backgrounds as teenage soccer players and students in Iraq. Although most of the young women met for the first time at the airport, coming from three different cities -- Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Erbil -- they already acted like teammates.

When Qatar’s royal family was looking for advice on charitable giving, it turned to a well-regarded professor named Abd al-Rahman al-Nu’aymi. The 59-year-old educator had a stellar résumé that included extensive fundraising experience and years of work with international human rights groups.

For three months, six women and one man have been sitting outside the US embassy in London and starving themselves in the cold. The group—who are all middle-aged British residents—are subsisting on nothing but water and sugar lumps to protest against the killing of 52 residents and the alleged kidnapping of seven others at Camp Ashraf, Iraq on September 1.

Al Qaeda is building its most dangerous stronghold ever in the borderlands between Syria and Iraq. Hundreds of new jihadist fighters are flocking to this battlefield in the heartland of the Middle East. And with the civil wars in both countries all but certain to endure for the foreseeable future, the danger from this stronghold is growing.

This week Sunni and Shia Muslims ushered in the Islamic New Year and the beginning of the holy month of Muharram. For Shias, the month also is a time to mourn the events that sparked the centuries-old schism between Shia and Sunni Muslims.1 Pew Research Center polls conducted in 2011-2012 find high levels of concern about sectarian tensions in several countries where Sunnis and Shias live side by side.

The last six months have seen Iraq become Syria-lite. Jihadists move across the porous Iraq-Syrian border with impunity, fueling the sectarian violence. Al-Jazeera reported that Iraq has suffered more than 5,000 deaths this year alone. The Kurdish north, long considered the success story of Iraq, has not been spared. On September 29, a coordinated attack of car bombs and gunfire hit Erbil, the capital of the autonomous region.

On Friday, October 18 at American University, the Public & Cultural Diplomacy Forum will be hosting a performance from First Step Iraq, a group of dancers and rappers from Baghdad, Basra, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, as part of their “Hiplomacy” tour this Fall. The Iraqi artists will present a show that reflects their daily struggle to practice their craft and showcase their talent in the often hostile environment of their home country. The performance will be followed by a Q+A session on this innovative cultural diplomacy program.

September 25, 2013

This week on the Listening Post: Presidents, propaganda and channelling the media to get the message out: a look at the similarities and differences between Syria in 2013 and Iraq 10 years ago. As the crisis in Syria deepens, the diplomatic battle outside the country – being fought out in the global media – intensifies.