The Stories behind Iraq’s Revolutionary Places: Habboubi Square in Nasiriyah

Ali Al-Naseri

In the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, the anti-government protests have centred on a square downtown known as Habboubi Square. It sits at the intersection of Nile and Habboubi streets and in its centre, one can see a statue of Mohammed Saeed al-Habboubi, a poet and warrior.

The statue was carved by a local sculptor, Abdul Reda Keshish, in 1973. It took him six months to complete the sculpture, with its base measuring 4 square meters and the statue reaching a height of 3.5 meters. “He holds a piece of paper with a message to the Iraqi revolutionaries, telling them not to surrender to the British in the 1920s, until they have been liberated from colonialism,” Keshish explains.

Before it was a square, this area was simply known as Akad Al Hawa street, a place where a breeze could blow straight through the city from north to south. It was place of social harmony, where lovers and friends could meet, and where it didn’t matter which sect you belonged to or where you came from.

“This street was always the heart of Nasiriyah,” recalls Wasef Jassem, a 70 year old retiree. “It was full of cafes, where people would meet in the evenings.”

Today Habboubi Square is a temporary home for young Iraqis protesting against their government, demanding better state services and an end to corruption and cronyism. All kinds of activities have taken place in the square, including the launching of balloons, sending messages of support to other protesters in other squares around the country, football matches have been screened here and bicycle races were a frequent event.

What is happening in Habboubi Square today is simply an extension of what has always happened here, says local historian Amir Doshi. “This square is associated with the spirt of revolution because of the presence of the statue and it has witnessed the emergence of many protests against political regimes.”

“This gathering in Habboubi Square is a revolution for a new generation, one that rejects corruption and aspires to a decent life” Ali Mohsen, a 20-year-old protestor, enthuses. “Habboubi Square is a symbol that is becoming known to people right around Iraq.”

The sculptor Keshish says he is happy that his homage to the warrior poet remains standing tall in the square. And in some ways there is also new poetry being written for this revolution in Nasiriyah. “They who are frightened cannot create freedom,” the protesters’ banners proclaim proudly, beneath Habboubi’s statue.

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