Founding the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project
After the start of the Iraq War, founding executive director Kathy McKay and a group of colleagues and local peace activists, including Steve Clemens, Kaia Svien, Tim Carlson, Al Nettles, Paul Perkal and others, started IARP as a way to support a different kind of relationship between the people of Iraq and the U.S. Working with the Iraqi nonprofit Muslim Peacemaker Teams, the group set out to build bridges of communication and support between Iraqis and Americans. In 2007, the group incorporated IARP as a nonprofit organization.
Building Lasting Relationships:
In 2009, IARP worked with the City of Minneapolis to nurture a resolution, unanimously passed by the Minneapolis City Council, to become Sister Cities with Najaf, Iraq. Since then, IARP has coordinated numerous exchanges and educational programs between Americans and Iraqis as part of the Sister City relationship with Najaf. More than 50 Iraqis visited Minneapolis through the relationship, including artists, teachers, students, medical professionals, business professionals, and government officials.
In 2012, IARP board members and other peacemakers traveled to Najaf on a Sister City delegation from Minneapolis. Words from one of the Iraqi hosts sums up the impact of these personal exchanges: "Before you came here, the U.S. was known as the #1 killer of Iraqis. But you came in peace. And today you did the most difficult thing in taking the time and effort to visit the Shrine of Imam Hussein. It shows that you come as friends and God is bringing us all closer together. Now children and adults [here in Najaf] can see a new face of Americans."
Water for Peace
Over the years, the IARP community has also had a significant humanitarian impact. Through the Water for Peace program, tens of thousands of Iraqi children gained access to clean water. The program also involved thousands of Americans in personal exchanges with Iraqis, through letter and photo exchanges at churches, schools and other organizations across the country. Now Humanitarian Projects for Peace, this project continues to make an impact on the ground in Iraq through the distribution of hygiene kits and most recently, the restocking of the bookshelves at the University of Mosul library.
Building Inclusive Communities through Art and Exchange
IARP has been at the forefront of building a more open and inclusive community in Minnesota, through numerous art exhibits and storytelling initiatives. Exhibits organized by IARP and featuring Iraqi artists, both local and in Iraq, have introduced Iraq's culture and people to tens of thousands across the Twin Cities, rural Minnesota, and the Midwest. Exhibits challenged perspectives about Iraq by presenting Iraqis' experience, both in Iraq and in Minnesota, in a very authentic and personal way. The Iraqi Voices project, which gives Iraqi refugees and immigrants in Minnesota an artistic platform to share their stories, has harnessed the power of art to create spaces for dialogue, combat rising xenophobia and Islamophobia, and provide the Iraqi community, who have a rich heritage of art, with opportunities to access art skills to express themselves as individuals and build community.
In the spring of 2016, the IARP board of directors formally established the People to People program to respond to critical needs evident from feedback from our local community members and the prevalence of dangerous public rhetoric against Muslims, refugees, and immigrants. The People to People program facilitates cultural, language, professional and personal exchanges, creating welcoming spaces for Iraqis and the general public to meet and build friendships. These have included cross-cultural cooking classes, the first Iraqi cultural booth at the Festival of Nations, community dialogue dinners, women’s friendship groups, and an interfaith dialogue group.
Our community of staff, board members, and volunteers look forward to building on the above legacy to advance our mission of peace and friendship for future generations. We welcome you to join us.