In the 1970s there were governmental led initiatives to sustain and create awareness of national heritage in Iraq. These can be manifested by the Folklore Centre for Crafts and Heritage, the National Group for Folk Arts, the Iraqi Fashion House, the Heritage Periodic and the Center for Gulf Studies and Archives. However, the centralized top down economic structure, and lack of serious government-private partnership at the time meant that these initiatives remained lacked coherence and failed on the grass-root level. Additionally, there was neither a well-defined vision for crafts and craftsmen, nor a serious recognition for their role and importance in society, which would enable sustainable development in terms of quality, production, and marketing in the face of the challenges of globalization and modernization.
The years of the war with Iran shifted the government support efforts from privately sustained entrepreneurship eco-systems to the war effort. The war also meant most of the male Iraqi population was driven into the fronts, away from their environment. The last years of the war, however, provided a window of opportunity to empower women at home, and soldiers returning from the battlefield working from home and workshops on reviving Iraqi traditional crafts. The original vision of Al Beit Al Iraqi, which was established in 1986, was to become the “pioneer centre within the private sector to encourage, support, and sustain Iraqi crafts, as well as reveal its distinguished aspects, and find contemporary uses and channels for the craftsman”. Its vision was restrained within the limitations provided by the political and economic circumstances of the time. After 1990 the original project continued to serve as a center for culture and heritage with the following mission:
• to embrace the variety of Iraqi crafts within one centre abridging the relation between craftsman and his environment;
• to record, examine, revive and develop forgotten crafts;
• to act as a cultural memory by introducing forgotten heritage to newer generations that had disowned the past;
• to liaise between different classes of society: rural and urban, local and global;
• to create, by renovating the old house where Al Beit Al Iraqi is located, a challenge for architectural forms alien to the Iraqi environment, and a pioneering experience that acted as a case study for many young students of architecture;
• to find renewed and sustainable applications and avenues for traditional crafts and technologies;
• to revive the use of traditional technologies as substitutes to fulfil daily needs due to lack of modern technologies during the sanctions imposed on Iraq at the time, and;
• to find new economic opportunities for people with lower income (soldiers returning from the front with no jobs, families losing their breadwinners and those who severely affected by the sanctions).
The years of war, corruption and civil conflict that followed 2003 had a dreadful impact on all of the achievements in the areas of encouraging and protecting craftsmanship and heritage, which went into a total collapse. This is similar to what happened to other areas of creativity.
The change in the socio-economic system, conflict and systematic corruption that followed 2003 to date means that the government of Iraq is incapable of sustaining initiatives for employment of the millions of young graduates or for support of millions of families of limited income. The challenge is even more exacerbated with the drop in oil prices, currently the only driver of economy in Iraq, and the futuristic socio-economic outlooks after the Covit19 global outbreak.
This urgently necessitates self-sustainable micro-economic initiatives to address current and futuristic needs in economic growth, and to participate in recreating the socio-cultural fabric in Iraq.