BAGHDAD -- Iraqi intellectuals, journalists and writers have launched a new initiative aimed at promoting tolerance, amid fears of renewed sectarian violence following a controversial decision to bar hundreds of candidates from March elections, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reports.
The inauguration of the Tanwir (Enlightenment) cultural center in Baghdad comes amid continued tensions over the decision by a government commission to bar more than 450 candidates from contesting the March 7 parliamentary polls due to suspected links to Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath Party.
The move has led to protests by some of Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority who say they are being marginalized by majority Shi'a.
Zaeem Nassar, Tanwir's director, told RFI that the organization's mission was to popularize a political culture based on democracy, religious freedom and cultural as well as ethnic diversity.
Nassar added that the focus of the center's activities would be to instill a conviction that these notions are a source of strength for society.
Writer Ibrahim al-Khayat told RFI that the highly complex stage Iraq was going through demanded a new language of communication between the various factions, with tolerance and respect for the other view as the overriding theme.
Abdel Razzak Ali, a Tanwir activist, told RFI that the center sought to cultivate dialogue and understanding between people regardless of faith, ethnicity or background as a potent means of maintaining civil peace.
Abdel Zahra Zeki, editor of the semiofficial "Al-Sabah" daily and co-founder of the center told RFI that Tanwir is the first step in a bigger project designed to establish values consistent with post-Saddam Iraq.