Last week, the UN Special Representative for Iraq, Ad Melkert, called upon Iraqi authorities to develop a strategy to improve social and economic opportunities for young Iraqis. This came after the Youth Status Analytical Report found illiteracy and unemployment to be rampant among Iraqi youth.
Melkert said, “[Iraqi Leaders] must listen to the needs of young people and respond to their legitimate demands and expectations.” Melkert highlights a very poignant issue pertaining to Iraqi youth, who are so badly displaced – socially, culturally, economically, and educationally – they are potential targets for group influence.
Currently, the Iraqi youth are being marginalized by the lack of unified leadership from political strife and sectarian rifts. The youth need social, political, and educational support in order to lead as future active citizens.
I left Iraq as a young adult in 1997 for political reasons. I left behind a country that had limited prospects for the future, with little to no freedoms; we all lived in fear during Saddam Hussein's regime. We only had one allowable political party (al-Ba'ath Party) and one dictator ruling it with his family members. I returned to Iraq in May; I met youth, politicians, activists, organization leaders, religious leaders, and others. I expected to see many positive changes, but what I saw was something different.
The country is riddled with corruption as remnants of the old regime remain. Iraq is now a complicated country, divided into different political parties and religious sects. Some individuals only follow the majority opinion to maintain their high positions – as opposed to the all-out war experienced in recent memory – or to find jobs. The followers of the majority want to maintain the status quo in society, turning a blind eye to the corrupt leaders and their underlying loyalties to neighboring countries. Iraq’s unstable nature has created confusion amongst the Iraqi youth, as most question their support, thoughts, and loyalty.
The division amongst the different political parties – such as the al-Dawa Party and opposition parties – along with the division amongst ethnic and religious groups – such as Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and Assyrians – has created an Iraq overrun with chaos and turmoil. Due to the political and social divisions, the country lacks unified goals and a vision for the future. Many are concerned with restoring order and life's daily activities; they are willing to take a chance on a politician who can provide electricity, water, and jobs at any cost to state sovereignty and with little real planning. Many politicians in Iraq seek public office for their own benefit, and religious leaders are using their power to gain more influence and control in society and government. The biggest losers in this tension between politicians and religious leaders are the Iraqi youth. Young Iraqis are suffering from a lack of educational opportunities, a poor healthcare system, limited prospects, and a lack of hope.
What do I expect from the Iraqi people? Nothing for now; change needs to come up through Iraqi society, through the country's youth who are inspired to revolutionize the political leaders and situation. With the present challenges, the Iraqi youth need a lot of help and support to make such changes and to ignite hope.
I know the importance of such a mission, which is why I established an organization for such a purpose, and I believe that such changes can influence the future of Iraq in a positive way.
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