Hopeful Iraqi Youth Propose Solutions, Air Concerns as they Conclude Forum on Promoting Coexistence and Reconciliation

BAGHDAD - Iraqi youth from Sulaymaniyah and Diwaniyah to Baashiqa and al-Kut are hoping that the recommendations promoting tolerance and reconciliation they have adopted at the series of meetings of the “Iraq: Youth and Coexistence” over the past four months will climb to the national agenda as the country prepares to tackle the challenges in the period after the defeat of Daesh terrorists.

But mindful of past experiences, some fear that these hopes could diminish and their voices drown in the quicksand of Iraq’s political polarization and economic realities.

Still, they are certain the forum’s eight meetings in seven cities, drawing more than 750 youth in the age group of 18-35 from across the country and its ethnic and religious mix, brought the best in them and could still yield the best for them.

“Although I participated in many conferences sponsored by well-known organizations, my hopes are on this one,” said Ms. Aseel Salam, a 26-year-old member of the minority Bahai community in Baghdad who works in al-Kut. “We are ending a war against Daesh, therefore, we shall not allow any harmful forces to destroy us anymore.”

The dentist added: “We need for our government to see us with these potentials so we can change the systems in Iraq.”

In those meetings, which began late January 2017 and ended on 20 May in an overarching national conference, calls for unity rang out, so were the demands for ending the influence of religion in political life and to combat sectarian tensions. Just as there was broad consensus on major issues there were also differences when it came to sectarian and geographic affiliations.

Take, for example, the issue of reinstating compulsory military service which generated heated opinions from those who did not wish it be included to avoid militarization of the youth and others who see it as a melting pot that molds the youth into one cohesive, harmonious unit and prepare them for the future. Another issue that caused differences emerged over the idea to drop the traditional tribal name from the Identity Card as a way to shed the religious affiliation. But overall, the youth were united in their aspirations for a prosperous future for Iraq in which all its people will be able to live together in peace and harmony.

Mr. Ahmed al-Mayahi, 26-year-old filmmaker from the central Iraqi city of Babel, acknowledged the difficulties when he said in an interview “160 participants with 160 ideas.” But he also foresaw simple solutions: “My message for the young people would be ‘If you change from within, you will be able to change others.’ ”

Ms. Asreen Jamal, a 28-year-old university student from Sulaymaniyah, found differing opinions as enriching the debate and should not be a reason for concern. “I find it very interesting because in Sulaimanyah you only find one type of people unlike Erbil and Baghdad; here I met people from different ethnicities and backgrounds. Diversity is a positive thing because thoughts and ideas are different.”

Ms. Rand al-Gharabi, a 33-year-old activist from Dinwaniyah with a university degree, suggested that to prevent minorities from being singled out by certain parties the country’s diversity requires that other religions also be taught in schools. The media also has a unifying role to play in the battle to defeat the terrorists. She expressed hope that the recommendations will be useful in unifying the young generation and assist in the political process.

Mr. Hamza Majed Hameed, 23, from Wassit, and Mr. Abdullah Shahir Findi, a Shabak from Baashiqa, drew on experiences of dealing with other communities, particularly those who have been displaced by the conflict, and how this brought the people closer together.

But some youth believe their efforts may not be enough, and strong government action is needed.

“There is marginalization in the role of youth in the decisions. If we only give the young people a bigger role in taking decisions, that will build their self-confidence,” Mr. Hameed said.

Reflecting his concerns, Mr. Findi said: “The only solution to ensure implementation of the recommendations is through the organizers, the United Nations, to establish a committee that follows up on the recommendations and draw a time frame for implementation.”

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), which organized the forum with the Iraqi al-Amal organization, has pledged that a delegation emerging from the conference will convey the concluding recommendations to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi with the hope of including it in the decisions that support the national reconciliation effort.

For Ms. Ryam Laith Najm, a Master’s studies student, work starts in society and at home.

“There are economic issues in the country that give a bad effect on our young generation. If we can invest in the energy generated by our youth this will keep them away from trouble.”

She noted that she and her husband come from different sects but they raise their children in an environment free of sectarian views.

“My husband and I learn from each other and indulge the positive sides from both of us and reflect it on our children.”

By Sanaa Kareem
UNAMI Public Information Office

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  • Agency: UNAMI

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