Amidst the scorching heat that’s disrupting the climate and lives of residents, it would be an understatement to say that the Iraqi political and governmental institutions have failed yet again. This failure and corruption have persisted for a long period of time, but the situation is now descending into an ever-darker future — a future reminiscent of 300 BC or even older. A regressive and uninformed era, characterized by scarcity of water as well as knowledge, where the young seek refuge in more prosperous nations, and those who remain struggle with depression and turn to theft.
Let’s start with basic human rights: “to love”
The Iraqi government enacted an anti-prostitution law a few days ago. It includes penalties for all in the LGBTQI+ community, namely imprisonment, fines and death.
The nation is not only failing to foster its citizens’ growth and prosperity, or even to guarantee basic human rights such as freedom of speech, electricity and clean water, but it is also failing to establish laws that uphold these fundamental rights.
I worked for an NGO in northern Iraq, where we were trained to protect ourselves and support the LGBTQI+ community. We received countless insulting messages and threats. There were videos made specifically to intimidate us directly. This campaign of terror was relentless. Despite having connections within the Kurdish Iraqi parliament, the organization was ultimately silenced by the influential voice of the conservative Islamic organizations and politicians.
The threats extended not only to the community, but also to employees. We were told to not even say that we were at an NGO that supports women and the LGBTQI+ community.
With this new law in place, the community’s prospects for basic survival within the country have grown increasingly dim. Sadly, many are now compelled to flee their homeland and emigrate to other countries merely to ensure their survival.
The root issue lies in Iraq being governed by the ignorant and powerful who perpetuate corruption and enact laws that deprive citizens of their basic right to exist in this temporary world. This is yet another manifestation of the disheartening pattern set by ignorant religious leaders.
The monopolized or oligopolies economy
I have sat with a business consultant from a well-known Iraqi firm to see what they are feeling and perceiving about the economy. To put it plainly, a select few in power maintain dominance through corruption and political connections. When an entrepreneur makes enough money or becomes wealthy, s/he needs to pay the politicians and party members in order to keep operating. Who you know in the government determines what you can do in the economy. This dynamic creates a closed group where everyone is connected.
Public school education in the country is very poor. It does not matter where you are in Iraq, from north to south. Therefore, many go to private schools or private universities in order to have a job after they graduate. That is not the issue. The issue is far more about the poor quality of education in some private schools and universities. For example, there are private universities who admit students who have low total scores, and then do not whatsoever provide them with quality education. In fact, some students pass without even comprehending the material. Their understanding of the curriculum is shallow. Upon graduation, securing a job hinges only on having connections, often referred to as "Wasta."
The interesting thing is that the young generation rejects this system. They want a more egalitarian and fairer one; therefore, when they get a good quality education from good and well-known universities, they tend to work in the private sector and/or in NGOs or with international companies in Iraq.
With the current turmoil that engulfs Iraq, the environment is also suffering. Marshes are experiencing drought, and arid lands in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) are parched.
Many colleagues and friends are saying: “It feels like we are living in hell or in an open hairdryer.”
Temperature records have been the highest ever recorded, reaching 50C and sometimes more. Farmers, employers, students and the whole population is suffering. Even with the help of technology, the electricity does not function well because the generators cannot operate in high temperatures.
The only way to change this is to change the source of energy and plant more trees to cool the cities down. To aggravate the situation, there are no trains or trams in the country; therefore, each house from a middle class family has a minimum of two cars. The cities from north to south look grey because of the emissions.
The youth now!
Iraq boasts a youthful population. With globalization and the internet, many are aware of how developed countries are doing and how the young in other parts of the world are behaving and living. That includes freedom of speech and talking about mental health issues. The young are trying to change the fabric of the society, but those in power chasten the young with oppression and the real threat of murder.
Over my 11 years in Iraq, I've heard a recurring sentiment: "Saddam Hussein was undoubtedly a tyrant, but we now contend with numerous Saddam Husseins." Or the astute observation that "Saddam Hussein may have been a dictator, but he wasn't a thief; the present leaders are nothing but thieves." This leaves me confused. What do Iraqis want, and who can lead the country? A dictator? A Democrat? Or someone in between?
The way politicians portray themselves or how the country “presents” does not matter. What’s important is that they are harming the nation and its future by pushing away its talented and dynamic youth.