Young people of Iraq went on streets in October 2019 and have now set a precedent for youth movements globally. The demand was simple: they wanted to rebuild Iraq and ensure that the leaders are accountable for building a resilient economy. The onset of COVID-19 disrupted the movements (globally), and Iraq is in a peculiar disrupted state now.
Iraq which was once home to the wealthiest and the longest running Ottoman Empire, has been battling with continuous instability and conflict since the election of Saddam Hussain[i]. A population of more than 37 million have been in despair since the Iran-Iraq war in 1980[ii] and an estimated 6.7 million people are in need for humanitarian assistance[iii]. According to IDMC, Iraq is one of the world’s most volatile country with more than 1.5 million people were internally displaced. Iraq has witnessed internal conflicts to external intervention to ethnic and religious persecution to ISIS taking over vast territories to floods and earthquakes and now the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2019 Iraq recorded 462,000 people returning; surpassing the number of new displacements for the third year in a row[iv].
Figures IDMC website
The data suggests Iraqis want to come back and re-build their country/their homes and their lives. The World Bank Group (WGB) has been supporting MENA region by working with governments through various integrated investments improving access to basic services and building economic opportunities for men and women. Among other initiatives, 18$ million worth investment was done in the dairy business in Iraq to boost standing of food processing industry. While 65$million loan was given to the cement company Lafarge in Iraq to boost local construction industry[v]. Boosting the labour intensive industries which will in turn help in the demand for local labour.
During the ISIS conflict, critical infrastructure, houses, schools, health facilities, police stations were either damaged or destroyed. The Iraqi government assessed that it would require more than 88$ billion to recover and rebuild.[vi] While, there is no account of the trauma and loss of human life, education of children and violence women/men faced during these years.
Rebuilding requires more than just millions; it requires building community trust, social comfort and harmony which many young Iraqis may have never experienced. In October 2019, young Iraqis took to the streets in mass protests to denounce rampant corruption, poor services, and high unemployment. These demonstrations exposed the fragility of the Iraqi socio-economic system[vii]. Iraq is a young country – some 60 per cent of its population is under 25 years old – and despite its oil wealth, its battling unemployment, corruption and substandard way of living.
For five straight days, large crowds of mostly young Iraqis poured onto the streets of Baghdad and other cities in an outburst of anger over chronic unemployment, corruption and poor public services, including access to water and electricity.
Students staged sit-ins at their schools and government offices were closed on the first day of the working week in the Muslim nation. “We decided to cut the roads as a message to the government that we will keep protesting until the corrupt people and thieves are kicked out and the regime falls,” Tahseen Nasser, a 25-year-old protester, was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.
Alaa Wissam, a 25-year-old architect, said young people were heading to the square to volunteer their help. “This thing will help young people to have a role in the change that is happening,” she said (as reported in the BBC news report)[viii]
Young Iraqis are demanding a secured, anti-war future; they are demanding a stand against sectarianism, corruption and unemployment. A youth movement like never before has led to the fall Prime Minister of Iraq Adil Abdul-Mahdi officially resigned from his post on 1 December 2019. On 24 December, the Council of Representatives passed an electoral law aimed at broadening participation in elections to candidates not affiliated to political parties by moving from a party list proportional representation system to an individual system based on the designation of new electoral districts.
Iraq was struggling its own battles to rebuild, when Coronavirus hit the region with a major blow to the already broken health system. A country where majority of its population is displaced and living under tents COVID-19 has worsened the conditions; bringing the development of the country to a standstill[ix]. In mid-March 2020, the Iraqi Government imposed a curfew as part of its response to COVID-19. The battle is not over yet, the dysfunction of Iraq has united young people from all classes has united them to demand and create a futuristic nation.
[ix] Human Rights Violations and Abuses in the Context of Demonstrations in Iraq October 2019 to April 2020