Diyala Youth at “Iraq: Youth and Coexistence” Forum Try to Override Skepticism and Legacy of Violence

Baqouba, Iraq - Diyala was best known for its oranges and abundance of fruit produce. But in recent years it has paid a heavy price for terrorism, violence and sectarian divisions. So it is no surprise that reconciliation is a word that resonates well with the youth in this governorate just northeast of Baghdad that is home to a diverse ethnic and sectarian mix.

That explains why taking the traveling “Iraq: Youth and Coexistence” Forum to Diyala for the youth to deliberate – sometimes argue – over the issues they hold dear, make recommendations and air concerns most certainly enriched the discussions aimed at gauging the opinions of the young generation on reconciliation.

The Diyala forum, which convened on 25 March 2017, is the fourth of a series of cross-country youth forums intended to give a voice to youth for their crucial role in charting the road to peaceful co-existence in a future Iraq. Since January 2017, the forum has already traveled to Basra, Najaf and Erbil, with over 400 youth from these governorates and neighboring governorates participating. It is scheduled to go next to Suleimaniyah, Kirkuk, Baghdad and Salaheddin, culminating in an overarching national conference in Baghdad in May to be attended by representatives of the youth forums from all these stops to incorporate recommendations from the meetings in the decisions that support the process of reconciliation and coexistence.

As with the format for all the conferences, the participants in the Diyala forum broke up into working groups to deliberate and respond to questions about what they would like to see in a future Iraq and how they can contribute. At the end of the meeting, the participants debated their responses and adopted a set of recommendations.

Randa Jawad Kadhim was among the 68 women and men in the age group of 18-35 who were at the Diyala forum deliberating the set of questions posed by the organizers, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), in collaboration with the Iraqi Al-Amal organization.

The 26-year-old university graduate said her working group did not lack the knowledge or the motivation. “Members of the group have wideranging thinking and are educated. They possessed initiatives for the dialogue, and proposals that benefit society,” she told UNAMI PIO. “Most important is the motivation. Without it nothing can be achieved.”

And there was no shortage of that. Participants got into heated, yet friendly, arguments, about many things, including wording and interpretation, from education, legislation and implementation of laws, criminalizing sectarian incitement, ending quota system, creating job opportunities, raising awareness through media campaigns, greater role for the youth to combating extremism and rejecting sectarianism. “We are a society who wants to live in peace,” one pitched to his fellow participants. “How? … By strengthening national reconciliation,” he continued.

Another passionately spoke about the violent past, saying “Iraq has bled enough.” One participant focused on the economic return from security and stability, giving an example of when the electricity grid was sabotaged in the area no electricity company would come to repair it or invest in the system because of lack of security. “Supporting security stability encourages investment in Iraq,” he maintained.

Participant Mohammed Majid had a simpler explanation - and solution. The 21-year-old commercial photographer said “all the problems of the people – peaceful coexistence, religiously loaded language, militarization - and other negative issues are linked to awareness. All we have to do is raise the level of awareness.”

Hadeel Adnan Hassan said time was limited to discuss in depth all the ideas but nevertheless she agreed with almost all of the recommendations of her working group. The 28-year-old graduate in accounting said the “benefit is if the recommendation reach and if our voice reaches.”

Some voiced skepticism, saying few will listen to what the youth have to say anyway.

Underlining the frustration of the youth, one participant at the closing session borrowed from the Arabic saying: “It would have been heard if you had cried out for someone who is alive, but there is no life in he who you are calling.”

Mr. Khidr Muslim Hafez, secretary-general of the Diyala Provincial Council representing the governor, addressed the youth at the opening session, saying “It is time to get busy with seeking how to restore national cohesion and to speak in one voice with sincere intention and strong will”. At the closing session, he praised the youth’s efforts, telling them “your recommendations are a giant step” and inviting them to present their ideas and concerns to the Council.

Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General (DSRSG) for Iraq for Political and Electoral Affairs, Mr. György Busztin, assured the youth that their recommendations will go to Baghdad and will be presented to the Prime Minister to consider in future reconciliation efforts.

“All what you have proposed will reach the highest places. There are many opinions, sometimes contradictory, but they serve the common cause. The challenges in this distinct governorate – said to be a ‘mini-Iraq’ – are real. We want for it, as we want for the whole of Iraq, stability and prosperity.”

By Samir F. Ghattas
UNAMI Public Information Office

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  • Agency: UNAMI

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