This week in Iraq, U.S. Army Capt. Tom Hickey had the opportunity to meet with the eight-year Iraqi girl whose life he helped save in 2007 during his tour. For U.S. soldiers, spending time with the girl’s family provided a sense of normalcy with Iraqis the soldiers had been unable to experience up until that point.
U.S. Army Sgt. Kevin Chapman discussed the evolution of an Iraqi military counterpart since his initial tour in 2005, and how the security responsibility has begun to shift from U.S. to Iraqi forces.
On July 28, the UN Security Council unanimously decided to extend the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) for another year. Although there have been “recent security improvements in the country,” the Security Council emphasized “the need for further progress on the humanitarian, human rights, and political fronts.”
In an attempt to revive the Iraqi car industry, the government has invested $2 billion. “Within 10 years the bigger components should be produced in Iraq and the goal is eventually to manufacture a vehicle that is 100 percent Iraqi.”
Two westerners recently traveled to Kurdistan on vacation, and described the allure of its “local hospitality and its breathtaking landscape.“ “Since 2007, the number of visitors to Kurdistan has risen from around 380,000 to over 1.3 million in 2010.”
In the past week, Iraqi students visiting the United States have been very busy. Iraqi students studying at the University of Arkansas gave back to the Mid-Western community by contributing to the Joplin relief effort. In Richmond, VA, Iraqi students took time off from studying and volunteering to visit Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA. Back in Iraq, a young woman on a full-scholarship to the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani, overcame the struggleto adjust to life away from home in a foreign city.
On July 10, “Kurdistan Region’s Ministry of Culture and Youth, a delegation from the Iraqi Sports and Youth Ministry, visited the Kurdish capital city Erbil.” The visit aimed to eliminate several problems faced by Iraqi athletes, including a lack of sports infrastructure, player and fan security, and separation of government from sports federation affairs. On a lighter note, the Iraqi soccer team, led by German coach Wolfgang Sidka, hopes to continue its bid for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil through victory in a qualifier against Yemen on July 23.
Thanks to the work of the Getty Conservation Institute, the World Monuments Fund, and Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, ancient sites and artifacts in Iraq will soon be protected through the implementation of a geodatabase record called MEGA-Iraq (Middle Eastern geodatabase for heritage).
The Arab Spring has become one of the most groundbreaking eras in modern Middle Eastern history. Throughout the region, everyday people have stepped up to demand the rights and respect denied to them for generations, and are making unprecedented moves toward democracy.
On Tuesday July 19, the Middle East Program of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars hosted “Arab Spring or Arab Winter (or Both)? Implications for U.S. Policy.” The presentation featured Marwan Muasher, Ellen Laipson, Aaron David Miller, and Rami Khouri as speakers, and was moderated by Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program. When the presentation started a little after 9:30 a.m., the auditorium was full of an attentive audience, composed of young and old alike.
Esfandiari started off by introducing the speakers, and granting them each eight minutes for an opening statement. Every speaker heavily emphasized that the Arab “Spring” cannot be characterized by one season, but instead should be seen as a several decade long process. The democratic revolutions occurring over the past six months throughout the Middle East is something that took centuries to play out in the West– and we must remain conscious of that in our expectations, they said. Goals must be assessed in the long term, and persistence, consistency, and transparency are all imperative to success.
One of the impressive concepts organically emerging out of the revolution is, as Khouri described, the growth and strengthening of an “Arab citizenry.” These individuals are actively engaging their ruling party– be it political or military– in a new relationship in order to reconfigure, revitalize, and legitimize their system of power. According to Khouri, these affirmations of rights, respect, and sense of place in public sphere are providing a transition for the Arab people from humiliated citizens to proud, engaged citizens of a legitimate government. They are entering a “process of real sovereignty,” in which this Arab citizenry must self-determine their values and how they want their government to serve them. Muasher touched on how people in these communities have absolved their sentiments of powerlessness, and how crucial it is that this fresh start be nurtured.
The conclusions of the event were that the birth of this proactive, invested group of individuals depicts an eagerness to learn about the processes of government reform and to act on them. These individuals need to be embraced by Middle Eastern and international communities– they will be the ones to most effectively create and sustain stability in the region. Revolution from the bottom-up creates an environment for open-discussion, public consensus, and reform in its purest forms.
In Iraq, EPIC works with Iraqi youth to attain similar goals of stability and peace from the bottom-up. Iraq’s future cannot be determined only in a meeting full of bureaucrats–it requires time, dedication, and the voices of all involved parties.
In Iraq, major infrastructure, like access to water, sanitation, and electricity, is in short supply. There is enormous potential for substantial projects to be undertaken that could help put unemployed, under-skilled Iraqis to work and help improve the lives of ordinary citizens.
But for some reason, projects in Iraq aren’t finished, electrical cables aren’t built, water isn’t provided, and oil production is the same as it was before the US invasion in 2003. Considering the potential for development, it can be difficult to understand why nobody can start a business and why businesses that do start can’t do anything. In the U.S., coming out of high school, I started a business selling soccer jerseys. It took $20 and 15 minutes to get a tax license, and another $10 lining up a place to sell. It’s not hard to put your name on a form and get to work.
So take the case of Aziz Kudari, highlighted by Adam Davidson in an NPR interview. Mr. Kudari is an Iraqi businessman who contracted with the US government in 2006 to install electrical generators at health clinics in Iraq. Ideally, clinics wouldn’t have even needed generators, because electricity would have already been available. But they did, and he had to move just one generator, from Amman, Jordan to Baghdad. Not wanting to take the direct highway through Anbar province because of security fears, he decided to take a circuitous route through Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Three weeks later, his single generator was still stuck on the Jordan-Saudi border, waiting for paperwork. Kudari could only wait, interminably, for the red tape to unwind and for the generator to start moving again.
Even on bad roads, some movement is almost always possible. There’s always a tiny bit of progress to be made. But in the face on an entrenched, inefficient bureaucracy, even the best-laid business plans can go awry. Corruption is a major hurdle that businesses have to contend with, particularly if they want to transport their goods along Iraq’s major highways. A 2010 Economist article reported that there were something like 40 security checkpoints on the main highway between Baghdad and Tikrit. They’ve essentially turned into customs stations though, where a truck driver pays around $9 if he has all of his papers in order and many times that if he doesn’t. Security checkpoints are now so lucrative that they’re being bought and sold, sometimes for something like $45,000, which is an incredible sum where the per capita GDP is around $3800. Even if a businessman could afford the $360 to move something 118 miles, the inefficiency of having to stop and wait in a line 40 separate times slows commerce on the road to a crawl.
The biggest problem, though, for businesspeople, factory owners, and ordinary citizens is the lack of access to reliable electricity. Major enterprises usually require generators to stay in operation, and may encounter problems similar to Mr. Kudari’s, though the security situation in Anbar has improved since 2006. Buying fuel in bulk to run them required paperwork (and presumably bribes) to be filed at five different government ministries for one businessman, which took up the majority of the time he could have spent otherwise improving his factory. Electricity output throughout the country has more than doubled, but so has usage. An International Republican Institute survey in 2010 asked Iraqis in five northern provinces how they felt oil revenues should be spent, with 45% responding that basic services like water and electricity were most important, well above other priorities like job creation, security, or education.
Situations like this make it even more important to promote entrepreneurship and partnership among the youth who will lead Iraq into the future. People who work together, and really view the community and the country as something in which they have a vested interest, are more likely to look for their own creative solutions to Iraq’s very real problems.
The first step to solving a problem is recognizing that a problem exists and working to understand the problem.
One problem that looms over Iraq is the cloud of unemployment and how it might dim the future prospects of Iraqi’s growing youth population. Over 60 percent of Iraq’s population is under the age of 24. They’re growing up with a desire to be a part of rebuilding their country, but without many opportunities to do so, economically or socially.
This weekend, Iraq released its Youth Status Analytical Report which highlights the challenges facing Iraq’s youth. The report found that 57 percent of Iraqis between 15 and 29 who are looking for a job can’t find one—a possible effect of the low rates of literacy and secondary school enrollment also reported.
Mr. Melkert, who is head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), called on Iraqi decision-makers “to listen to the needs of young people and respond to their legitimate demands and expectations.”
Stating that the report provides the Government with a “key planning tool,” he recommended three measures to help decision-makers move forward. The first is agreement on an “Agenda for the Future” with policy targets and timelines that will improve the economic and social prospects for young people.
The second is the establishment of a widely representative “Youth Dialogue Platform” with participants between 18 and 25 years of age for regular consultation with the Government and the Council of Representatives, or parliament.
In addition, he recommended that a “Jobs for Youth” programme be initiated that will on a month-by-month basis increase the number of young people provided with jobs, training or self-employment opportunities.
“Now it the time to bring civil society and the United Nations together within a coordinated platform to reach consensus on how the future of Iraq should look like through its youth,” said Mr. Melkert.
The problem has been recognized and analyzed. Finding and implementing a solution will be harder. But the youth of Iraq have immense power to shape the future of their country. Now is the time to empower them to be the problem solvers of tomorrow.
In Baghdad, the transformation from a sniper’s haven to a welcoming community for families and intellectuals is well underway. Former U.S. Army sergeant Brian Turner’s account of this metamorphosis depicts how far the development of this city has come since his 2003-2004 tour, and the determination of the Iraqi people to enjoy an era of harmony and peaceful existence.
Recently, many Iraqi youth initiatives have successfully turned ideas into actions. Iraqi-born New Zealander Assil Russell established Iraqi Children Aid & Repair Endeavour (I Care) to help disadvantaged Iraqi children in need of medical and dental care—the first of non-profit of its kind in New Zealand. Through its transparent processes and removal of all administrative costs, the charity has directly contributed $10,000 to Iraqi children. In Lebanon, the World Bank-funded project, “Taaleem,” was deemed successful by Swedish NGO, Save the Children. Targeting schools with Iraqi refugee children, Taaleem rejuvenated schools, offered remedial education classes and technical training, and aimed to reduce Iraqi-Lebanese discrimination issues. As part of the 2011 Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program, Colorado State University is hosting a group of Iraqi students for a month as they study sustainability in order to learn how instigate positive changes in Iraq.
July 13, the Day of the Iraqi Child, was commemorated by UNICEF reaffirmation in” its commitment to protect and promote the rights of Iraq’s 15 million children.” UNICEF reported that between 2008 and 2010, 900 children were killed in violence in Iraq, and more than 3,200 were wounded. In an effort to combat the overwhelming number of young deaths, the Ibn Bitar Hospital in Baghdad has been rebuilt and hopes to be equipped to perform infant heart surgery within three years. “Today, Ibn Bitar receives 80,000 patients a year from around the country.”
In the Iraqi province of Dhi Qar, U.S. Task Force Steel Dragons and local Iraqi sheiks work together to provide humanitarian aid to underprivileged families. Distribution of flour, beans, sugar, and tea to the Iraqi people help to demonstrate the aspirations of the local government to help families through hard times.
The morning of July 13, 2005, was going to be different. On that morning, when American soldiers blocked off part of a Baghdad street with their armored vehicles and razor wire, it wasn’t to set up a checkpoint or seal off a neighborhood. Instead, they pulled out bags of candy and small toys, gestures of good will for the local children and their families.
As children rushed to accept the gifts from the soldiers, a small Suzuki sedan also rushed the crowd. An explosion shook the street and shrapnel tore through everything else. In just seconds, the car bomb turned what was going to be a different kind of day in Iraq into one that had become all-too-familiar. Thirty-two children and one American soldier were killed and words will never be able to adequately capture the tragedy of their loss.
That was six years ago. Today, much has changed in Iraq, but we still commemorate July 13. After the bombing, the United Nations marked July 13 as The Day of the Iraqi Child, a day on which we renew our resolve to protect the rights and welfare of Iraq’s 15 million children.
At EPIC, that means continuing our work to empower young Iraqis so that they may harness their power and their rights and build a more peaceful and prosperous Iraq. Thanks to the excitement we’ve seen from EPIC members, our resolve is stronger than ever before.
When I reflect on The Day of the Iraqi Child, I mourn the precious lives that were lost, but I’m also inspired by how that morning began. It began with two very disparate communities coming together, American soldiers and Iraqi children, in friendship. The spirit of that action, like the spirit of Iraqi youth, can’t be dimmed and only grows brighter. It’s a spirit that EPIC embodies, bringing communities together to elevate the welfare of Iraqi youth.
Unemployment throughout the Middle East and North Africa is a serious concern for policy-makers around the world. Demonstrations in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and even Bahrain have largely drawn their government-toppling mettle from the energy of disaffected urban youths, whose education has shown them the benefits of living in the modern world but whose job prospects don’t match up. Limited in their options by politically oppressive ruling factions, these young people have taken to the streets in shows of anti-government anger on an unprecedented scale.
The trends that helped bring out youthful ferocity are not present only in the nations that have seen rebellion. Similar demographic and political conditions are present from Iraq to Morocco, and suggest that the so-called “Arab Spring” may not yet have run its course.
In some of the oil-rich areas of the Middle East, the people are kept acquiescent by the largesse of the political regime. Using oil revenue, governments ensure peaceful streets by dispensing well-paid and secure state jobs in exchange for less freedom. Saddam Hussein, like the rulers of the modern Gulf States, disguised weak employment and minimal opportunity in the private sector by offering jobs in the public sector. Over many years, however, the public sector became the only viable sector of the economy. Almost the entire bulk of reasonably talented Iraqis went into government work, and the vast majority of the middle class made their living in Saddam’s bureaucracy. When the United States ousted him and laid off thousands of government employees, these people lost their only source of income. However, because the existing private sector was so weak, and because the culture of entrepreneurship had been so atrophied by years of the brightest individuals working in the public sector, private sector growth turned into a major disappointment. With the significantly slimmed-down government cutting out old public jobs, many people have found that there is no opportunity anywhere save the informal economy.
Exacerbating the unemployment problem caused by the loss of jobs in government has been a jump in the fertility rate between 1975 and 1990. Children born during those years are coming to working age when the economy is least able to absorb them into meaningful employment. And though they don’t have the same volatile mix of university education and no opportunity that plagued Egypt and Tunisia, they have experienced the disappointment of promises for a better tomorrow not coming to fruition. Employment problems fall particularly hard upon the young, who often find when they grow up that the best jobs are already taken or have disappeared.
To fill that gap, international and Iraqi projects, both government sponsored and non-government sponsored, are working to rebuild the country. Many of them have chosen to focus their efforts on the youth as a way to simultaneously overcome scars of the past and foster an environment of entrepreneurship that will hopefully keep creating jobs—and a more prosperous Iraq—well into the future.
Update: This UN article suggests a brain drain if nothing is done about unemployment, which could make matters even more difficult.
On Thursday, July 7, 2011, the White House’s Office of Public Engagements hosted an interactive web-chat with young Americans and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator, Dr. Rajiv Shah. A video feed of Dr. Shah and White House Youth Liaison Kalpen Modi streamed live over the internet while questions were submitted from around the country and globe via email, Facebook, and Twitter. This forum discussed U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) initiatives regarding empowering the youth in international development and in contributing to global solutions.
The dialogue’s primary message projected that we have entered an “era of development results”– as the world continues to become fully interconnected, now, more than ever, the world’s youth has the power to create peaceful, prosperous domestic and international communities. Dr. Shah emphasized that in order to sustainably continue development work efficiently and effectively, the United States must harness the youth’s energy and creativity. In the modern world, and in the future, funding development projects will be much more dependent on technical expertise and altruism than on public money. While this young generation grows into the world’s next global leaders and innovators, they will be able to use their skills to establish international partnerships, tools, and platforms around the world to accomplish global development initiatives.
Creating opportunities for Iraqi youth– educational, social, or cultural– will help contribute to this bright generation of engaged and committed young people as well as a self-sufficient domestic development movement. It is imperative that the international community recognize the capacity of the youth to aid the global development movement and further promote their involvement in these initiatives. USAID and other organizations should strive to assist in forging connections between young citizens of the world. In this way, the local problems of communities can be acknowledged and understood worldwide, and a forum of free information flow and exchange among young people can be created in the name of international development.
You did it! Your excitement and your support helped us raise $13,569 for the Iraqi Youth Hike, EPIC’s first project in Iraq. You really gave us something extra to celebrate this Fourth of July weekend.
We are so excited that you joined our growing community, a community invested in helping young people in Iraq. More than 150 people from 32 states and five countries contributed to the Iraqi Youth Hike program. For us, it’s that number, not the one after the dollar sign, which really counts.
This diverse community exemplifies what we’re going to do on the ground in Iraq—bring together young Iraqis of different religious and ethnic backgrounds. They are determining their future and the future of their country, and now it’s time to get them excited about building a lasting peace in Iraq.
You made it possible. Thank you again for making our first crowdfunding campaign a success. I look forward to updating you on the Hike and showing you how it’s effecting change in the lives of Iraqi youth.
It’s never too late to support EPIC, though. Make a tax-deductible contribution and you’ll ensure we can develop and carry out more awesome programs like the Iraqi Youth Hike.