Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Baghdadis Pessimistic About Future

In run-up to local elections, residents say they are disillusioned with politics despite improvements in security.
By Zaineb Naji
Abbas Abdullah has lost his brother, his home – and his faith in Iraqi politics.



During the 2005 elections, Abdullah and his brothers hung posters supporting the Shia-led United Iraqi Alliance in his grocery store in Baghdad’s al-Mansur district.



This year, as Iraq prepares for its provincial council elections – which are expected to be held by early next year – Abdullah’s dream of a better life has crumbled and he has little interest in voting or politics.



“We’ve gone through three years of violence and nothing has changed,” he said. “We’re continuing our life and work with caution and fear, despite the improvement in security.”



Abdullah, runs the store with his two brothers, Ali and Mustafa. Their fourth brother, Mohammed, was killed when insurgents attacked the shop at the height of the sectarian violence in late 2006. The family has lost its home and moved several times because of the unrest.



Abdullah once thought that politicians could bolster security and improve living conditions in Iraq. Now he said he remains sorely disappointed and feels unprotected.



“We have a lot wishes and dreams about the future, but we get little in return. There’s no electricity, no housing and infectious diseases and corruption are rife. The displaced are having a difficult time and security is fragile,” he said.



“I’m ashamed of this government that cares only about its personal interests. No one cares about us.”



Several Baghdad residents interviewed by IWPR say they are tired of poor living conditions. Despite increasing oil revenues and improved security, confidence in the government appears to be plummeting.



The hike in oil prices over the past year has swelled the government’s coffers, with the budget for this year expected to show a surplus of between 38 billion and 50 billion US dollars, according to a report from the United States Government Accountability Office.



Yet in Baghdad, people have a bleak view of the future, as they continue to suffer electricity and water shortages, as well as limited access to healthcare and education. In September – during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when the government tends to provide better services – Baghdad enjoyed slightly less than 12 hours of power per day.



Sana Kazem Mohsen, a housewife and mother of three, said she wished she wished her children were better equipped for school. But as paying for electricity and clean water take priority, she said finding money for additional costs, such as school supplies, is very difficult.



Mohsen tries to make ends meet by working as a seamstress and closely managing the household budget.



In a small room of her house, a sheet of paper tacked onto the wall reads, “Do not talk politics, please.”



“I used to speak with my friends about politics and I followed the news like crazy,” she said. “I was defending people I trusted in the government and criticising others, saying to myself that the country will rise again.



“But [now] we are in one valley and the government in another. The government is talking about elections and services are at their worst.



“They speak about the country's wealth and there is no oil and gas in our homes. They talk about jobs and widespread unemployment in Iraq, but don’t offer a solution.”



Although Mohsen’s brother is set to graduate next year from university, he sees little hope for the future either.



“He does not know where and how he will find a job to help himself or his family,” said Mohsen.



Iraqi politicians say they are aware of the pessimism on the street, but candidates running for local office are not campaigning heavily or promising change.



Voters say they doubt that living conditions will improve or that corruption will be eradicated following the elections. Apathy is such that more than 80 per cent of people have not registered to vote.



According to Transparency International, a civil society organisation which fights corruption, Iraq is ranked 178 out of 180 countries on a perceived corruption scale – and many Iraqis complain the problem is worse at local level.



Massive displacement, high unemployment and poor public services remain serious obstacles to Iraq’s development.



Qasim Dawood, a member of parliament for the United Iraqi Alliance, admitted that “the government's failure to meet the demands of the Iraqi people is the primary reason for this rejection [of Iraqi politics] and lack of trust.



“People will continue to withhold their support from the government if they don’t improve their performance.”



"People are fed up,” said Ammar al-Hassani, an engineer at the University of Baghdad. “[They] have suffered through the sectarian violence and hoped that the economic situation would improve with better security.



“People want to live, they want electricity, they want [heating] oil in winter. Are these things so difficult to provide in an oil-rich country?”



He said the authorities were too busy ceding control of the country’s resources to foreigners. “Our government isn’t interested in our needs,” he said.



Zaineb Naji is an IWPR-trained journalist in Baghdad.





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