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

Ten Years on, Iraqis Despondent About Future

Conflict and political stalemate create sense of hopelessness.
By Laith Hammoudi
  • Aftermath of a car bomb in northern Baghdad, February 2012. (Photo: IWPR)
    Aftermath of a car bomb in northern Baghdad, February 2012. (Photo: IWPR)

“I never expected to say it, but I really yearn for the days of Saddam,” Alaa Naim said. 

What the 42-year-old Baghdad resident misses about life under the old regime is a basic sense of safety at a day-to-day level. Since 2003, his father and his uncle have both kidnapped in separate incidents, and Naim had to pay out over 100,000 US dollars in ransom money for the two.

Naim has a factory making plastic bags near the Sunni Arab town of Fallujah, but lives in the capital Baghdad. He used to be able to go anywhere in Iraq without worrying, he says, and he would travel out to the factory every day, a trip of one hour or less. Now it takes him at least four hours to get from his home in west Baghdad just to visit his cousins in the east of the city.

Naim’s weariness with the post-2003 environment – all the bombings, shootings and sectarian clashes – was expressed by many of the people whom IWPR asked to share their thoughts and hopes for the future.

Although the small cross-section of interviewees means that their views are not necessarily representative, one recurring theme is a strong sense that the political process is going nowhere, and that politicians look after their own interests while Iraq smoulders, if not actively burning at the moment.

“I’ve learned that all that Iraqi politicians care about is their own parties, and their promises are just lies,” Naim said. “If there by some miracle Iraq was to rid itself of all the current political parties, it would become a great country within a few years. But that’s never going to happen as long as we have these people running the country.”

Iraq has had three parliamentary elections since 2003, each resulting in an uneasy modus vivendi between Shia and Sunni Arab parties, plus the autonomy-minded Kurds. The last polls were in 2010, and it took over a year to forge a coalition, once again with Shia politician Nuri al-Maliki as prime minister.

Hakim al-Zamili, a member of parliament from the Shia Sadrist bloc, is less pessimistic than Naim about the political process.

“No one can deny that there are disagreements among political parties or that there’s a big gap between parliament and government, but we should keep working, because this is our country and we must protect it,” he said.

Acknowledging that the laws and even the foundations of the Iraqi state need a total overhaul, Zamili said the external environment would also play a major part in shaping Iraq’s future, and not necessarily for the good.

“If [Sunni] Islamists take over Syria, they will move into western areas of Iraq, and with the support of some politicians with Islamic inclinations, they will work to separate the western provinces and find an independent region,” he said.

At 27, Asil Laith is from a younger generation than Naim, but she shares his pessimism, as her earlier dreams of a new Iraq have faded. But she still holds out hope that Iraqis might start voting for politicians who represent them rather than just share their ethnicity or faith.

“It’s our responsibility,” she said. “We chose those people along sectarian lines, so it’s our responsibility to change them.”

Laith Hammoudi is IWPR’s editor in Iraq.

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