For young Iraqis, election offers little appeal

Baghdad (AFP) –


Mounes Fauzi was simply too busy doing nothing to go vote in the parliamentary elections being held across Iraq.

Sitting with some friends outside a cafe in Baghdad's Karrada neighbourhood the 27-year-old barber sucked on a shisha pipe and explained why he wouldn't go to the polls.

"Each election is the same -- nothing ever changes," he told AFP, his hair slicked over in an impressive quiff.

"We just have so many problems, so many obstacles."

The nationwide poll across Iraq may seem to come at a moment of hope for the country after it declared victory over the Islamic State group.

But for young people in the war-shattered nation there seemed little cause for optimism as they skipped the vote in droves.

Iraq has one of the most youthful populations in the world.

Some 60 percent of the population is under the age of 25, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

Now, after growing up through the 15 violence-wracked years since the US-led invasion they find themselves with few prospects.

Akram al-Ugaili, 27, is studying business at university but he makes ends meet working at a carpet store to help cover the costs.

"Iraq is a rich country but if you look around you see qualified doctors and engineers doing menial jobs," he said.

"We have really lost hope -- even among all my educated friends."

The UN puts the unemployment figure among those aged 15-24 in Iraq at some 18 percent, an estimate that is likely well on the low side.

Especially impacted are young people with higher education who cannot get a job to match their qualifications.

- 'Don't offer us anything' -

For those with a job there was no time to think about politics despite the campaign posters of election hopefuls cluttering the streets around them.

As he served hot bread to a customer from the roadside stall where he worked, 19-year-old Aqeel Sattar was completely disinterested.

"I am too busy to go vote," he said, rearranging piles of Iraqi flat bread.

"The politicians just don't offer us anything."

A sense of grievance at an entrenched political elite that is reviled for its greed and self-interest is widespread among Iraqis.

For younger people especially, the presence on the ballot papers of the same candidates who have dominated the country since the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein meant there was no inspiration to vote.

Not one of the 10 young men lounging around the the Noor al-Sabah barber shop in the Betawein neighbourhood had any intention of going to the polls.

"What chances and what opportunities are there?" asked Mohammed Assi, 27, looking at the rubbish-strewn street outside.

"There is nothing for the young people."

Assi, wearing a fake Bayern Munich football shirt, laughed when asked what his job was and said he earned what he could working from time to time at a cafe.

He was convinced the elections were rigged and that despite the sacrifices ordinary people had made in the fight against IS, the deck would always be stacked against them.

"IS was defeated. But by who? It was the poor people, our brothers and our cousins," he said.

"We defeated IS but now the government does nothing for us."