Bagdad, Asharq Al-Awsat- There is no place for social life in a city inhabited by fear such as the Iraqi capital. Violent incidents have cast their shadow over the life of Baghdad’s residents making it a prison for all.
Raed Jamil, 16 years old, is one of the million Iraqis who spend most of their days in the confines of their homes out of fear of a unexpected incident that could turn their lives upside down – or worse cost them their own lives.
In a city obsessed with fear and anxiety, one of the only forms of entertainment is the internet – especially for the youth. Raed spends hours in front of his computer screen. Interestingly, he spends these hours chatting with friends who may live only a few meters away from his house as a result of the deteriorating state of security and the nine o’clock curfew that is imposed. Yet even this form of entertainment is not always readily available because of the constant power cuts.
Life for Raed has become indescribably limited; youth like him could at any moment become targets of armed Sunni groups or Shiaa militias. Raed goes to school every morning but he only spends a few hours there. He recalled an incident, “a few days ago, an armed group stormed the school carrying guns and Kalashnikovs. I learned that they were members of the Mahdi Army. We were petrified but I managed to escape by jumping the fence at the back of the school.” His friends later recounted that the armed men went into the principal’s office and physically assaulted him brutally, spitting in his face. Although Raed did not know the reason for this surprise attack, he said that such incidents occur when one of the students happens to be a member of one of the militias and feels wronged by a teacher and thus returns bringing with him his armed friends to seek revenge from the teacher in question.
Living in a neighborhood like the Keradah district, which is predominantly inhabited by Shiaa means that the area is under the Shiaa militias’ control, such as the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army – the latter of which has come to play a larger role in controlling people’s lives? Raed, who is Christian, says that most of his friends are affiliated with the Mahdi Army, whom he describes with a hint of admiration as ‘tough men’.
At the end of his school day, Raed sometimes goes to a sports club nearby to play billiards with his friends but rushes back before the curfew begins at nine. He says, “One time, the Mahdi Army raided the club while we were there and arrested some people who were drinking alcohol and a few others who were wearing shorts.” The Shiaa and Sunni militias impose strict Islamic laws on men and women alike.
Raed really misses playing football, which he used to practice in a sports club quite a distance from where he lives, but his father forced him to stop out of fear for his son’s life. Lately, there have been many incidents of murders and kidnappings of famous athletes for sectarian revenge, or to demand ransoms for their return. Raed bitterly said, “Two cars exploded near the club, but these explosions no longer scare me because they’re everywhere.” He added, “I think my father is right; hardly a day passes without us hearing about the murder, kidnapping or escape of one of the athletes.”
Raed is the only son of a small family that is comprised of his parents and an older sister who has fled to Jordon with her husband like many Iraqi families who have found that fleeing to neighboring Arab capitals was the only way to save their skin and their last refuge to escape a whirlpool of violence. Raed’s family is starting to seriously consider sending him to live with his sister so as to protect his life. Somewhat enthusiastic, Raed said, “I will go live with my sister and her husband, and my dad will send me the necessary money to spend while I’m there.” He added, “I have no other choice, there is absolutely no hope for me living here… Later on, I’ll go to any European country and seek political asylum.”
But Raed is not the only Iraqi youth that thinks this way, for thousands of Iraqi youth have come to this realization after losing hope of regaining security and stability in their country.