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Why I Have Hope for Iraq

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November 7, 2012

Baghdad — It was late morning on a Friday, and we were caught in heavy Baghdad traffic going across town to visit a family. In the car I had time to get to know the young woman, who was to be my translator for the first time. I will call her Sarah. With little to no small talk needed, we dove into subjects which are close to both of our hearts.

Sarah is 23 years old and has already graduated from university. When the US invaded Iraq, she was just about 13, such an impressionable age. I asked her, “How has the war affected your country?”

“People have changed” she told me. “They think of themselves. It is not good. Things have gotten worse. Children eight and ten years old think of weapons and killing. They do not have the thoughts of children. I would be afraid for my own children growing up in this atmosphere. I would be afraid for my girls, afraid for their reputations that they would go the wrong way, from what they learn even from the schools.”

“I have never felt safe since the war,” she continued. “We’ve forgotten the real meaning of safety. I hope it doesn’t get worse because it is my country. I hope all good for it.”

Sarah wants to be a teacher. I have heard many accounts from parents, in the three weeks since I arrived in Iraq, of the deterioration of the educational system. “Has the mass exodus of the professional class affected the schools and universities?” I asked. “Of course,” Sarah replied. “This has had a big effect on my generation. I am afraid the level of education is very low, even in the colleges… My own University professors didn’t really teach. They just went by the book. The good teachers have left the country.” Because she loves the English language, she wants “to teach the new generation in the right way, not as my teachers taught me. I want to do good, to positively affect society.”

“I have hope for the future” she said, “and I wish the goodness in people becomes greater than the evil. Iraqi people are very kind, but after the war many changes happened in the psyche.”

“What are your hopes for the future?” I asked.

“I hope that I can get a job, make a good family in good circumstances.”

“And what would those be?” I asked.

“Safety of course,” she replied. “And that the behavior of people will become better.”

“How do you see that change happening?” I asked. “By improving basic services,” she said. “The government pays a lot of money for projects that don’t serve the people. They should fix the electrical system, the water system, the roads, and make jobs for those who graduate. If there are no jobs, there will be stealing and killing.”

I raised the subject that everyone I meet speaks of— corruption. “There is corruption inside of every Ministry,” she said. “Change has to come from inside the government itself.”

We spoke about faith. I told her that a young woman, her age, who is studying in Kurdistan told me that she believed only faith can help Iraq. Sarah responded, “Many people stand behind a curtain of faith. A pure faith is necessary. Many people talk about religion, but inside they are empty. Faith has to be visible and true.”

This is one of the reasons why I have hope for Iraq. Sarah is her name.

…and then there is Ahmed, and Dhuha, and Firas, and Hakim, and Heba, and Mohammed….

I greet you warmly from Iraq, Cathy Breen