An anniversary for the future: a message to Iraqi youth

Martin Kobler

Published: Updated:

A decade on from the day that allied forces entered Iraq to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein, every commentator in the world still has something to say about the motivations and responsibility. The questions about the war will never settle. The decision to wage it to bring down the dictatorship will always be discussed, and rightly so - to draw the right lessons.

Without question, Iraq has endured a tough and bloody decade. Terrorists have shown an ugly determination to create chaos, and many lives continue to be lost. It is a great tragedy. On this anniversary, let us look forward. There is a time to commemorate, to feel sorrow and anger, but Iraq’s strength lies in its ability to get back on its feet.

This great land has seen centuries of ups and downs; over the millennia, wisdom has spread out from here amid spells of enlightenment that lit up the world. Alongside these magical times, there has been terrible conflict and struggle.

Yet here are the Iraqi people - Shiite, Sunni, Christian, Turkmen, Yazidi, Kurd and more - still building, still loving their homes and communities, raising families, speaking many languages, practising many customs, diverse, crazy about football, devout, resilient. These are the Iraqis I know, the Iraqis of today. It is the youth who embody these qualities and hold the promise of the country in their hearts.

Overtones of history

The new Iraq has seen progress: elections, reconstruction, economic growth and a new constitution. The youth of Iraq watch this progress keenly. It is their future that is being built, brick by brick, ballot paper by ballot paper.

On this anniversary, let us look forward. The past does not help the young Iraqis who tell me that they cannot find jobs. The past does not help the young who experience daily insecurity, whose only goal is to leave Iraq and seek a better life outside. The young have no stake in wondering what might have been. Slowly, they are shaking off the overtones of history.

In February, I joined 30 young Iraqi men and women to visit holy places in Baghdad. The young leader, Ali, brought his friends to the shrines of Imam abu Hanifa al-Aadham, Imamain Khadumain, Sayyidat al-Najat Church, and the Temple of the Sabean Mandeans. I sat with these young, open-minded people, and saw their understanding of each other grow. Together, they laid a foundation for peaceful dialogue based on tolerance and respect.

Ali and his friends stand for unity, putting aside differences, and solving problems together. They believe in Iraq. As this country deals with widespread demonstrations, and a steady rumble of discontent rolls out across the land, the youth can set the example.

Mobilize real action

The government needs to intensify its efforts in creating jobs; passing crucial laws, such as the hydrocarbon law and the revenue-sharing law; pumping oil wealth back into schools and hospitals; working for human rights and the rule of law; and galvanizing the justice system. These achievements will only come when leaders act together.

On this anniversary, I encourage Iraqi youth to show the leaders how to move forward in peace. Start in your communities. Ask yourselves what the people around you need most. Ask yourselves how you can bring people together to build tolerance and understanding. Show your elders how constructive dialogue can work. Lead with your belief in yourselves and in this country. You will see that you can mobilize real action.

On this anniversary, you can shape your future. You are not powerless. You are Iraqis.


Martin Kobler currently serves as United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative for Iraq and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). He was appointed to this position by the Secretary-General on 11 August 2011. Prior to this appointment, Kobler was Deputy Special Representative (Political) for Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011. A veteran in the German Foreign Service, Kobler had held several high-ranking positions, including as Director-General for Culture and Communication in Germany’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and as Ambassador of Germany to Iraq and Egypt.

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