Ahmad al-Rubaie
Last updated: 7 September, 2013

Baghdad youth campaign behind a new Iraq

For many educated young Iraqis, there’s no escaping the grim realities of daily life: unemployment, violence, religious conflict. Which is why one group is campaigning to create a concrete-walled buffer zone where they would be free of all of that; they want the perfect mini-Iraq inside Baghdad.

“I am an Iraqi and I demand a buffer zone”. This is the name of a new campaign launched by a group of young Iraqis on Facebook on August 28. It may sound confusing at first but what the young campaigners are asking for is a United Nations-sponsored buffer zone, where they will be safe, free from violence and political or religious trauma and able to live in relative safety and prosperity.

Basically what they want is a kind of an Iraq within an Iraq, explains Wissam Hassan, the founder of the campaign. The idea came to him and his friends when they were talking about how desperate they were to get out of Iraq. “We didn’t think we could seek asylum,” he says. “So we decided that our only option was to establish a country inside our own country.”

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Even over the first four days, the campaign has struck a chord. It already has over 429 supporters on Facebook, most of them university students or graduates in Baghdad. They have all confirmed their commitment to building a mini-Iraq and the campaign organizers are hoping to get a million Iraqis to undersign the initiative eventually.

“It’s the result of years of deterioration in security”

Computer engineer Alaa-Edin Sabah is one of the campaign’s supporters. “A lot of young people dream about getting out of Iraq,” the twenty-something says. “But most of us will never be able to do that. But we still want to live a decent life and feel respected. That’s why we’re supporting this campaign.”

Sabah says he found the Facebook campaign by accident but that it gave him and his friends hope that maybe they could survive the terror attacks and criminal gangs that operate in Iraq. And he really likes the politics planned for “buffer zone” city-within-a-city. Or rather, the lack of politics.

“In this zone, we won’t use any religious, tribal or other titles,” Sabah explains. “A mosque would be built for Muslims but there will also be a church next door and there will be room for everyone to worship.”

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And although it may seem like it’s mostly a publicity stunt that highlights the troubling situation in Iraq, the campaign’s organizers are not actually kidding about their buffer zone.

One of the organisers, Rami Hashim, said that they would promote the idea first, then they would begin collecting people’s signatures around the country. “We will also make a list of all those who want to live in this buffer zone,” Hashim says. “And when we get enough signatures we will go to the UN and ask that they help us build our mini Iraq.”

The city could be self funding, in the same way that the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan is, and it could also receive a special allocation of funds from the Iraqi government, Hashim suggests optimistically.

“We want to build a miniature city surrounded by concrete barriers and protected by foreign military,” says one of the organizers, Mustafa al-Azzawi. “In this city, engineers will be responsible for construction, doctors for health, lawyers for law and so on. We want to build our city with technocrats, and not in the way the current government is building the country. Right now a lot of unqualified people are running this country.” 

Local sociologist Izzat Siham al-Qaysi says that it’s a sign that Iraq’s young people have completely lost faith in their political system. “It’s the result of years of deterioration in security and in the economy and it’s about the government’s inability to make any kind of significant progress, at any level,” al-Qaysi suggested.

Not everyone agreed of course. “Some civil society organizations and some political parties have an agenda that’s been given to them by foreigners,” said MP Ali Shabbar, a Shiite Muslim politician from the ruling State of Law coalition. “They want Iraq to go back to square one by calling for autonomous regions and buffer zones.”

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The creation of  a buffer zone, and even the call for it, was a message to the outside world that the Iraqi government was incapable of running its own affairs, he said.

“This idea is simply a reflection of freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the Iraqi Constitution,” says Mahma Khalil, a Kurdish MP. “However it is completely impossible. And it’s not the right thing to divide people into groups and separate them with concrete barriers.”

“We’re going to continue to collect signatures too”

Instead, Khalil thought that the youthful campaigners should try and change their reality through the ballot box and through campaigns that demanded realistic and achievable changes. He wanted to remind them that Iraq was due to hold elections in less than a year too.

Whatever the spoilsport politicians and the grownups say, the young Iraqis are determined to continue with their plans for a buffer zone. “The campaign will continue to mobilize supporters and to form coordinating teams in all of Iraq’s provinces,” they say. “And we’re going to continue to collect signatures too, after promoting the idea on social network sites like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Skype and others.”

Additionally the young campaigners say, their buffer zone idea is going to keep them pleasantly busy – too busy to think about the tortuous reality of everyday life for young people in Iraq.

A version of this article originally appeared in NIQASH.

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