Almost 3 million Iraqis ages 18 to 22 will be eligible to vote for the first time in parliamentary elections. After cliff-hanging decisions on an election law, turmoil over the disqualification of candidates accused of Baathist ties, and a backdrop of election-related violence, Iraqis across the country will go to the polls on March 7.
This is the first election held in a fully sovereign Iraq, after the United States relinquished control over security to the Iraqis last June. And it's the first national parliamentary election expected to include large numbers of Sunni Arabs – a major base of Baathist power under Saddam – who largely boycotted the 2005 vote. So it is seen as the first parliamentary vote that has a chance of electing a truly representative government.
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This should be an exciting threshold to a new future for young people. But a broad range of interviews reveal that for this generation, born into a decade of trade sanctions and raised in war, there is an overriding sense of frustration, fears about security, and the struggle to find their place in a country still emerging from conflict.
"A lot of [young people] say, 'What would it matter if I did vote?' " says Adel Izzedine, director of the Voice of Fallujah. "They don't understand that their choice will define the future of this country."
There is concern that young, educated Iraqis will not vote; and that in the longer term, they will opt out of playing a role in remaking the country, says Abdul-Rizak Kathim, a sports professor at Baghdad University and a parliamentary candidate. His small party, Scientists and National Qualified Professionals, is campaigning on using Iraq's oil wealth and its technical competence to help rebuild Iraq and provide jobs for young people.