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Iraq election: Young war generation yearns for old stability

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"Our mission now is to explain to young people that it's their national duty to go and vote and help write the future of Iraq," says Dr. Kathim.

Entering their teens when the war started, young people here have spent the past seven years surrounded by chaos and insecurity. It's difficult to find any young person who hasn't lost a relative to the war or the ongoing violence – which together have caused at least 30,000 deaths. Many young people in school or university have walked past bodies in the street to get to class or braved gunfire to take exams. The still-frequent explosions that close the roads are a regular excuse for being late.

With the fall of Saddam, they were left with a huge set of expectations that the government will be unlikely to fulfill.

"There are still kidnappings and bombs. Can we go out safely? We can't," says Nisreen Hamad, a physical education major at Baghdad University. "At 8 p.m. everyone is inside the house. If I'm home after 4:30, everyone says to me, 'Why are you late?' "

She intends to vote, but will take her cue about whom to vote for from her father, who seems to be leaning toward Prime Minister Maliki.

Widespread corruption has also fostered a cynicism about the political process that has persuaded many that it's not worth voting.

In the absence of family or tribal pressure to vote, many young people say they simply won't bother. Mr. Abbas, the teenage father in Baghdad's Sadr City, home to 2 million largely disadvantaged Shiites, doesn't plan to vote. The only reason he gets by, he says, is the government food rations still provided to every Iraqi – and even those are haphazardly come by.

Young Iraqis entering the job market have reason to worry. An Iraqi Youth Ministry survey, shows that more than half of young men between 25 and 30 are unemployed. In Saddam's time, young men were channeled, largely unwillingly, into the Army.

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