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One young voter hopes Iraq election will right wrongs

A Sadr City youth hopes the Iraq election is a way to leapfrog connections and bribes to get justice.

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Youssif Mukhtar wants to right the wrongs of the injustice he sees around him. But first he has to get through high school.

Like that of many Iraqis whose lives have been thrown into turmoil by the war, his education has been a patchwork of interruptions. At 20, he's in 12th grade, traveling across town after school to a job as a temporary guard at the Electricity Ministry.

In 1995, Youssif's brother went missing. Though the family searched for him for a year, he was never found. In the chaos, Youssif says, they "forgot about me," failing to enroll him in first grade on time. He later failed another grade.

One of 12 children, Youssif is finishing the last year of high school with his 19-year-old sister, Miriam. Schools are so overcrowded that the family pays a private tutor to come to their home to make up for the lack of instruction. Through it all, Youssif's childhood goal of becoming a lawyer has remained intact.

"I want to provide justice for the victims of injustice," Youssif says.

He believes that justice can also come through political power – part of the reason he plans to vote for the Sadr movement – the gathering loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which has become a voice for the disadvantaged and dispossessed.

Twelve people share the family's 1,500-square-foot house in Sadr City, the poor, largely Shiite suburb of more than 2 million on the outskirts of Baghdad. On one of the concrete walls is a framed photo of Youssif's elder sister Mayada and her graduating class. She finished law school three years ago but hasn't been able to find a job.

"It's because she doesn't have wasta," he says, using the word for connections. "We're not members of any party.... It's the quota system, it destroyed the world."

Under that post-Saddam Hussein, US-fostered system, government ministries were divided among the most powerful political parties. Some ministries made it difficult for Iraqis from the "wrong" party or religious sect to get jobs.


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