Young Iraqis have reason to be disillusioned with politics. Instead, many are backing a new generation of leaders.


Iraqi men work on the campaign posters of candidates ahead of May's parliamentary election, in Baghdad, Iraq, April 14, 2018.

Khalid Al-Mousily/Reuters

Iraqi men work on the campaign posters of candidates ahead of May’s parliamentary election, in Baghdad, Iraq, April 14, 2018.

Despite growing up as the daughter of Iraq’s former prime minister and earning an international relations degree from a prestigious British university, Sarah Ayad Allawi feels many of the same political frustrations as other 29-year-olds in Iraq.

Allawi wanted to run as a legislative candidate of the National Accord political party, the party of her father Ayad Allawi, interim prime minister from 2004 to 2005, in the elections Saturday. But a minimum age of 30 disqualified her for entering the race. The rule serves as check on the political power of the young, she says.

Only 20 of the 328 Iraqi lawmakers are under the age of 40. They are the voice for an underrepresented demographic, representing only 6 percent of the parliament in a country where the median age is 19.

“You can be certain that I will be 30 by the time this next parliament has its first session,” she said.

‘Ready to pick new faces’

Iraqis in Allawi’s generation grew up knowing mainly conflict and limited economic opportunities. Now they are getting a chance to change their wounded country. They are part of a new and growing wave of political activism in the wake of a militant threat against activists stretching back to 2003, when the US invaded Iraq.

Young voters say they are getting involved because they are ready for a change.

“The Iraqi people are ready to pick new faces,” said first-time voter Mohammed Saleh, 22, a computer engineering student in Baghdad. “The youth especially are tired of the corrupt politicians.”

The May 12 parliamentary race is the fourth since the beginning of the US occupation and the first since Iraqi forces drove ISIS out of major cities like Tikrit and Mosul last year. Iraqi officials say 24 million out of its population of 39 million are eligible to vote. Among them are 4.5 million Iraqis who will cast ballots for the first time.

Related: Fifteen years after the US entered Iraq, Baghdad breathes new life

“From what I see and hear from youth on the ground and in social media, I think there is a real chance for change,” said Saleh, who supports Sa’iroon, an electoral alliance between supporters of the 44-year-old influential and independent Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the secular Iraqi Communist Party.

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