Discover the reality of life in Iraq-global issues

“In the United Nations, there are two worlds: the headquarters and the field. The United Nations headquarters in New York is our mothership. In iconic rooms such as the Great Hall and Security Council The Chamber of Commerce, our member states make decisions that affect people all over the world. At the same time, this field is where these decisions are most felt. Here you can find our peacekeeping missions, our important humanitarian operations, and our mediators engaged in shuttle diplomacy.

In the summer of 2021, I was deeply immersed in the world of headquarters. As the director of communications and spokesperson for the chairman of the conference, my job is to inform the press and the public of what is happening in the most democratic body of the organization. My focus is on resolutions, declarations and high-level meetings. I am surrounded by words-but I haven’t seen whether or how these words really improve people’s lives.

Deploy to a divided country

Around that time, I happened to see a movie about Sergio Vieira de Mello, a United Nations hero who died after a shocking attack in Iraq in 2003. I joined the United Nations shortly before that attack and never forgot its impact on me and my colleagues. The United Nations suddenly became a target. This field seemed to be a much scarier place at the time.

But almost two decades later, I didn’t feel any fear when I watched this movie; I was inspired. Sergio could have spent his United Nations career in glass skyscrapers and air-conditioned conference rooms. But he chose to go to the field-closer to the people the United Nations aims to serve. It has been several years since the last time I posted on-site, and I want to go back.

I didn’t know at the time (because my focus was on the General Assembly) that the Security Council had just passed a new resolution on Iraq. Resolution 2576 (2021) of May 27, 2021 welcomes the Iraqi government’s request to support its October 10, 2021 elections, and calls for UN strategic publicity activities to educate and inform Iraqi voters about election preparations and related UN National activities.

In less than five months between the adoption of the resolution and the election, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) A communication team needs to be established on the ground immediately. At that time I was asked to deploy to Baghdad.

Of course, it’s one thing to feel inspired after watching a movie, but it’s another thing to actually move to a place listed by the United Nations as a dangerous and difficult place to work. But it didn’t take me long to make a decision. After discussing with my family, I agreed to UNAMI.

From a professional point of view, I felt I was ready, but I quickly learned how difficult it is to deal with national archives without actual field work. For example, when I was in New York, one of my first tasks was to design a label for our new election campaign. I chose #Vote4Iraq to encourage Iraqi voters to put their country above any other affiliation. But UNAMI’s Kurdish-speaking national staff suggested that I also consider other options.

They told me that quoting the name of this country would alienate the Kurds. It was not until I visited the Kurdistan Region (KRI) in Iraq three months later that I really understood what they meant. In the regional capital of Erbil and its surrounding areas, I often see the Kurdish flag flying-but not always the Iraqi flag. I realize that not all Iraqi citizens consider themselves Iraqis, and our communication needs to take this into consideration.

Adapt to the “mission life”

In the United Nations, people often refer to “mission life” as if all missions are similar. but it is not the truth. When I worked in Jerusalem and Pristina, I had my own apartment in the city. I can meet my new local friends in restaurants and parks. On the other hand, in Mogadishu in 2013, I was confined to the United Nations compound.

I slept in a small thin-walled container without a private bathroom. Food is only served in the rudimentary canteen. Insufficient Wi-Fi service makes it difficult to keep in touch with family members at home. It is normal to hear gunshots at night. Although we can enter the beach, we discourage swimming due to sharks, rapids and pirates.

My experience in Baghdad is somewhere between Jerusalem/Pristina and Mogadishu. All United Nations personnel — whether working for UNAMI or various agencies — must live in the compound. If there is no safe escort, it is impossible to leave the safe green zone. Although group accommodation is very suitable for the friendship within the United Nations, the atmosphere often makes people feel claustrophobic. Due to the high temperature of 46 degrees Celsius every day, outdoor time must be restricted. I understand why employees are entitled to one week of rest and entertainment (R&R) after every four weeks of service.

But I cannot complain about my living conditions in Baghdad. My apartment has a modern bathroom, kitchen and TV. There is a gym, pizzeria and hairdresser in the yard. There are even facilities where employees can play tennis, football and table tennis.

people oriented

Before arriving in Baghdad, I had drafted a communications strategy focused on one of the priority areas of the Global Communications Department (Development Department): “People-oriented storytelling”. The UNAMI leadership hopes that part of our campaign will focus on persuading Iraqis to participate in the elections.

Therefore, together with a group of cameramen, I began to amplify the voices of Iraqi citizens planning to vote. I think Iraqis may or may not listen to the opinions of the United Nations, but they will certainly be inspired by each other. I imagined a video in which a woman walked past a dilapidated hospital near her and said: “I want to vote because I want better health care.”

However, my headquarters’ assumptions once again faced realities on the ground. First, there is fear. Given the security restrictions, it has been difficult to find ordinary Iraqis who can talk to, and when we do, many people are unwilling to let their faces appear in front of the camera.

If the wrong people see them and express their opinions on topics that might be regarded as political topics, they worry about the impact. The authorities are also generally distrustful. Many Iraqis believe that voting is meaningless, because fraud and a flawed system will only bring the same old politicians back to power.

Our message is that although these elections are owned and led by Iraqis, the United Nations stands with Iraq at every step.

Fight against misinformation

In the end, we did manage to tell the stories of some Iraqis, but the suspicion I felt among people led me to focus on another UN priority area of ​​communications: sharing accurate information to combat fake news. We started to make videos and have conversations, refuting the rumors we heard with facts. We explained how the upcoming elections are different from past elections — and how the technical support of the United Nations will help ensure a credible process.

For the first time, UNAMI began broadcasting a press conference of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Iraq. We invite local artists to paint murals in support of voting across the country. We also work with Iraqi social media influencers to reach young people in the country, as 60% of the population is 25 years old or younger.

As the election approaches, more UN personnel are coming to monitor the voting. Our main goal is to increase their visibility. All UN monitors, many UNAMI staff, and even the Special Representative of the Secretary-General began to wear UN hats and vests regularly when we were in various parts of the country, so that Iraqis could see us and be assured that the UN is providing assistance on the ground. Our message is that although these elections are owned and led by Iraqis, the United Nations stands with Iraq at every step.

In the end, election day came and went. The voter turnout rate is not particularly high or particularly low. But in a country where a large number of voters I’ve spoken to tell me they prefer the monarch, it’s important to remember that as the United Nations, our role is to be a supporter.

Ultimately, it is up to the Iraqi people to decide what kind of system they like and whether they are willing to participate in it. On the bright side, we are very happy to see that the elections proceed smoothly, with major improvements in technology and procedures, which can serve as important stepping stones for the future.

While in Iraq, in addition to work, I also started a purely personal project. I decided to use my own Instagram account to show my followers the true face of this country. Because most people cannot go to many places I visited as tourists, their knowledge of Iraq may be based on what they saw in the news, mainly destruction and despair.

The Iraq I experienced did not match this view. I saw bohemian cafes in Baghdad, stylish rooftop restaurants in Duhok and Erbil, and beautiful river views in Basra. I met young Iraqi artists, filmmakers, musicians and entrepreneurs. I buy streetwear from local designers, and when I see Iraqi hipsters look like they are driven off the streets of Brooklyn, I laughed.

The United Nations sent me to Baghdad to advise on election newsletters, but it also gave me the opportunity to learn about a country that is still mysterious to most of the world. I know I am lucky. Fortunately to grow and learn. I am lucky to be part of something bigger than me. Very fortunate to be able to serve on site. “

This article first appeared in UN Chronicle