Suicides on the rise as young Iraqis pushed to despair

The sudden increase in unemployment rates due to the generalised lockdown simply made things worse.

Saturday 04/07/2020
A file picture shows young Iraqis cooking meals during anti-government sit-in in the Iraqi capital Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square.( AFP)
A file picture shows young Iraqis cooking meals during anti-government sit-in in the Iraqi capital Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square.( AFP)

BAGHDAD - Suicides and suicide attempts made a noticeable increase in Iraq during the first half of this year. The competent authorities said the causes ranged from personal and family problems to tough economic conditions. Observers, however, added bleak future outlook and desperation after the failure of the 2019 protests to change things around, on top of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Iraq today, hardly a day passes without news in the local media of a suicide case caused by frustration and despair.

According to official records, there have been 293 declared suicides or attempted suicides in Iraq, from January 1 to July 30, 2020. Males accounted for 165 of the cases and females for 128.

Baghdad came in first place, with 68 suicide and attempted suicide cases, followed by Basra (39 cases), then Dhi Qar (30 cases).

Fadhel al-Gharawi, a member of the High Commission for Human Rights in Iraq, said, “the suicide or attempted suicide methods used in the cases documented by the commission were poison injection, hanging, self-immolation, shooting, and drowning.”

He also explained that there were several causes for these cases of suicide and attempted suicide, “including psychological, social and economic causes, lack of employment opportunities, lack of housing and shortcomings in human rights system and services provided to citizens.”

“We pointed to a rise in cases of domestic violence, accompanied by brutal crimes that led to burning children or women, against a background of family problems in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.

Gharawi called on “the government and parliament to speed up the process of approving the new bill on domestic violence and to develop serious solutions to address and reduce the two phenomena of suicide and domestic violence, and to preserve the family unit and society.”

In 2018, Iraq ranked fourth internationally, on the index of spread of “negative feelings” thatcould lead to suicide.

Official sources said that the number of suicides in Iraq has declined since the start of the October 2019 protests, as protesters raised the slogan “We want a homeland”, in a clear expression of frustration with the domination of corrupt parties and pro-foreign militias over the state’s decision.

With respect to the youth sector, youthful job seekers no longer trust official unemployment data. Sources indicated that about half of university graduates could not find employment opportunities in the public and private sectors, since 2018.

Observers believe that the October protests were a psychological outlet for Iraqi youth in various governorates, and gave them some hope for a better future.

But with the abrupt end of the popular protests, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, without achieving their main goal of ridding the country of the corrupt Islamic parties and their criminal militias guilty of shedding the blood of innocent demonstrators, led to the return of widespread negative feelings among people. The sudden increase in unemployment rates due to the generalised lockdown and significant slowdown of the economy simply made things worse.

Specialists believe that without addressing these causes, suicide will turn into a social phenomenon in Iraq. In addition to the dire economic conditions and frustration caused by the gloomy political situation, specialists said that social reasons are behind the steady rise in suicide cases in Iraq.

For example, many suicides and suicide attempts occur because of disappointments in marriage relations or of the objection of the family and relatives of one member of the potential couple to the marriage. This type of suicides is usually recorded in tribal environments.

Activists in the field of human rights and freedoms say they face many complications as they try to investigate the reasons pushing young men and women to suicide. More often than not, families are reluctant to disclose personal and private information.

Activists believe that excessive conservatism in Iraqi society will continue to be an obstacle to understanding and treating suicide phenomena in the country.