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iraq votes 2014
special needs iraqis campaigning for office – and for so much more

Mustafa Sadoun
Iraq’s upcoming general elections are proving a worthy platform for sectors of local society that are not often heard from. Iraqis with special needs are running for office to get more help from the…
10.04.2014  |  Baghdad
Poster for a candidate from Iraq\'s Association of Short Statured People.
Poster for a candidate from Iraq\'s Association of Short Statured People.

In Iraq, people with special needs or handicaps are not substantially supported by the Iraqi government or the local social welfare system. Although authorities will hold special days, or organize events, and they may even give them some extra money, any financial support is usually not even enough to buy a wheelchair. After all, Iraq has trouble looking after the average citizens’ health, let alone those with special needs.

Currently there are no accurate statistics on how many disabled people there are in Iraq. The latest estimates from the Iraqi Ministry of Health, based on research conducted over two years ago, indicates that there are more than one million disabled Iraqis. Of this number, approximately 43,600 had been handicapped because of injuries suffered during the wars that the country has been involved in almost continuously since 1980. There are close to 100,000 amputees, over 100,000 blind people and around 205,000 are at risk of blindness or suffer visual impairment of some kind.

Other sources estimate that the number of disabled in Iraq is actually far higher. The Iraqi Association of Disability Organizations along with organisations like the United Nations, for example, suggests that around 10 percent of the population suffers some kind of handicap – this means that almost 3 million individuals have special needs.

And all of the above is one of the main reasons that Muwafaq al-Khafaji, the head of Iraq’s National Association of Disabled People, is running for Parliament in the country’s upcoming general elections, scheduled for April 30.

Al-Khafaji’s aim is to allow the voices of the country’s disabled to be heard. As a candidate, the well connected al-Khafaji is depending on votes from people with special needs as well as their families and others who are sympathetic to their cause. Al-Khafaji’s friends and supporters are volunteering in his campaign, putting up posters and organizing voter rallies to raise awareness of al-Khafaji’s platform.

A visually impaired professor in Baghdad is campaigning for similar reasons. Khalil Ibrahim is in his 70s and is running because he wants to represent Iraqis with disabilities as well as other groups in need, such as Iraq’s poor. Ibrahim believes that these groups are underrepresented in Iraqi politics and he wants to change this; he wants to know why political decisions that would impact on these groups never result in any concrete change.

Ibrahim’s election campaign is mostly being run by volunteers, with groups putting up his posters and raising awareness of his platform. “Big parties have a lot of money to spend on campaigns,” Ibrahim explains. “But my brothers actually helped me out with mine. Up until today we have spent about IQD10 million [around US$8,500].”

His team of volunteers includes students he is currently teaching as well as some of his past students – and he says that this gives him much joy, whether he wins or loses.

“Officials show sympathy to us but they don’t actually do anything concrete for us,” says Mohammed Idan, the head of Iraq’s Association of Short Statured People. Idan has previously campaigned to change the way that Iraqis see those affected by dwarfism. Idan now wants to see the approximately 7,000 shorter Iraqis represented in Parliament and he’s campaigning in order to achieve that.

We want more than sympathy, he says. We want equal rights and a response to our demands for better care.

Like the other special needs Iraqis involved in the current election campaign, Idan is relying on volunteers and donations, as well as his own limited finances, to support his run. There are around 50 volunteers in Idan’s group and each one is hanging up a limited number of posters in the neighbourhood in which they live, Idan explains proudly.

He is using Facebook a lot to promote his political aims but he also managed to get 100 posters printed. “But these have been cut to pieces in some areas,” he notes. “That’s an immoral act and it shows that there’s no respect or fairness between candidates.”

For Idan and for the other would-be politicians, getting to Parliament is important for more than the usual reasons: Besides working on issues like corruption and political gridlock, they also want to ensure that their sector of Iraqi society is heard by the general public at last.