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While Militants Gain Ground, Iraqis Search Out Hope In Future


Hanaa Edwar is a longtime activist for human rights - in particular, women's rights and democracy in Iraq. She runs a nonprofit called Al-Amal, which means hope in Arabic. And she joins me now from Baghdad to offer her perspective on the future of her country. Miss Edwar, welcome to the program.

HANAA EDWAR: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: And first, before we talk about the future I want to ask you about the situation as it stands now. The insurgents have seized territory within an hour of Baghdad. How fearful are people right now that the fight will come to the capital?

EDWAR: I can say people are worried about it because what happened to the army in the north - in Mosul and in Tikrit - that the Army didn't fight. So people are fearing that the ISIS will come because the situation is also another things inside Baghdad - so many incidents of explosions and so many incidents of (unintelligible) the sleeping cell becoming, you know, more active in this time. This is - it is possible. So people are very worried about the situation now.

BLOCK: And what is the effect on daily life in Baghdad?

EDWAR: We can see that it is not traffic like before. The prices of the goods are now increasing. People, they are in a hurry to collect so many foods in their house or the fuel, also. So people are worried that their relatives - their families outside Baghdad - how they can't contact them. And that people that were in exams - especially the young - the examinations - the what is the future will be for them? If they will continue - if there is the really the future for ordinary lives or for normal lives for them. This is - it is so many things, and I can tell you many of these young people, they are trying to travel way. It is very difficult to get, you know, tickets outside Iraq or even to Kurdistan.

BLOCK: So those who can are trying to leave - leave the country?

EDWAR: Yeah, many of them - they try to leave. You know, and this is very upset for us - all of us. And especially young people because of this - you know, the campaign of mobilization - of people volunteered to defend the country, and this is - it is really a great worry for the families - how they have to mobilize them just to go to fight for what? Without, you know, plan - without a strategy - without, you know, a strong, professional, you know, army. So what they have to do? They are going to make a suicide for them. We don't need more widows. We don't need more orphans, you know, in this country. We had - really we have enough of these during all these decades.

BLOCK: Miss Edwar, when you talk to friends and colleagues there in Baghdad, do people think that Iraq is descending into the all-out sectarian war and bloodletting that you saw there back in 2006 - 2007?

EDWAR: Yeah. It is different, of course. It is different because in 2006 it was the sectarian inside the country themselves - Sunnis, Shiite - and then it was interfered by al-Qaida later on. But this, now, it is, you know, elements are from outside. They are controlling, occupying and controlling, you know, cities. A lot of people under shelling - under, you know, rockets - from different sides. And we don't need, you know, to have destructed cities in Iraq again. This is - it is horrible.

BLOCK: I mentioned your longtime activism for women's rights in Iraq. And I wonder, as you watch the insurgents gaining ground, issuing dictates that women have to wear the veil and stay at home, does it seem that your work was in vain?

EDWAR: Yes. We are following this. We are trying to document this and raise our voices against it. And we tried to make, you know, some mobilization inside the country that people - they are really aware about their daughters - about their wives. And we feel that it is really the time to raise this voice to the international community against such practices.

BLOCK: I keep thinking about the name of your nonprofit, al-Amal, meaning hope.


BLOCK: What is your hope as you think about the future of your country?

EDWAR: Yeah. It's my hope with young people. You know, women they are now challenging. They have opened their minds with freedoms, with human rights issues, with feeling dignity, with feeling that they have really equal rights and equal opportunities, which is guaranteed by constitutions and by some of our legislation. And young people, too, they have to be with the world community. They don't want to live in a very old - centuries old - in these dark times. It is obvious that these two elements - they will really resist all these, you know, practices and all these policies. And it will be very difficult - very sacrifice, but I feel that. No way to ISIS in Iraq - no way - no way.

BLOCK: Well, Miss Edwar, thank you very much for talking with us.

EDWAR: Welcome, dear, welcome.

BLOCK: That's Hanaa Edwar, human rights activist and founder of the nonprofit al-Amal association in Baghdad.


This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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