After the huge success of last year, this year’s TEDxBaghdad ‘The Beginning Begins’ was meant to build further on this perfect way of showcasing the world that Baghdad is so much more than a war zone. Since last year, I’ve had a lot of interaction with my Iraqi Facebook friends and with the extreme joy of last year, last month I decided to bring a visit again to this wonderful spot in Arabia.

The country itself is recovering very fast from the war. Everywhere where you look, building cranes and construction cars are part of the landscape. Compared with last year, the visible security has decreased significantly. Fair enough; the green zone still exists and there are almost as many road blocks and security checks as lampposts. Out of curiosity, I’ve had loads of conversations with local Iraqi’s about the Green Zone itself and what it would mean if whole Baghdad would be one zone, without security checks. It turns out, 5 types of security forces exist, all distrusting each other and operating standalone. Since there is almost no communication between these forces, uniting Baghdad again will take some time.
While most people would think, the democracy has brought confidence by the civilization, most people distrust the government, saying they take money from the people not owning anything and spending it on their own ‘toys’ and prestige projects.

Even in the most secured zones, I still felt the incense security measures. When secretly entering the roof of the one and only hotel in Baghdad (Sadam’s former hotel), snipers discovered us and security quickly removed us. I wasn’t allowed to run in the garden of the hotel, because last year, a scattered bomb was thrown in it, killing 4 people. Together with one of National Geography’s photographers, I took the risk of life and left the Green Zone twice, only with a few body guards. The places we’ve visited were breathtaking, from the ruined statue of Saddam (by American soldiers) to the real inner-city markets and the most important mosque, which was bombed the day after our visit. We were calmed down with the promise that this attach was not because of our visit.

While you won’t hear any complain from the Iraqi’s itself, the intense pressure by militants is extreme. The people, fighting earlier against the American soldiers, went underground and are now fighting against the Iraqi upperclass. High officials, doctors and professors are threatened by dead every day and obligated to leave the country. This already happened at families of several team members, some of them were kidnapped for money and even killed . Because the militans are using silent guns and don’t wear any identifiable badge, it is  very tough to catch them. How does that look like:

The impact of Sadam’s regime has not been completely negative. If people were attending school or university, they were expelled from military service. The huge amount of PhD students, doctors and other professionals is the result and just incredible. While the level of healthcare is the highest in the whole region, the numerous amount of doctors are thwarted in several ways. Not only by the death threats of militants, but also by the people cutting of limbs to prevent new technologies to cure this being developed and the citizens itself. Since healthcare and medicines are free, subsidize by the oil money, citizens require medicines and treatments they often don’t even need, putting unnecessary pressure on the system.

When observing Iraqi people, some people get scared by face impressions and the way of talking. But it’s a long time ago, I’ve met a population which is so extremely friendly, hospitable and helpful. Iraqi’s would slaughter their last sheep, if they would find you starving. While the country itself still needs a lot of time to recover from the war and the old regime, it is so extremely energizing to see these lovely people being so motivated to show the world how beautiful their country and how rich their culture is. As they say, all in gods will, insha’allah!