Suicide rate among youth on the rise in Iraq

Suicide has been on the rise among Iraqi youth, who face a pandemic, high unemployment and a volatile political situation.

al-monitor This picture taken on May 10, 2019, shows an Iraqi military vehicle driving along the Jadiriya bridge crossing the Tigris River in the center of the capital, Baghdad. Almost 200 people took their own lives in Iraq in the first four months of 2019, according to the government's Human Rights Commission. A senior police source told AFP that authorities had rescued 36 people, mostly men, attempting suicide between January and April. This follows a rise in suicides from 383 in 2016 to 519 last year recorded by the parliament's human rights committee.  Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images.
Mustafa Saadoun

Mustafa Saadoun


Topics covered

covid-19, domestic violence, kurdistan, iraqi society, unemployment, pandemic, suicide, iraqi youth

Oct 6, 2020

The Baghdad Police Directorate rescued an 18-year-old girl who was trying to commit suicide at Al-Jadriya Bridge in Baghdad on Sept. 26. The directorate has rescued dozens of others in similar situations.

On Sept. 23, a young man in the oil-rich Al-Basra province, which suffers from negligence and bad services, committed suicide under “vague circumstances.” A week earlier, a 16-year-old boy hanged himself in a shop in Baghdad.

 Suicides in Iraq have not been limited to one region. On Sept. 2, the police in Kirkuk province in northern Iraq saved a young man who tried to jump off of a residential building.

Iraqi youths face numerous problems amid systemic political failure that prevents them from reaching their goals. They resort to suicide, and this is becoming a phenomenon rather than a matter of limited cases threatening Iraqi society for the first time.

On Sept. 12, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) announced 298 suicides in Iraq between Jan. 1 and Aug. 30, 2020, recording the highest level compared to the same period in 2003.

These figures indicate the rising rate of suicide in Iraq. Al-Monitor looked into a governmental statistical study that showed an increase in suicide cases from 319 in 2003, not counting the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, to 519 in 2019.

But the figures might be much higher, as some families try to hide suicide as the cause of death due to the negative impression society has about it. In many cases, the cause of death is recorded as “sudden death” without mentioning the word "suicide."

There are other indications that show a possibly higher number of suicides, including the norms and traditions that stigmatize suicide, especially for the families if women and girls are involved. For that reason, some cases are not registered as a suicide.

According to the OHCHR, various reasons such as poverty, desperation, unemployment, a person's economic situation and domestic violence lead to suicide.

According to a report conducted by UNICEF, "4.5 million (11.7%) Iraqis are pushed below the poverty line as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated socio-economic impacts. Losses of jobs and rising prices are causing the national poverty rate to climb to 31.7% from 20% in 2018."

The unemployment rate in Iraq has been on the rise, reaching about 13% in 2019 from 9% in 1999. This shows that the situation now is worse than before 2003.

The continuous rise in the unemployment rate in Iraq is one of the main causes of public despair. 

The UNICEF report indicates that "42% of the population is vulnerable, facing a higher risk as they are deprived in more than one dimension of the following: education, health, living conditions and financial security."

The government reported enumerated the various methods of suicide, including hanging, burning, drowning, poisoning, shooting, suffocation and vein-slitting.

Young Iraqi males compare their lives to those in neighboring countries and see how others enjoy what they own while living under the rule of law without economic or security threats. Job opportunities available to other youths in neighboring countries are not available to young Iraqi males.

Fadel al-Garawi, member of the OHCHR in Iraq, told Al-Monitor, “Political desperation is among the causes of suicide among youths. But it is not a direct factor.”

He added, “The political complications, the country circumstances and the ruling authorities that manage the country without achieving citizens’ well-being or protecting their rights all lead to suicide. Consequently, a political phase capable of dispelling these causes that lead to suicide is needed.”

Reports by Iraqi state institutions assert that youths are the largest group among suicides, and they indicate the reasons are usually unemployment and no hope of real reform that would improve their situations in the country.

Suicide is not limited to certain social groups; it includes everyone. On Sept. 8, the district officer of Sinjar in Ninevah province, Mahma Khalil, announced the suicide of four displaced youths during the first days of the month.

Political psychology professor at Salahuddin University in Erbil Fares Kamal Nazmi told Al-Monitor, “The available indications show that there is a recent increase in cases, especially among youths in provinces that have witnessed wide-scale protests since October 2019 without achieving any of their radical demands related to political change, recovering a united nation and instilling the rules of social justice.”

Nazmi added, “The situation is generally catastrophic with no light at the end of the tunnel. Change is impossible. Iraqi youths are unable to control their fates and that of their country. They think they have been duped, betrayed and oppressed by the political regime. They have lost the ability and will to persevere and confront. As a result, they are left with deep psychological troubles about the meaning of life itself, thus [turning to] suicide as a solution.”

He noted that “for some, suicide might become a form of political protest that takes a dramatic violent turn against oneself.”

Figures in Iraqi state institutions indicated that “with the onset of the protests on Oct. 1, suicide figures dropped during the last two months of 2019. However, they resurged with the crackdown on protests and the extinguishment of these protests with the failure to reach results that achieve the demands of protesters.”

In addition to unemployment, lack of job opportunities and youth projects, weapon proliferation and absence of the rule of law, suicide has become a real threat to Iraqi youths who have been struggling for decades with wars and political crises and are often the victims of these circumstances.

Suicide will become one of the major challenges for the Iraqi government and will turn into a phenomenon threatening Iraqi society unless governments work on finding solutions and establishing projects to help young people achieve their ambitions and desires.

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