Ahmed Windi: Are Iraqis “Difficult” to Work With?

Painting by: Dhiaa Al-Zawi


From this article, I want to highlight why Iraqis are thought of as “being difficult” to work with and why Iraqi people “might” give out this vibe.

I was born in Baghdad in 1994, which means, I grew up at a time when sanctions were imposed on Iraq due to the war on Kuwait that Saddam Hussein started a few years before my date of birth. My parents who were a middle-class family suffered to provide milk formula, diapers, and other simple necessities that any child needs. 28 years later, I managed to live, I witnessed 4 different wars, non-stop armed conflict, racism, discrimination, and suppression, and I’m proud to say that I developed my own survival skill set and coping mechanism to remain sane. This isn’t a personal self-entitled story, this is an introduction to how millions of Iraqis lived this life, either perished or survived so far, like me. Older generations, those who were born in the ’50s, ’60s, and up to the ’80s, have suffered more than us (the 90’s) due to more suppression and wars, but I have a limited capacity to write about them since I wasn’t around back then.

There are hundreds of online research papers and articles that are tackling the impact of war on Iraqis which you can simply Google, those online sources can be very useful for you to understand generally what Iraqis have been through. I want to share my thoughts as an Iraqi for those out there who might relate to the title of this article.

‘’Working with Iraqis is Difficult’’

I stopped counting how many times I’ve heard this sentence from non-Iraqis! It is a bold statement, but in my opinion, there is no smoke without a fire. Why do Iraqis give out a ‘’difficult to work with vibe’’ in terms of co-planning, discussions, debate, and finding a common ground to reach? Is it obstinacy, trauma, communication gap (like a language barrier), lack of empathy, lack of professionalism, trauma, or all of the aforementioned options combined? Or perhaps it’s your problem, not the Iraqis’. Let’s dig in.

When you meet any Iraqi, I bet that it won’t pass 15 minutes before they mention things like trauma, war, displacement, and politics, and it can even escalate to sharing ‘’how many near-death experiences they’ve faced’’, this is not a matter of highlighting an achievement, nor it’s ‘’showing off’’ as my former non-Iraqi colleague described her interactions with Iraqis, this is simply a sign of trauma. A sign of survival. A sign of internal battles. A sign of inability of coping with the past and the present. In one way or another, all Iraqis (including children) are traumatized or living in an environment that fosters trauma. Traumatized people exhibit several symptoms. According to Briere and Scott (2015), these symptoms include major depression, anxiety and panic, stress disorders including PTSD, and dissociation. In other words, trauma can result in a wide range of different symptoms, and these symptoms can then translate into even more diverse behaviors.

A few months ago, I was facilitating a training session on countering religious extremism with 28 Iraqi youth, the trainer asked the participants to move right if they have lost a loved one (friend/family/colleague) due to conflict/s based on religious motive in Iraq. 20 out of the 28 participants moved right. TWENTY. The youth’s age average is around 27 years old, they may not necessarily display trauma. They laugh, dance, work hard, study, and live a normal life, but ¾ of them lost a loved one due to conflict, just like other millions of Iraqis.For many Iraqis, including myself, my family, friends, and colleagues, too many of us, sadness is an obsession at this point, it isn’t a result of circumstances. Sadness is accompanying Iraqis, and they are prone to tension and sadness due to the difficult life they have lived, many countries around the world are now suffering from violence and different forms of conflict and political/societal instability, some of them for 1 year, others for 15 years, but Iraqis have suffered from the scourge of wars and its consequences for over 70+ years now, in addition to the absence of social justice and the precise developmental policies that meet the needs of society to advance and improve on the quality of life. Therefore, Iraqis are always, one way or another, under internal pressure, a pressure that’s caused by trauma, the other is caused by a lack of open-minded persons who can’t deal with traumatized persons.

Are We Difficult?

Maybe, but I think of it as being stubborn more than difficult. I think that difficult circumstances create a stubborn generation/s in the long term. Stubborn isn’t the same as difficult. Stubborn people are often good at making a decision and sticking to it even when things are hard. This can be a very good trait, especially when you’re faced with conflict. I don’t think of being stubborn as a weakness, rather, it’s an excellent survival trait when combined with empathy and sound logic that is influenced by tough life experiences. It might take time for many Iraqis to realize what trauma is, and non-Iraqis to actually get how their Iraqi colleagues were able to survive through all of these challenges and still wake up every day, work to the best of their abilities, excel in education, fight the obstacles that are in front of us, and trying to be the best version of ourselves. Behind every Iraqi is a survival story you may never hear/read it.

This isn’t a rant on how to cater to your Iraqi friends/colleagues with special treatment, rather, it’s an opportunity for you to understand why ‘’some’’ Iraqis have some interpersonal traits that aren’t pleasing to anyone. The only advice that I’d give you is to keep an open mind and understand the issue, maybe the issue doesn’t exist, maybe he/she needs help/support, or maybe they don’t like you. Or maybe, it’s your problem, not theirs.

Based on what you’ve read so far, I hope that you can do some research on what happened in Iraq in the past 20–30 or even 70 years. Connect the dots, and form your own opinion on this subject. If you haven’t seen any difficulties working with Iraqis, that’s great, you and your Iraqi colleague are doing great. 😉

At last, I want to quote a short part of an Iraqi poem written by Modafer Al-Nawab:

‘’I don’t think a land irrigated with blood and the sun is like the land of my country

And I don’t think sadness is like the sadness of people in it

But it’s my country

I don’t cry from the heart

I don’t laugh from the heart

I do not die from the heart, except in it’’.

Thanks for reading!

Ahmed Windi