KARBALA – Inspired by a Canadian internet user, 27-year-old Iraqi Alaa Ibrahimi has just spent a week completing an unusual challenge — living the life of the governor in his home province.
The radio journalist reached out to Karbala regional boss Aqil Tourihi on Facebook after seeing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau let a law student trail him for a day following a Twitter request.
When Tourihi accepted, Ibrahimi got a rare close-up glimpse inside the daily duties of the man running the region of more than one million inhabitants from his office in the Shiite holy city some 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Baghdad.
As his week came to an end, Ibrahimi — wearing a blue suit, ties and polished black shoes — sat behind the governor’s desk getting an explanation on every letter signed by Tourihi.
The self-confident university graduate insisted that when he pitched his job proposal it was not just “an idea tossed into the air by a naive youngster”.
“It was a way of letting those in charge hear about the problems facing their citizens and to understand the work they do,” he said.
That is especially important in Iraq — a country where 60 percent of the population are aged under 25 and power is often wielded through murky backroom deals.
“This was a way to support the youth and to help break down the barriers between them and those in charge,” governor Tourihi said.
Among many Iraqis there is a deep scepticism about the ruling elite, with the country often classified as one of the most corrupt in the world.
Over the past few weeks a string of high-ranking officials, notably including governors, have been fired or arrested as they tried to flee over accusations of embezzling millions of dollars.
Ibrahimi’s time in the governor’s office appears to have been a two-way street.
While he had the boss’s ear, his main aim was pushing for more attention to be paid to tackling unemployment, an issue that particularly impacts young people in Iraq.
But he admits his week-long job placement also gave him a greater appreciation “of the obstacles facing those in charge”.
And the unusual initiative appears to be catching on.
Iraqi media has reported on a number of other officials offering youngsters the chance to spend a day or week with them.