As an individual working in an environment that aims to be forward thinking in the digital age I have become quite aware with the notion of converting paper based processes into digital ones i.e reducing the need for paper by replicating the process on a computer device.
My last visit to Iraq involved a process that very much reminded me of the above , I have had one issue that has been nagging at me for the last couple of years, from time to time it creeps up and I find my father encouraging me and voicing his expressive concerns at the lack of my Iraqi identity, hence official documents . As my father escaped from Iraq all those years ago I find myself not being officially recognised by the Iraqi government, this is no fault of their own but rather a result of the circumstances that the country went through.
My father was very much adamant that should I visit Iraq again I would spend much of my time invested in the process of officially becoming an Iraqi citizen and boy was it as process. In fact by the end of it I would refer to it as “stepping into hell and out again” . The process was tiresome and rather confusing one, my family had already gone through a similar process and thus were already Iraqi citizens however I was the anomaly. Many people have skipped this process by opting to pay for their Iraqi documents and such services are still available today were often thousands are forked out and in some cases individuals do not even step foot into Iraq and yet manage to obtain official Iraqi documents. Essentially the Iraqi documents that I refer to are of three kinds although there are more.
- Iraqi ID – known as ‘Hawiya’
- Certificate of naturalisation known as “Shahda Al Ginsiya’
- Iraqi Passport
The first gives one an ID card that is held by all Iraqi citizens wherever they go and are often asked to produce them at key checkpoints. The second coupled together with the Iraqi ID allows one to apply for an Iraqi passport, this also provides proof that one is indeed an Iraqi citizen.
Proving I was my father’s son
So my journey towards these documents began with firstly providing proof that I was indeed my father and mothers son and so without any appointments arranged myself and my parents simply walked into the local court in Karbala. We waited briefly and my parents saw the local judge after a few moments I was called in and he asked for my name, my parents names and place of birth, I promptly gave him the information and he took a few moments and replied that my case would be seen in 10 days time. My father then asked why that was and as soon as he did so the judge replied angrily that it was not up for discussion and threatened to extent my case by sending us to Baghdad for DNA tests. It was rather surprising seeing such a reaction and I am sure he would have known that my father did not know the system either, his arrogance and lack of manners were a test of ones patience. This was to be only the beginning, soon after my uncle who is a local was able to contact another judge and through the fact they know each other was able to speed up the process by writing a letter to the judge dealing with our case. Once this was in place I had thought that this step was complete however the judge then wanted proof of age for my father and apparently the Iraqi passport was not enough proof of age and so we were asked to go to another building and collect a signature and piece of paper proving my father’s age.
This is where I first realised at the need for an IT system to be put in place, the building that we were sent to housed the original documents from when my father first applied for his citizenship. They would pull out a very large book and manually flip through finding my father’s name, once found they would then sign a piece of paper and that would provide verification to the judge of my father’s age. This process itself could have been cancelled out had their been an IT system in place, the judge himself could have quickly looked up the information and the need to go to other building eliminated.
Now that proof of my existence was verified I could now apply for my Iraqi ID, in doing so I would need to provide proof of residence and show the letter from the judge that proved I was my father’s son. Again I was able to have this process relatively sped up as one of my cousins knew a worker. At first they would not accept my uncles resident card as it had to be with my father we explained that we were here on travel and that we were not residents, the reply was difficult and certainly not made easy, after much discussion I was then asked to provide my British ID along with the visa hence able to prove where I had come from.
Once this was done I was then asked to head over to a building belonging to the ministry of health, now at first I did not quite understand why but came to know that this was so that my name would be registered with the Iraqi version of the ‘NHS’. Should I die then that is where they would head to and lookup my information. Again this just highlights the major need for a unified database where such ‘dilly dallying’ between building to building would be eliminated. Heading there was another stumbling block as the official there refused to provide his signature or process my details on the same day thus I was told to return on the day before I would head back London.
Bright and early in the summer heat of Iraq walking towards the building that deals with Iraqi ID’s with my father and finally was able to obtain the first piece of official documentation. It felt a major relief, on a couple of occasions I had argued with my father that there was no need to go through the hassle. There were moments where it seemed the process had no logic to it at all and that it was at the mercy of whoever was dealing with the next step, it was these moments that I simply lost patience and could not see the sense in continuing further. I now thank my father for staying calm and reminding me of the importance of going through the process.
Certificate of Naturalisation
With my Iraqi ID the next step was to obtain the certificate of Naturalisation and immediately was told to head over to another building with a set of new copies of the same documents used in obtaining the Iraqi ID. This meant undergoing a complete new process similar to the Iraqi ID but with another department , is there really a need for such process? Could this have been merged with the first process? Perhaps looking at the positives meant I shed a few pounds with the walking and waiting in Iraq’s scorching temperatures whilst Midday slowly approached.
At the departments gate was a man who checked that one had all the right documents, he would put it them in a folder and direct you to a window to submit ones case. When we headed to that window the individual informed us that it would take 5 days to process my case. My father asked nicely that we needed it done the same day and that I was travelling the next day however he was having none of it, we went back to the original man who told us to go inside and speak to the main manager of the department. Now it was extremely busy inside with women and men hurdled together at the delegated tills, finding the manager’s office was the next task. Having found it we entered and explained our situation and luckily enough after much explaining and stating that it was important so that I could get my Iraqi passport from the embassy in London the manager agreed. I had to now queue up and see a chap at one of the tills, after some time he took in my documents and provided his signature once he had done this I was then told to head over to another office and get it signed there. This office was swarmed with people waiting both outside and inside and just getting in seemed impossible once inside we hand to forcefully place our documents on the desk and wait for them to be processed. My father’s name was called after about 10 minutes and the officer refused to process the documents as my resident card was that of my uncles (as I explained above). So again my father explained the case however this time the officer chose to be difficult it was only through my fathers calm and collective approach that the officer then decided to seek advice from his colleague. His colleague was even firmer in his approach however the officer decided that he would sign off the process on the presentation of my British passport and Iraqi visa. My father and I quickly (I say quickly) went and took a copy of my passport and then went back and presented it to the officer, he looked at them and then stapled them together with the rest of my documents and agreed to sign off my documents. Now this is where he said something that sticks with me until today and highlights for me the apathy that many Iraqis hold for their nation. He said the following
“You have come from London and want to take out Iraqi documents… I suggest you go back to London and never return…”
It is this mentality that I found shocking coming from someone who works in an official position and also has 3 stars on his uniform suggesting he is quite high up in ranking.
The Final Push
My documents for the certificate of naturalisation had now been signed off at several places 1) Manager of department 2) Individual at till 3) Manager again for verification 4) Officer who initially refused to process. It was finally time to obtain the second part of the jigsaw, having had my documents signed my father then presented them to the final till where they would take a copy of my passport sized photo and produce the certificate of naturalisation. This process took about 15 minutes and all together I had arrived at the department at about 9am in the morning and left it at 1pm. Having obtained the two documents I could now apply for my Iraqi passport back at the embassy in London.
Much is needed in Iraq there clearly is no system and it is very confusing to just obtain these two documents both for one who is from outside Iraq and for those inside. Many I met during the process complained of how difficult it was and questioned whether or not it was tiresome on purpose. Often there are basics such as a queue management system that could have sped up a lot of the steps that I went through. For now I simply cannot blame those that pay for their documents and serious evaluation and proposals are required in order to get the processes explained in this blog (and many other processes) up to the 21st century.