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Iraqi youth fear departure of U.S. troops

  • Story Highlights
  • Five Iraqi youth join CNN for a roundtable discussion about their lives
  • They share deep concerns about the security situation and ethnic tensions
  • None of them express any faith in their political leaders
  • Amid the turmoil of their country, they strive to find some normalcy
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From Aneesh Raman
CNN
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. troops should stay in Iraq to keep ethnic violence from spiraling out of control, but they shouldn't stay too long, according to a panel of Iraqi youth convened by CNN.

Roundtable

Five young Iraqis, pictured here with CNN Correspondent Aneesh Raman, answer questions posed by Americans.

"Leave, but not now," said Mohamed Ibrahim, a 22-year-old medical student who lives in Baghdad.

"If American soldiers leave Iraq now it will be more, more dangerous for us," said Karrar Sabih, 21, a fellow medical student. One of his three brothers was killed by insurgents south of Baghdad in 2004.

These are opinions one hears often in Iraq. Many Iraqis are uncomfortable with foreign troops on their soil but aware that without them the country could descend deeper into sectarian warfare.

Mohamed and Karrar were joined in this CNN-sponsored roundtable discussion by three other young Iraqis -- Woroud Abdul Kareem, her brother Ali Abdul Kareem and Mais Abdulla. The group ranged in age from 14 to 24 and included a ninth-grader, a police academy cadet, a lawyer and two medical students. Learn more about the participants »

They came from different parts of Baghdad to talk about what they think about their lives, the presence of U.S. troops and Iraq's future. Many of the questions they answered were posed by Americans who sent e-mails and videos in response to a CNN I-Report request last week.

"How do you see this war in Iraq ending? And what are you and your friends and family doing to help that come true? As you know, we have lots of soldiers over there risking their lives and dying so that you can live in a freer country," asked Matthew Rankow, a student at George Washington University in Washington. Video Watch the roundtable participants answer Matthew's question »

"About the Americans that die here. I'm sorry for them," replied 14-year-old Woroud. "Everybody dies here. Iraqis die, and everybody dies. It's really painful for their families but the thing that has to end, what we need is more safety."

Woroud's father, a government employee, was shot by insurgents last year. He survived, but Woroud was shaken.

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"That was really painful," she said. "I got hurt on that one. I was in sixth grade. It was really painful."

Mohamed, the medical student, said Iraqis will never forget the sacrifice U.S. troops have made.

"I'm sure every wife gives her husband to fight here. Every mother gives her son to fight here. Every kid his father to fight here. So the U.S. already help us and we can never forget that."

Mohammed has five brothers and two sisters. He's the only one of them still in Baghdad. He stays to take care of his parents. Two of his brothers were kidnapped two years ago and the family had to pay to get them free. So he knows the best and worst today's Iraq has to offer.

For him, the end of this war isn't about a simple timeline.

"Everything has an end. But the problem is when and who will make the difference? Some say we need 20 years. We have time. If we die, the next generation will come. We have lots of time. But we need good people, not only time. Time will do nothing for us without the right people."

None of the young people gathered for this discussion had faith in their political leaders. When asked directly if they thought a single Iraqi politician was working in the best interests of their country, they said, "No."

This brought us to a question Michelle, an American, had sent: "What is the solution to end the fighting and the violence?"

"Michelle, that is the question of all Iraqi people," Mohammed responded. "As an Iraqi, I can't answer. I can only ask the question to everyone that can answer."

The roundtable discussion wasn't all politics and security. We also wanted to know about the Iraqis' daily lives -- what they do for fun. Watch Iraqi youth describe what they do for amusement Video

Mais, 24, took a second to think. She lives in Baghdad with her parents, sister and brother. Her father was shot in the head in 2005 by U.S. soldiers. As a female lawyer, she is quite independent, but the limits of her life in Iraq are clear.

"In the beginning, after the war, I had to stay in my house because I couldn't go out. There were dangers for girls like kidnapping and raping and all these things. So I would sit in my house. Sometimes I will go to a friend's house."

But after describing a lifestyle that would be suffocating for many, she said her country's sense of humor keeps her going.

"Our Iraqi society, they are laughing all the time. We have a sense of humor," she said. "Even amid all this ... Sometimes we laugh about the dangers. We find it a way of escape."

The discussion ended with each Iraqi describing one thing they wanted the world to know about their daily life.

"Dangerous. Surely dangerous," Mohammed said. "The danger is in everything we do. If we go out, if we go home, if we go to work, if you go to study, if you go to friends, everything is dangerous. When you go out from your home you don't know surely if you will come back safely or not."

For Mais it was about the future.

"We can say hope and faith. Hope that the situation will end some day and faith that our politicians will forget their different opinions and unite in their work."

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Woroud said she and her friends are trying as much as possible to live a normal life.

"I'm 14 years old. I don't feel the same way adults do. I just want the world to know that I'm trying to live a normal life and my friends are, too. We're just trying to go about our lives without being afraid of being scared. We're just trying to live a normal life." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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