Written By: Kwalah Mousa

I needed a spark to give me courage and enthusiasm in my work.

I started my career in 2001 as an editor and translator for the only English newspaper in Baghdad – the Baghdad Observer. Being an editor at that time meant I had to be very cautious and careful to not write anything that would counter the core mission of the regime. I started writing about culture and heritage issues, just occasionally touching on political issues on the local level.

In 2003, after the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime, everything changed. After years of suffering and suppression, everything became wide open, even to the point of chaos! I briefly entered another career as a PR Staff in the Baghdad Provincial Council, only to move again to the Relations and Media Directorate in the Baghdad Mayor’s Office in 2007. This is the position I still hold today.

Working in Public Relations is challenging to me because I feel great responsibility to have an answer for everything. I often over-communicate with everyone whether inside or outside our institution. I really work hard to do my job while also taking care of my family. I have a traditional Iraqi husband with two little girls, now ten and eight years old.

Just over one year ago, in 2016, I came to the United States through the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), and I can hardly explain the full experience in one article. The journey was really something extraordinary and, to this day, one sentence still rings true in my mind. In the introductory remarks written for us by the U.S. Department of State, they explained that the IVLP experience is truly “once in a lifetime.”

And yes! For more that 21 days I was with 20 other colleagues from different parts of the world, sharing many common issues while also bringing to the table so much diversity. We were so different, but at the same time a very harmonious group.

This program started a new phase in my life. I became more independent, more decisive, more confident, and above all gained self-esteem in my role as a young woman. Being hosted by the Presidential Precinct and their partners at the University of Virginia, offered a very important setting for my experience that I will never forget. This built my enthusiasm. This was my spark.

Khawlah with U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Douglas Silliman, and his wife Catharine.

Following the IVLP at the Presidential Precinct, I returned to Baghdad and established a cultural society with the help of some of my colleagues. We are committed to fostering cultural diversity and preserving traditional Iraqi behavior and attitudes, while concurrently empowering women and young people. We started this society to change and support our community which is suffering from the negative impact of terrorists and crimes committed by Daesh in Iraq.
For a while, it was easy to feel alone in the work that we were doing; but today, I have confident hope in our community through the appointment of Dr. Thikra Alwash, the standing mayor of Baghdad. Dr. Alwash is currently the only woman mayor of a Middle Eastern capital, and Baghdad’s first female mayor in a history of 1,250 years. Not only is Dr. Alwash is responsible for more than 8 million citizens in Baghdad, but she is also in charge of the highest National Committee for advancing Iraqi women. This speaks largely to her strong personality and professional qualifications. The committee consists of all governmental sectors related to women and gender equality issues.

Dr. Alwash is headed to New York this month to participate in the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women. With this and other opportunities, I am highly optimistic about what her work means for the future of Baghdad and Iraq as a whole.

Kwalah Mousa came to the Presidential Precinct as an IVLP program participant. She attended the Precinct’s 2016 Global Leadership Forum: Empowering Changemakers.