War is all Baghdad University students have ever known.
Iraq is awash in armed groups, targeted killings, sectarian bombings, and Islamic State brutality. Perhaps because of that, students prefer to focus on their future, their friends, Facebook and love.
The university campus is closed off by two checkpoints, but once inside, tree-lined driveways and green park-like spaces surround the somewhat tired classroom buildings.
Inside, students are getting ready to take their final exams- milling around the classroom, laughing and chatting.
The young women are well-coiffed, with perfectly straightened hair, high-definition eyebrows and glossed lips.
The more conservative women wear long sleeves and cover their hair, but scarves are red or blue, and the long skirts are form fitting. Other women wear their hair loose, and are in jeans and blouses.
Young men are laughing, some sporting the latest haircut of close-cropped sides and a long mop of hair on top.
FILE – Baghdad University graduates wave national flags as they celebrate during a graduation ceremony in Baghdad, Iraq, July 14, 2012.
Most of these students were toddlers when U.S. soldiers stormed into Iraq in 2003, and they were not even teenagers when al-Qaida was terrorizing the country.
Since then, violence has become a way of life. Islamic State is just one in a string of nightmares to deal with on a daily basis.
A large bomb exploded in east Baghdad just as the students were taking their exams. They shrugged it off.
Hamid Muwaffak laughs with his friends on a bench underneath a tree on the campus’s main square, near the cafeteria where Nestle Toll House has just opened a stand.
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He has no idea why anyone would want to join IS.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe they’re getting paid but, personally, I don’t know why someone would kill people and blow himself up. I don’t know, and I’m sure if the government knew why, they would do something about it. I just don’t know.”
A mechanical engineering student who is about to graduate, Muwaffak is more worried about finding work.
“I’m in my fourth year and I am thinking about my future, what I will do,” he said. “I hope that when I graduate, I can find a job, start my career. But for now, the situation is not very good. There are no jobs, unless you have the backing of someone important.”
It’s a thinly veiled reference to the vast corruption and nepotism that dominates Iraq.
‘Trying to have fun’
But in spite of, or perhaps because of, the armed checkpoints and blast walls outside the campus, the students say life in Baghdad is like any other city.
Sajida, who would only give her first name, constantly plays with her fashionably straightened long black hair as she talks with friends.
“Even if there is a war, we can live a normal life, like we go out, we have fun, we make love stories. Even if there is a war, there is love,” she said.
She says she goes to restaurants, cafes and malls, she enjoys being with her friends, and she spends a lot of time on her cellphone. She laughs that she is not a great student.
But for Sajida, there is more to life than war.
“We are just trying to have fun, forget about wars,” she said.
Many Iraqis would like to do the same, if only they could. (VOA)