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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 May 2006, 12:20 GMT 13:20 UK
Iraqi first lady warning on youth
Iraqi men complaining about their wages
Unemployment plays into the hands of extremists, Iraq's first lady says
High unemployment levels in Iraq are making disaffected youths easy targets for extremists, the wife of President Jalal Talabani has said.

Hero Ibrahim Ahmad, a respected businesswoman, said the level of unemployment had "exceeded all limits".

She also spoke out about the number of civil servants paid by the state "despite having nothing to do".

Iraq's first lady was speaking at the Women in Business International Conference in London.

Her address, given in Kurdish and translated into English by an interpreter, was her first international public speech.

If the most desirable career path remains in the civil service, I have no doubt that this will create more hardship in the near future for all the communities in Iraq
Hero Ibrahim Ahmad

Mrs Ahmad founded the Kurdistan Women's Association in 1989.

Referring to the country's "rampant" inflation, she said Iraq could not grow if it continued to believe in state dependency.

"If the most desirable career path remains in the civil service, I have no doubt that this will create more hardship in the near future for all the communities in Iraq," she said.

A stable Iraq could only be achieved by equality and tolerance, she added.

"I believe that if we are to genuinely try to end the misery and misfortunes of all of the people of Iraq, we must work together regardless of ethnic background, nationality or religion to achieve freedom of the individual and a respect for human rights and dignity equally for both women and men."

'Personal distress'

Earlier, Mrs Ahmad spoke about her life growing up in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

An attack on Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s, known as the Anfal operation, had "razed thousands of villages to the ground".

"Hundreds of thousands of natives were killed... a holocaust against humanity and nature.

"This is a matter of such personal distress that I shall move on quickly."

She had been welcomed to the conference by UK trade and industry minister Margaret Hodge.

"It is clear that the task of promoting and supporting women in business is close to your heart because you have chosen this event as your first public overseas address," Ms Hodge said.

"Your presence is groundbreaking for us and I applaud your courage."


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