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The war in Iraq has taken a heavy toll on children, many of whom saw their own family members kidnapped, tortured and executed during the brutal sectarian fighting from 2006 to 2008.
More recently, orphanages are filling up with children left without parents after attacks from insurgent groups, including al-Qaida.
But there are very few services for Iraq's estimated 4 million to 6 million orphans. Plans to open the country's first ever child-psychiatry clinic have been approved. But the project has stalled because there is still no government amid political wrangling after the March election.
Life After Traumatic Loss
Hamid Abid Ali is a handsome little 12-year-old, all freckles and teeth and shiny brown hair. But he also has scabs on the side of his face, from picking and scratching when he gets nervous or sad.Hamid says his mother went out for a walk one day 2 1/2 years ago and ended up in a hostile neighborhood of Baghdad. A few days later, the phone rang in Hamid's house.
"Are you Sunni or Shiite?" the caller asked. Hamid's father didn't answer."Well, if you don't come to pick up your wife, we'll blow her up with the other Shiites," the voice continued.A few days later, that's exactly what they did. Hamid's relatives told Hamid that terrorists strapped a suicide vest to his mother and detonated it.
"My father, who has asthma, was crying so much from the loss of my mother. He went outside and he couldn't stand the dust. They took him to the hospital but there was nothing they could do. And he died," Hamid recalls.Now Hamid lives at the Al-Jawad Compound for Orphans, an orphanage in northern Baghdad. Opened four years ago, it's run by the foundation of Hussein al-Sadr, a well-respected Shiite cleric.
Hamid says he is happy at the orphanage. He can play and laugh with his friends. But at night, when he's alone, he says, he cries himself to sleep.
Trying To Forget
Bershan Adel, 17, also has trouble sleeping. He watched as insurgents kidnapped his father, mother and brother. He never saw them again.Bershan's answers are flat, and his face is deadpan. He says he doesn't even really miss his parents. The orphanage's director, Abu Jaafar, says the boy has a violent streak, that he hits other kids and calls them names.
"So whenever we see him in such situations, of course we do follow certain techniques, just to absorb his anger, for instance, either to embrace him, to have him in our lap, or sometimes we bring a story or certain chanting with him, just to make him think of something else, just to ease him down, just to absorb his anger," Jaafar says.
For some Iraqis, this is the way to deal with trauma: When something bad happens, the best thing to do is try to forget it.But there's another reason for why some children aren't dealing with the violence: because there's no one who's trained to help them do it. The director himself has a military background. He admits that his staff lack the proper education, and that an orphanage that serves 60 children is barely scratching the surface in a country where millions of children have lost their parents to violence.
Creating 'A Million Saddams'
One place where children can seek treatment is a ward at the government-run Central Hospital for Children in Baghdad's Iskan neighborhood. It is headed by Haidar al-Maliki, one of only a handful of child psychiatrists in the country.Children come to the hospital for evaluations, therapy and sometimes drugs.
Maliki's own research suggests that nearly three-quarters of Iraq's children suffer from symptoms related to post traumatic stress disorder. He says violence is so commonplace that people have come to think it's normal.
"Our children and even our families have adapted to the situation. It is OK for them to see [someone] killed or injured or threatened, and after [a] few minutes, everything is returned normal," he says.The plan is for Maliki to train more psychiatrists and counselors and open a separate clinic exclusively for child psychiatry. The government has approved the new clinic but not the funding.
Maliki says the money is on hold because Iraq's political leaders still haven't formed a government, even though it's been five months since parliamentary elections. Results were so close that the parties can't agree on who should be prime minister.Maliki says the more children suppress their experiences, the worse off society will be.
He says that in 10 to 15 years, when these children grow to be adults, they will be a "violent population."I've said it many times, but I'll say it again, Maliki says: "With this war, you got rid of one Saddam. But you created a million Saddams."
by Kelly McEvers
Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz 0 comments US Wants Iraq to Pay Bill for War Victims
Off a dusty street flanked by piles of rubble and bombed-out car skeletons, the Saleh family is rebuilding their home with American aid money they got because three family members were accidentally killed in crossfire between U.S. forces and insurgents.
In another neighborhood of the battleground city of Ramadi, a new boat motor and fishing nets are tucked into a corner of the Zeyadan family's courtyard, bought with money from the same U.S. aid fund.
The aid for these families and hundreds of others like them came from a special fund earmarked by Congress for innocent civilians killed in U.S. military operations in Iraq. But recently, members of Congress asked the U.S. Agency for International Development in Baghdad, which manages the fund, to explore having Iraq take over financing and management of the project.
Though no timeframe was given for the transition, the request is one small example of how the U.S. is looking to cut more than just military ties with Iraq as it withdraws its remaining troops over the next 17 months. Already some victims are worried they will never see the compensation if Iraqi authorities — seen as corrupt and inefficient — run the process.
Christopher Crowley, USAID director in Iraq, said the push for Iraqis to take over the U.S. victims aid program is part of a general trend for all American assistance programs here. The U.S. is "seeking a larger contribution from the (Iraqi) government to these programs so they will become more sustainable as time goes on," he said.
But the move is rankling some Iraqis. Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has criticized the U.S. for rushing to cut ties to Iraq, saying: "Their message to us is: 'Solve your problems quickly so that we can withdraw quickly.'"
Crowley said many in the U.S. believe Iraq has the means to pay its own way to rebuild after the war, with the world's third largest proven reserves of crude oil — though so far infrastructure woes mean Iraq is far from producing as much as it could."Presumably, when Iraq is reaching its full potential with regard to its oil resources, it's not going to need this kind of assistance," he said.
Asked why the Iraqi government should pay compensation for deaths during American operations, he said the victims "are Iraqi citizens. We would like to see an expansion of the definition of victims beyond those injured and wounded in U.S. military action" to include all the innocent war victims.
The Iraqi government already has its own program to give money to families of the approximately 100,000 civilians killed since the 2003 U.S. invasion. But the program is patchy and underfunded, run by each province. In Baghdad province, for example, some payments were made in 2007 and 2008 but none since 2009 since no budget was appropriated, according to a spokeswoman, Shatha al-Obeidi.
No payments have been made by the Iraqi government since 2004 in Anbar province, once the bloodiest front in the fight against the insurgency, where the government estimates up to 50,000 Iraqis have been killed.
In Ramadi, the Sunni Muslim province's capital located about 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, the idea of putting Iraqis in charge of aid to victims worries both victims and the aid workers trying to help them.
"They are not going to reach the right people, the most needy people," said Eman Kadhum, the Anbar program manager for CHF International, the organization that distributes the USAID money in the province. "Poor people are going to remain, as always, the victims. No one will help them."
If Iraqi authorities and aid groups take over the aid process, "most of them will just take the money," she warned, noting that Iraq was ranked as the fifth-most corrupt country in the world by the watchdog group Transparency International.
At the height of the war in mid-2006, violence was out of control in this city of 400,000 with daily bombings, attacks and gunfights. Whole neighborhoods were too dangerous for police. Insurgents attacked U.S. troops nearly every time they ventured out, and some roads were so bomb-laden American forces would not use them.
Mohammed Hesham, 36, recounts how his sister's husband, Walid Ali, was killed in 2006. Ali was on his way home in an area where insurgents were active. He was crossing the street when he was shot by an American sniper on a rooftop. He lay bleeding in the street until dawn because there was too much fighting to evacuate him.
"Sometimes, they shot everything that moved. It didn't matter if you were carrying a weapon or not," Hesham said.Ali, who worked in a glass factory, left behind a wife and three kids with no means to support themselves. Last month, with $8,000 in U.S. aid, they opened a small stationery and gift shop in Ramadi and stocked the shelves with mobile phone accessories, photo albums, batteries, clocks and toys.
Hesham, like other victims, said he sought help from the Iraqi government for his sister and her children, but never got it. And he does not have faith in Iraqi authorities to manage aid for victims."No one is going to reach the victims, and if they do they will give them something very small," he said.
The money for the Hesham family and others like them came from the Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund. The fund was named for a young American aid worker who was the first to persuade Congress to assist civilian war victims in both Iraq and Afghanistan before she was killed herself in a 2005 suicide bombing in Baghdad.
The Marla fund aims to help the poorest families who have lost their main breadwinner and to give them a home or an income-generating project such as a small store. The families must document the deaths extensively to get aid, including providing police reports. In some cases, the money comes with an apology from the U.S. military.
The fund has helped more than 5,360 people across Iraq so far, according to USAID.
The program, funded through USAID, has received about $50 million since 2005. But the money is decreasing: USAID has asked Congress for $5 million a year for the coming two years for the fund, half what it got annually from 2006-2008. It's part of a general downward trend in American humanitarian aid for Iraq, which peaked at about $1 billion in 2006 and is expected to run about $250-300 million annually from 2010-2012.
Separately from the Marla fund, the U.S. military says it has also distributed about $115 million directly to victims. That funding will dry up completely after the U.S. forces withdraw at the end of 2011.For families like Hakima Zeyadan's, the U.S. aid has been the only glimmer of hope in years of misery.
Her husband, a fisherman, was killed inadvertently in crossfire four years ago on his way home from Baghdad to Ramadi when a U.S. convoy nearby opened fire after being attacked by insurgents. Now she lives in a house with more than 20 family members and can't afford the $300 a month rent.
With $12,000 from the Marla fund, the family bought a fishing boat, nets and a tent to pitch along the banks of the Euphrates where her son Khaled, 34, will fish and hopefully take over his father's role as the breadwinner.
Selema Saleh is rebuilding her home, damaged in fighting, and adding two rooms with $28,000 in U.S. funds. Her two sons and her husband's brother were killed in 2007 in a crossfire between American forces and insurgents. The 54-year-old was forced to move her family of six — including her 7-year-old grandson and the widow of one of her sons — to one room in her brother's house.
"I lost everything," she recalled. Only the U.S. came to her aid, Saleh said, pouring out her gratitude as she stood amid the construction work on her newly expanded home.
Associated Press Writer Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report.
Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz 0 comments Iraq army 'not ready' until 2020
Iraq's most senior military officer has said that his security forces will not be able to secure the country until 2020 and asked the US to delay its planned withdrawal.
The US government plans to withdraw its combat troops by the end of August, and to remove all troops by the end of 2011.But Lieutenant General Babaker Zerbari said that his forces - particularly the air force - were not ready to take over.
He said the planned withdrawal will create a "problem" and increase instability in Iraq."At this point, the withdrawal is going well, because they are still here," Zerbari told the AFP news agency on Wednesday.
"But the problem will start after 2011 - the politicians must find other ways to fill the void after 2011. If I were asked about the withdrawal, I would say to politicians: the US army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020."
Withdrawal 'on target'
Hours later, Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, told reporters that the US is still "on target" to withdraw troops from Iraq. He said only "dozens" would remain at the US embassy in Baghdad after 2011."We're on target by the end of the month to end our combat mission," Gibbs said at a news conference on Wednesday.
Iraqi officials have made contradictory statements about the country's readiness to take over security from US forces, Al Jazeera's Omar al-Saleh reported from Baghdad.Just two days ago, General Ali Ghaidan, the commander of all Iraqi ground forces, told reporters at a news conference that his troops are "100 per cent ready" to take over, al-Saleh said.
There are currently 64,000 US troops in Iraq, a number that is expected to fall to 50,000 by next month.The United States is also looking to begin drawing down its financial assistanceto the families of Iraqis killed in US combat operations.
A programme administered by the US Agency for International Development (USaid) in Baghdad has dispersed tens of millions of dollars to thousands of Iraqi families in the years since the US invasion, but funding is decreasing and some members of Congress have called for USaid to find a way for Iraq to take over the project.
"Their message to us is: 'Solve your problems quickly so that we can withdraw quickly'," Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister, told The Associated Press news agency.
Violence over the weekend left at least 60 people dead across the country, including 43 killed in bomb blasts in the southern city of Basra.Though violence in Iraq has dipped since it peaked in 2006 and 2007, security consulting firm AKE estimatesan average of 50 Iraqis have died each week in 2010.
Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, told the Iraqi newspaper al-Rafidaynon Thursday that while the Iraqi security forces have not "ended terrorism" in the past few years, they have "created conditions for the process of reconstruction".
"The security forces still need more training to become more effective at security functions," he said.Meanwhile, a senior White House advisor suggested that the US military presence in Iraq after the main pullout in 2011 could be limited to "dozens" or "hundreds" of troops under the embassy's authority.
"We'll be doing in Iraq what we do in many countries around the world with which we have a security relationship that involves selling American equipment or training their forces, that is establishing some connecting tissue," Anthony Blinken, the national security advisor for vice-president Joe Biden, said.
"When I say small, I'm not talking thousands, I'm talking dozens or maybe hundreds, that's typically how much we would see."The US deployment in Iraq reached its peak in 2007 at 170,000 troops but their presence has gradually diminished over the past 18 months.
Published by Al-Jazeera
Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz 0 comments 300 million dollars on hotels for summit
AFP - Iraq will spend 300 million dollars to upgrade six major hotels in Baghdad for an Arab summit next year, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told AFP on Tuesday.
"We will invest around 300 million dollars to transform our six largest hotels to international standards for the Arab summit at the end of March" 2011, Zebari said.
The hotels include the Rasheed, the centre of political life during the era of Saddam Hussein, who was ousted by the 2003 US-led invasion and later tried and executed.
It now lies within the heavily-fortified international "Green Zone" in Baghdad.
Also being renovated are the Mansour, the Palestine, the Ishtar (formerly Sheraton), the Baghdad, and the Babil, all of which have been targeted by car bombs or other violence since the invasion.The government will pay 25 percent of the refurbishment costs and provide interest free loans for the rest, an official from one of the hotels said on condition of anonymity.
Around 1,000 rooms will be refitted by Turkish, Jordanian and local companies, Zebari said.Iraq has not held a regular Arab summit since November 1978, although it did host an extraordinary session in Baghdad in May 1990.
Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz 0 comments It all boils down to oil
Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama restated his vow to pull all U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this month, and the remaining U.S. garrison by the end of 2011.Has America’s long goodbye to Iraq really begun?
The 50,000 U.S. troops left until 2011 will supposedly "advise and assist" and perform "anti-terrorism" missions and training.These troops will likely be six armour-heavy combat brigades, backed by warplanes from U.S. air bases in the Gulf.
A U.S. brigade withdrawn from Iraq will go to neighbouring Kuwait. Most of the rest will transfer to Afghanistan.No word about the 85,000 U.S.-paid mercenaries (a.k.a. "contractors") in Iraq.
In his impressive new book, Oil, writer Tom Bower notes America’s trinity is "God, guns and gasoline."Iraq’s oil reserves are an estimated 112 billion barrels, the world’s second largest behind Saudi Arabia. Canada ranks third.
Iraq also has vast natural gas reserves, an increasingly important fuel and raw material. Oil-hungry India and China are eyeing Iraq.America’s once mighty oil firms, the "seven sisters," have been elbowed out of most of the world’s oil fields by nationalist governments.
Iraq’s ex-ruler, Saddam Hussein, kicked foreign oil firms out of Iraq, and so sealed his fate. Big Oil moved back into Iraq behind invading U.S. troops in 2003, and is taking over Iraq’s oil production and exporting.It’s unlikely the U.S. will cut Iraq loose.
Washington seems to be following the same control model set up in the 1920s by the British Empire to secure Mesopotamia’s oil. Namely: Install a puppet ruler, create a native army to protect him, leave some British troops and strong RAF units in desert bases ready to bomb any miscreants who disturbed the Pax Brittanica — and keep cheap oil flowing.
Washington is building a $740 million US new embassy in Baghdad for 800 personnel, as well as giant new fortified embassies in the Afghan capital Kabul and Islamabad, Pakistan, (cost $1 billion) that may hold 1,000 "diplomats."Osama bin Laden calls them, "Crusader Fortresses."
The U.S. hopes the Shia Maliki regime it installed in Baghdad will keep a lid on Iraq while allowing almost-independent Kurdistan to remain a Kuwait-like U.S. protectorate. But given Iraq’s fractured history, this seems unlikely.
American "liberation" left Iraq politically, economically, and socially shattered. Republican crowing about victory in Iraq thanks to the famous "surge" hides the grim truth.
Reputable studies estimate Iraq’s death toll at hundreds of thousands to one million, not counting claims by UN observers that 500,000 Iraqi children died from disease as a result of the U.S.-led embargo before 2003.
Four million Sunni Iraqis remain refugees, half abroad, victims of Shia ethnic cleansing. Death squads haunt the land. Large numbers of Iraqi doctors and scientists have been murdered.
A maze of U.S.-built concrete walls cut up and control major cities. Electricity only works a few hours daily in 40 C heat.Cancers from depleted uranium fired by U.S. cannons are becoming epidemic."They create a desert, and call it peace," as Tacitus memorably said of Rome’s solution for Carthage.
If all U.S. troops are removed, the Maliki sock puppet regime won’t last long.A real Iraqi regime nationalist would re-nationalize oil, rearm, rebuild the ruined nation and rejoin the Arab confrontation against Israel.Or, Iran would end up dominating Iraq.It’s unlikely Washington would accept either outcome.
Iraqi resistance to foreign occupation has abated as the pullout date nears.U.S. casualties have fallen sharply because U.S. troops are being kept on their bases.But this could quickly change.
The highest-ranking surviving Ba’ath Party leader, Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, just declared a new push against the occupiers and their Shia allies.The outlook for Iraq is probably more violence and turmoil.
U.S. troops may have to remain to protect America’s oil companies and prevent Iraq from disintegrating.The excuse, of course, will be "fighting terrorism," but the real reason, as in Afghanistan, will be oil which — of course — is next to God.