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June 27, 2007

Legacy Iraq

There are no words. WaPo:

Marwa Hussein watched as gunmen stormed into her home and executed her parents. Afterward, her uncle brought her to the Alwiya Orphanage, a high-walled compound nestled in central Baghdad with a concrete yard for a playground. That was more than two years ago, and for 13-year-old Marwa, shy and thin with walnut-colored eyes and long brown hair, the memory of her parents' last moments is always with her.

"They were killed," she said, her voice trailing away as she sat on her narrow bed with pink sheets. Tears started to slide down her face. As social worker Maysoon Tahsin comforted her, other orphans in the room, where 12 girls sleep, watched solemnly.

Iraq's conflict is exacting an immense and largely unnoticed psychological toll on children and youth that will have long-term consequences, said social workers, psychiatrists, teachers and aid workers in interviews across Baghdad and in neighboring Jordan.

"With our limited resources, the societal impact is going to be very bad," said Haider Abdul Muhsin, one of the country's few child psychiatrists. "This generation will become a very violent generation, much worse than during Saddam Hussein's regime."

Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, 4 million Iraqis have fled their homes, half of them children, according to the United Nations Children's Fund. Many are being killed inside their sanctuaries -- at playgrounds, on soccer fields and in schools. Criminals are routinely kidnapping children for ransom as lawlessness goes unchecked. Violence has orphaned tens of thousands. [...]

In a World Health Organization survey of 600 children ages 3 to 10 in Baghdad last year, 47 percent said they had been exposed to a major traumatic event over the past two years. Of this group, 14 percent showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. In a second study of 1,090 adolescents in the northern city of Mosul, 30 percent showed symptoms of the disorder. [...]

Many of the children [Iraqi psychiatrist] Abdul Muhsin treats have witnessed killings. They have anxiety problems and suffer from depression. Some have recurring nightmares and wet their beds. Others have problems learning in school. Iraqi children, he said, show symptoms not unlike children in other war zones such as Lebanon, Sudan and the Palestinian territories. [...]

"We adults are afraid of what's happening in Iraq. How do you think it will affect the children?" [...]

At Sadr General, as many as 250 children arrive for treatment every day, nearly double from last year. "We only treat the first 20 children who arrive and then we run out of drugs," Sahib said. There is no child psychiatrist on staff.

At the orphanage, Dina Shadi sleeps a few feet away from Marwa Hussein. Twelve-year-old Dina had recently received two telephone calls from relatives. She learned that her 17-year-old brother had been killed and that her aunt had been kidnapped and executed. [...]

"Now Dina expects another call with more bad news. She has a very dark image of the future. More and more, she's afraid of the future."

UNICEF officials estimate that tens of thousands children lost one or both parents to the conflict in the past year. If trends continue, they expect the numbers to rise this year, said Claire Hajaj, a UNICEF spokesperson in Amman, Jordan. [...]

At a primary school in the Zayuna neighborhood of Baghdad, three teachers sat in the head office lamenting how Iraq's sectarian strife had affected their classrooms. A quarter of their students had left for safer areas. Some parents were too scared to send their children to school, fearing attacks.

"Now, the young students when they enter the school, they ask their classmates whether they are Sunni or Shia," said Nagher Ziad Salih, 37, the school's principal.

"Yesterday, I was taking my 6-year-old grandson for a walk. He asked me 'Is this a Shia street or a Sunni street?' " said Um Amil, who asked that her full name not be used because she was afraid she could become a target. "I said: We are all Muslims. But he was still determined to know if this was street was Sunni or Shia."

"Such a child, when he grows up, what will he become?" she asked.

Salih said children quarreling on the playground now invoke the names of armed groups. "The child would say: I'll get the Mahdi Army to take revenge," she said. "The other kid would say back: My uncle is from the [Sunni] resistance and he'll take revenge against you."

The third teacher, Um Hanim, spoke up.

"Now the kid whose parent is killed by a Sunni or a Shia, what will be his future?" she said, also insisting that her full name not be used. "He will have a grudge inside him." [...]

Twenty-year-old Yasser Laith, short with a thin goatee and a cold stare, cannot sleep at night. When a rocket crashed into his family's house in the mostly Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya in November, he crawled into the kitchen and curled up in fear.

"Whenever I hear an explosion, I start trembling," mumbled Laith, as he waited at Ibn Rushed hospital for a 10-day supply of anti-psychotic drugs.

Another day, intense clashes erupted on his street, and U.S. combat helicopters hovered over the area. Laith grabbed an AK-47 assault rifle, rushed to his roof and began firing into the sky.

"My father is ashamed of me. I wanted to show that I was as good as the others," Laith said with a half-crazed smile. "After that I felt satisfied."

Today, he takes pills to help control his violence and stop him from hitting his two younger sisters or abusing his parents. Several of his friends, he said, had joined the Sunni insurgency. He, too, was tempted, especially after learning that one of his friends had been killed by the Mahdi Army.

"I had the desire to seek revenge," Laith said, smiling again.

When Laith left the room to go to the bathroom, his 57-year-old mother, Sahira Asadallah, said she was scared that her son would commit a crime or join an insurgent group. She wondered how long Laith would have to take the drugs, then answered herself: "This will only end with the end of the war." [Emphasis added]

Actions have consequences. Iraq isn't some tv show. It's a real place where real people, millions of them children, are subjected to unspeakable suffering and terror, day in, day out. The inevitable result is a legacy of hatred and violence that will endure for generations. Among the people we supposedly were liberating.

And here in the US, the unspeakable Ann Coulter gets to go on television and say this:

We need to be less concerned about civilian casualties — we bombed more people in Hamburg in two days — I'd rather have their civilians die than our civilians — we should kill their people.

I want to scream.

Posted by Jonathan at June 27, 2007 05:24 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb


I am so angry and very, very disappointed with Coulter to the point of, as you rightly say, speechlesness. I am even more sad and afraid of the world my teenage children are about to inherit.

Posted by: Malcolm at June 29, 2007 12:59 AM

The US and Britain will reap the results of their heads of states actions - this is democracy in action. I say, f**k democracy, it ain't working.

Posted by: Jason at June 29, 2007 07:52 AM