- Cherishing children is the mark of a
- - Joan Ganz Cooney
- If, as I would like to believe, the
above quote suggests all children and not merely those born in Western
democracies, I am no longer certain that we live in a civilized society.
- That women and children suffer the
most during times of war is not a new phenomenon. It is a reality as old
as war itself. What Rumsfeld, Rice and other war criminals of the Cheney
administration prefer to call "collateral damage" translates
in English as the inexcusable murder of and other irreparable harm done
to women, children and the elderly during any military offensive.
- US foreign policy in the Middle East
manifests itself most starkly in its impact on the children of Iraq. It
is they who continue to pay with their lives and futures for the brutal
follies of our administration. Starvation under sanctions, and death and
suffering during war and occupation are their lot. Since the beginning
of the occupation, Iraqi children have been affected worst by the violence
generated by the occupying forces and the freedom fighters.
- While I had witnessed several instances
of this from the time of my first trip to Iraq in November 2003, I was
shaken by a close encounter with it, a year later, in November 2004.
- In a major Baghdad hospital, 12-year-old
Fatima Harouz lay in her bed, dazed, amidst a crowded hospital room. She
limply waved her bruised arm at the flies that buzzed over the bed. Her
shins, shattered by bullets when American soldiers fired through the front
door of her house, were both covered in casts. Small plastic drainage bags
filled with red fluid sat upon her abdomen, where she had taken shrapnel
from another bullet.
- She was from Latifiya, a city just
south of Baghdad. Three days before I saw her, soldiers had attacked her
home. Her mother, standing with us in the hospital, said, "They attacked
our home and there weren't even any resistance fighters in our area."
Her brother had been shot and killed, his wife wounded, and their home
ransacked by soldiers. "Before they left, they killed all of our chickens,"
added Fatima's mother, her eyes a mixture of fear, shock and rage. A doctor
who was with us as Fatima's mother narrated the story looked at me and
sternly asked, "This is the freedom â· in their Disney
Land are there kids just like this?"
- The doctors' anger was mild if we
consider the magnitude of suffering that has been inflicted upon the children
of Iraq as a direct result of first the US-backed sanctions and then the
failed US occupation.
- In a report released by the United
Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on May 2nd of this year, one out of three
Iraqi children is malnourished and underweight.
- The report states that 25% of Iraqi
children between the ages of six months and five years old suffer from
either acute or chronic malnutrition. In addition, the Integrated Regional
Information Network (IRIN) press release on the matter added, "A 2004
Living Conditions Survey indicated a decrease in mortality rates among
children under five years old since 1999. However, the results of a September
2005 Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis - commissioned by Iraq's
Central Organization for Statistics and Information Technology, the World
Food Program and UNICEF - showed worsening conditions since the April 2003
US-led invasion of the country."
- Also this month, on May 15th , a
news story about the same UN-backed government survey highlighted that
"people are struggling to cope three years after US-forces overthrew
Saddam Hussein." The report added that "Children are ... major
victims of food insecurity," and described the situation as "alarming."
The story continued, "A total of four million Iraqis, roughly 15 percent
of the population, were in dire need of humanitarian aid including food,
up from 11 percent in a 2003 report, the survey of more than 20,000 Iraqi
households found.â· Decades of conflict and economic sanctions
have had serious effects on Iraqis. Their consequences have been rising
unemployment, illiteracy and, for some families, the loss of wage earners."
- But the hearts of small children are
delicate organs. A cruel beginning in this world can twist them into curious
- - Carson McCullers
- Iraq's ministries of Health and Planning
carried out the survey with support from the UN World Food Program and
UNICEF. A spokesman for UNICEF's Iraq Support Center in Amman, Jordan,
David Singh, told Reuters that the number of acutely malnourished children
in Iraq had more than doubled, from 4% during the last year of Saddam's
rule to at least 9% in 2005. He also said, "Until there is a period
of relative stability in Iraq we are going to continue to face these kinds
of problems." UNICEF's special representative for Iraq, Roger Wright,
commenting on the dire effects of the situation, said, "This can irreversibly
hamper the young child's optimal mental/cognitive development, not just
their physical development."
- This past March, an article titled
"Garbage Dump Second Home for Iraqi Children" addressed the appalling
situation in the northern, Kurdish-controlled Iraqi city of Sulaimaniyah
where young children assist their families in searching the city garbage
dumps. It said that children as young as seven often accompany their parents
to the dumps before school, in order to look for reusable items such as
shoes, clothing and electrical equipment which is then resold in order
to augment the family income.
- This disturbing news is not really
news in Baghdad. Back in December 2004 I saw children living with their
families in the main dump of the capital city.
- Poverty in Iraq has plummeted acutely
during the invasion and occupation. Those who were already surviving on
the margins due to years of deprivation have sunk further, and the children
of such families have recourse to no nutrition, no health care, no education,
no present and no future. Those from less unfortunate backgrounds are now
suffering because the family wage earner has been killed, detained, or
lost employment. Or the source of the family's income, a shop, factory
or farm have been destroyed, or simply because it is impossible to feed
a family under the existing economic conditions of high costs and low to
nil income in Iraq.
- As execrable as the current situation
is for Iraqi children, most of the world media, appallingly, does not see
it as a story to be covered. Even back in November 2004, surveys conducted
by the UN, aid agencies and the interim Iraqi government showed that acute
malnutrition among young children had nearly doubled since the US-led invasion
took place in the spring of 2004.
- A Washington Post story, "Children
Pay Cost of Iraq's Chaos," read, "After the rate of acute malnutrition
among children younger than 5 steadily declined to 4 percent two years
ago, it shot up to 7.7 percent this year, according to a study conducted
by Iraq's Health Ministry in cooperation with Norway's Institute for Applied
International Studies and the U.N. Development Program. The new figure
translates to roughly 400,000 Iraqi children suffering from "wasting,"
a condition characterized by chronic diarrhea and dangerous deficiencies
- Not only is the US occupation starving
Iraq's children, but occupation forces regularly detain them as well. It
is common knowledge in Iraq that there have been child prisoners in the
most odious prisons, such as Abu Ghraib, since early on in the occupation.
While most, if not all, corporate media outlets in the US have been loath
to visit the subject, the Sunday Herald in Scotland reported back in August
2004 that "coalition forces are holding more than 100 children in
jails such as Abu Ghraib. Witnesses claim that the detainees - some as
young as 10 - are also being subjected to rape and torture."
- The story read, "It was early
last October that Kasim Mehaddi Hilas says he witnessed the rape of a boy
prisoner aged about 15 in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. 'The
kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets,' he
said in a statement given to investigators probing prisoner abuse in Abu
Ghraib. 'Then, when I heard the screaming I climbed the door â·
and I saw [the soldier's name is deleted] who was wearing a military uniform."
Hilas, who was himself threatened with being sexually assaulted in Abu
Ghraib, then described in horrific detail how the soldier raped 'the little
- The newspaper's investigation at
that time concluded that there were as many as 107 children being held
by occupation forces, although their names were not known, nor their location
or the length of their detention.
- In June 2004 an internal UNICEF report,
which was not made public, noted widespread arrest and detention of Iraqi
children by US and UK forces. A section of the report titled "Children
in Conflict with the Law or with Coalition Forces," stated, "In
July and August 2003, several meetings were conducted with CPA (Coalition
Provisional Authority) â· and Ministry of Justice to address
issues related to juvenile justice and the situation of children detained
by the coalition forces â· UNICEF is working through a variety
of channels to try and learn more about conditions for children who are
imprisoned or detained, and to ensure that their rights are respected."
- Another section of the report added,
"Information on the number, age, gender and conditions of incarceration
is limited. In Basra and Karbala children arrested for alleged activities
targeting the occupying forces are reported to be routinely transferred
to an internee facility in Um Qasr. The categorization of these children
as 'internees' is worrying since it implies indefinite holding without
contact with family, expectation of trial or due process." The report
went on to add, "A detention centre for children was established in
Baghdad, where according to ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross)
a significant number of children were detained. UNICEF was informed that
the coalition forces were planning to transfer all children in adult facilities
to this 'specialized' child detention centre. In July 2003, UNICEF requested
a visit to the centre but access was denied. Poor security in the area
of the detention centre has prevented visits by independent observers like
the ICRC since last December ."
- A section of the report which I found
very pertinent, as I'd already witnessed this occurring in Iraq, stated,
"The perceived unjust detention of Iraqi males, including youths,
for suspected activities against the occupying forces has become one of
the leading causes for the mounting frustration among Iraqi youth and the
potential for radicalization of this population group."
- On December 17, 2003, at the al-Shahid
Adnan Kherala secondary school in Baghdad, I witnessed US forces detain
16 children who had held a mock, non-violent, pro-Saddam Hussein the previous
day. While forces from the First Armored Division sealed the school with
two large tanks, helicopters, several Bradley fighting vehicles and at
least 10 Humvees, soldiers loaded the children into a covered truck and
drove them to their base. Meanwhile, the rest of the students remained
locked inside the school until the US military began to exit the area.
- Shortly thereafter the doors were
unlocked, releasing the frightened students who flocked out the doors.
The youngest were 12 years old, and none of the students were older than
18. They ran out, many in tears, while others were enraged as they kicked
and shook the front gate. My interpreter and I were surrounded by frenzied
students who yelled, "This is the democracy? This is the freedom?
You see what the Americans are doing to us here?"
- Another student cried out to us,
"They took several of my friends! Why are they taking them to prison?
For throwing rocks?" A few blocks away we spoke with a smaller group
of students who had run from the school (in panic). One student who was
crying yelled to me, "Why are they doing this to us? We are only kids!"
- The tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles
that were guarding the perimeter of the school began to rumble down the
street beside us, on their passage out. Several young boys with tears streaming
down their faces picked up stones and hurled them at the tanks as they
drove by. Imagine my horror when I saw the US soldiers on top of the Bradleys
begin firing their M-16's above our heads as we ducked inside a taxi. A
soldier on another Bradley, behind the first, passed and fired randomly
above our heads as well. Kids and pedestrians ran for cover into the shops
and wherever possible.
- I remember a little boy, not more
than 13 years old, holding a stone and standing at the edge of the street
glaring at the Bradleys as they rumbled past. Another soldier riding atop
another passing Bradley pulled out his pistol and aimed it at the boy's
head and kept him in his sights until the vehicle rolled out of sight.
- One of the students hiding behind
our taxi screamed to me, "Who are the terrorists here now? You have
seen this yourself! We are school kids!"
- The very next month, in January 2004,
I was in an area on the outskirts of Baghdad that had been pulverized by
"Operation Iron Grip." I spoke with a man at his small farm house.
His three year old boy, Halaf Ziad Halaf, walked up to me and with a worried
look on his face said, "I have seen the Americans here with their
tanks. They want to attack us."
- His uncle, who had joined us for
tea, leaned over to me and said, "The Americans are creating the terrorists
here by hurting people and causing their relatives to fight against them.
Even this little boy will grow up hating the Americans because of their
- The slaughter, starvation, detention,
torture and sexual assault of Iraq's children at the hands of US soldiers
or by proxy via US foreign policy, is not a recent phenomenon. It is true
that the present US administration has been brazen and blatant in its crimes
in Iraq, but those willing to bear witness must not forget that Bill Clinton
and his minions played an equally, if not even more devastating role in
the assault on the children of Iraq.
- On May 12, 1996, Clinton's Secretary
of State Madeleine Albright was asked by Lesley Stahl on "60 Minutes"
about the effects of US sanctions against Iraq, "We have heard that
a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died
in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?"
- In a response which has now become
notorious, Albright replied, "I think this is a very hard choice,
but the price - we think the price is worth it."
- We are guilty of many errors and many
faults but our worst crime is abandoning the children, neglecting the fountain
of life. Many of the things we need can wait. The child cannot. Right now
is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made, and his
senses are being developed. To him we cannot answer "Tomorrow."
His name is "Today."
- - Gabriela Mistral
- To all Americans who, despite voluminous
evidence to the contrary, continue to believe that they are supporting
a war for democracy in Iraq, I would like to say, the way Iraq is headed
it will have little use for democracy and freedom. We must find ways to
stop the immoral, soulless, repugnant occupation if we want the children
of Iraq to see any future at all.
- Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist
who spent over 8 months reporting from occupied Iraq. He presented evidence
of US war crimes in Iraq at the International Commission of Inquiry on
Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration in New York
City in January 2006. He writes regularly for TruthOut, Inter Press Service,
Asia Times and TomDispatch, and maintains his own web site, dahrjamailiraq.com.