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Iraqi children pay cost of occupation

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By Amina Anderson


One in every eight children in Iraq will not reach the age of five. There are no medical equipment, no medicines, and no doctors in a country plagued by raging violence that have claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.


"Iraq’s child mortality rate has increased by a staggering 150 percent since 1990. Some 122,000 Iraqi children died in 2005 before reaching their fifth birthday. More than half of these deaths were among newborn babies in the first month of life," according to a recent report published by the U.S.-based Save the Children organization.


The report paints a bleak picture of Iraq’s future given that 60% of the country’s population is comprised of children, whose plight began in 1990, when the United Nations imposed sanctions against Baghdad after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.


The sanctions against Iraq, the toughest and most comprehensive in history, have caused severe humanitarian problems and led to the resignation of two top UN officials.


"We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral,” said Denis Halliday, after resigning in 1998 as first UN Assistant Secretary General and Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq.


The sanctions continued until the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Since then, thousands of children have been killed. Hundreds have lost limbs in rebel attacks or U.S. raids. Acute malnutrition among young children has nearly doubled.


What’s more shocking is that U.S. troops abuse Iraqi children to force their parents to give information to interrogators. The U.S. Sgt. Samuel Provance, one of the first whistleblowers about the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal, spoke about one incident in which he witnessed a 16-year-old Iraqi boy being abused.


“As soon as I saw him for the first time and led him to the interrogation, I felt sorry for him. He was full of fear, very alone. He had the thinnest little arms that I have ever seen. His whole body shook. His wrists were so thin that we could not put handcuffs on him,” Sgt. Provance said.


“The interrogation specialists doused him with water and put him in a truck. Then they drove with him throughout the night, and at that time it was very, very cold. Then they smeared him with mud and showed him to his likewise imprisoned father. With him [the father] they had tried out other interrogation methods. But they had not succeeded in making him talk. The interrogation specialists told me that after the father had seen his son in that condition, it broke his heart. He wept and promised to tell them what they wanted to know.”


Iraqi children who were lucky enough to survive violence do not only suffer from malnutrition but have also exhibited severe trauma-based disorders because of the daily violence they witness.


Instead of playing in clean parks, Iraqi children play in raw sewage. Water is cut and many families are forced to draw polluted and tainted well water. Many children have been forced to leave school and work to help their unemployed parents make ends meet.


"Children are the most affected by the tragic events," Dr. Khalil al-Kubaissi, a psychotherapist in Fallujah told IPS. "Their fragile personalities cannot face the loss of a parent or the family house along with all the horror that surrounds them. The result is catastrophic, and Iraqi children are in serious danger of lapsing into loneliness or violence."


The plight of Iraq’s children grows worse as violence rages in the war-ravaged country. A study by the Association of Psychologists of Iraq, released in February, concluded that "children in Iraq are seriously suffering psychologically with all the insecurity, especially with the fear of kidnapping and explosions."


"The only things they have on their minds are guns, bullets, death and a fear of the U.S. occupation," said Maruan Abdullah, spokesman for the Association of Psychologists of Iraq.



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