With Ali al-Fadhily
FALLUJAH - Ahmed Ghazi has little reason to stock Christmas toys at his shop
in Fallujah. He knows what children want these days.
"It is best for us to import toys such as guns and tanks because they
are most salable in Iraq to little boys," Ghazi told IPS. "Children
try to imitate what they see out of their windows."
And there are particular imports for girls, too, he said. "Girls prefer
crying dolls to others that dance or play music and songs."
As children in the United States and around the world celebrate Christmas,
and prepare to celebrate the New Year, children in Iraq occupy a quite different
world, with toys to match.
Social researcher Nuha Khalil from the Iraqi Institute for Childhood Development
in Baghdad told IPS that young girls are now expressing their repressed sadness
often by playing the role of a mother who takes care of her small daughter.
"Looking around, they only see gatherings of mourning ladies who lost
their beloved ones," said Khalil. "Our job of comforting these little
girls and remedying the damage within them is next to impossible."
Hundreds of thousands of children have faced trauma of some sort. And for others,
the lack of a normal life is trauma enough.
Just a lack of entertainment is developing into a serious problem. There are
only 10 cinemas in Baghdad, and two dilapidated public parks. These are no longer
safe for children.
Children do not go out much to play, and they are not sure of home any more.
The United Nations estimates that more than 100,000 Iraqis are fleeing the country
every month. The number of Iraqis living in other Arab countries is now more
than 1.8 million. There are in addition more than 1.6 million internally displaced
people within Iraq.
The group Refugees International says that the increasing number of people
fleeing Iraq means that this refugee crisis might soon overtake that in Darfur.
And children suffer most from leaving, and they suffer most where they go.
"Homeless children are inclined to be rough, and isolated from their new
neighborhood and new school colleagues," Hayam al-Ukaili, a primary school
headmistress in Fallujah told IPS. "They do not mix in with their new atmosphere
as they should. It is as if they feel it is imposed upon them, and they simply
Teachers and social workers say children have begun to nurse a strong hatred
of the United States. No more is the United States the image of a good life.
"Children have lost hope in the United States and the Iraqi government
after the situation has only worsened every day," Abdul Wahid Nathum, researcher
for an Iraqi NGO which assists children told IPS in Baghdad (he did not want
the organization to be named).
"Their understanding of the ongoing events is incredible," he said.
"It is probably because the elder members of the family keep talking politics
and watching news. Talking to a 12-year-old child, one would be surprised by
the huge amount of news inside his head, which is not right."
"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 difficulties of children have become particularly noticeable this year.
"The only things they have on their minds are guns, bullets, death and
a fear of the U.S. occupation," Maruan Abdullah, spokesman for the Association
of Psychologists of Iraq told reporters at the launch of a study in February
The report warned that "children in Iraq are seriously suffering psychologically
with all the insecurity, especially with the fear of kidnapping and explosions."
The API surveyed more than 1,000 children throughout Iraq over a four-month
period and found that "92 percent of the children examined were found to
have learning impediments, largely attributable to the current climate of fear
With nearly half of Iraq's population under 18 years of age, the devastating
impact of the violent and chaotic occupation is that much greater. Three wars
since 1980, a refugee crisis of staggering proportions, loss of family members,
suicide attacks, car bombs and the constant threat of home raids by occupation
soldiers or death squads have meant that young Iraqis are shattered physically
As early as April 2003, the United Nations Children's Fund had estimated that
half a million Iraqi children had been traumatized by the U.S.-led invasion.
The situation has degenerated drastically since then.
A report issued by Iraq's Ministry of Education earlier this year found that
64 children had been killed and 57 wounded in 417 attacks on schools within
just a four-month period. In all 47 children were kidnapped on their way to
or from school over the period.
(Inter Press Service)