War Kids Relief


I served for 14 months in Iraq as a Captain in the 1st Armored Division. The most needy Iraqi children had an amazing affect on me. This is why I am working on the War Kids Relief to better their lives.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Iraq boy has Country's 3rd Bird Flu Case

GENEVA, Sept 19 (Reuters) - A three-year-old Iraqi boy in Baghdad has been confirmed as having survived a mild case of bird flu last March, the first official human infection in the capital, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday.

"The Ministry of Health in Iraq has retrospectively confirmed the country's third case of human infection with the H5N1 avian influenza virus," the WHO said in a statement.

Initial testing on samples taken from the boy had been inconclusive, possibly due to their deterioration during shipment, but repeated tests using different methods has confirmed the presence of the virus, according to the United Nations health agency.

"An investigation revealed there was exposure to sick birds," WHO spokesman Dick Thompson said.

Iraqi officials said in March that the H5N1 virus had been found in poultry in Baghdad, but to date there had been no human case confirmed in the war-ravaged capital.

An Iraqi teenage girl and her uncle, both of whom died in January in the northern province of Sulaimaniya, were the country's first known human cases.

The WHO said on Tuesday that Iraq's outbreak was "now considered over".
The disease affects mainly animals but experts fear the virus could mutate into a pandemic strain capable of killing millions of people.

The latest confirmed case brings the global total to 247 cases in 10 countries since 2003, with 144 deaths, WHO said.

The toll is heaviest in southeast Asia, but also includes fatalities in Turkey, Egypt and Azerbaijan.

Monday, July 24, 2006

War Taking Toll on Marriage, Too

BAGHDAD -- Ten years in the making, the marriage of Raad and Nidhal Khalil was undone in less than 10 minutes of courtroom formalities. Furious when he took a second wife four months ago, she moved out and refused to return until he granted a divorce.
"The social worker's report shows no possibility of reconciling," Family Court Judge Salim al-Moussawi said sternly, his disappointment palpable as he rifled through the thin case file. She shook"Are you pure today?" the judge asked Nidhal, who nodded her assent to the standard question about whether she was not menstruating. Shiite Muslim women cannot participate in court proceedings during their periods.
As he dismissed the former couple, both in their forties, Moussawi reminded Nidhal that she was forbidden to remarry for three months. She didn't seem to mind.
For a growing number of Iraqi couples like the Khalils, including the dozen or so others waiting in the cramped and steamy hallway of the Kadhimiyah courthouse one recent afternoon, marital bonds are proving ever more fragile. At least 301,446 divorces were registered in Iraq during the past two years -- nearly half the number of marriages recorded during that time -- according to statistics compiled by the Justice Ministry.
More than twice as many marriages are ending in divorce as before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, according to ministry and court officials, social workers and divorce lawyers, though no reliable data are available from the earlier period. The twin stresses of perpetual violence and a stagnant economy -- along with the loosening of certain social stigmas -- are taking a toll on one of Islamic culture's most sacred institutions.
"It is an explosion of failed marriages. It has never been like this," said Moussawi, who has sat on the bench for 40 years and said he now spends nearly as much time ending marriages as he does formalizing them. He called divorce "the most despicable hallal," meaning the worst thing permissible under Islam.
Marriages are governed by Iraq's 1959 personal status law. Long considered among the most progressive in the Middle East, it does not adhere solely to Islamic law, which favors men in nearly all matters. But a recent visit to the Kadhimiyah court showed that religious influence remains pervasive.
Rules governing divorce vary by sect. While Shiite women were asked about their "purity" and required to bring two witnesses, Sunni Muslims needed no witnesses and were spared the intimate questions.
Moussawi and other court officials spent much of their time trying to keep couples together. One woman appearing before him sputtered with indignation about the mother-in-law who shares her tiny marital flat.
"No one can endure this," she told Moussawi. "I want some kind of independence and to not be under the thumb of my husband's family's oppression."
But Moussawi urged the husband to try to win her back. He made his pitch. "Think of college, when I chose you from among all the students," the husband reminded her softly. "I can balance you and my family. I will."
After a tearful, and perhaps only temporary, reconciliation, the case was called off and the two shared a taxi home. "That is a good ending," Moussawi said, smiling.Before taking his current post, Moussawi sat on Iraq's main criminal court, a job he found less troubling.
"Signing death sentences is easier than signing divorce orders," Moussawi said during a recess in his spartan courtroom. "In executions, it is just a single person punished for maybe a single crime. In divorce, you are collapsing and destroying a whole family and a whole society, because family is the nucleus of society."
As a last-ditch effort to save a marriage, Moussawi said, he often sends couples to meet with Sundis Ghazi Hassan Habash. A social worker assigned to the Kadhimiyah court, Habash said she has seen and heard all of the "excuses" for divorce. She accepts some: physical abuse (which she says is on the rise), adultery or the taking of a second wife -- Iraqi men are allowed up to four -- without permission from the first one.
But she has little time for squabbles over money, quarrels with each other's relatives or what she calls "tiny problems," like bed-wetting, an issue in a recent case.
The husband "complained to the judge that he had to change the mattress every morning," Habash said. "When the judge said this is no reason for divorce, he cursed him. Really, now they want to divorce over anything."
Habash, a trained psychologist who works in a crowded conference room adjacent to Moussawi's chambers, said her main strategy to thwart divorce is to "threaten them and make them afraid of the future."
"I tell the wives no one can care for them and their children as well as their husbands can," she said. "I make the husbands think of their kids so they can see how miserable they will be without them. Sometimes they even cry."
One recent afternoon, she counseled a young couple through what she called "a particularly sensitive problem."
"He wants her to do sexual things not approved by our Muslim and Arab society," she said, declining to explain further. Lawyers said that because women are forbidden to discuss such issues, they turn an empty cup upside down on a table when appearing before a judge, a sign understood to mean they have been subjected to illicit acts.
"If this doesn't stop, the marriage should stop right away," Habash said she told the couple.
Family court officials said that while some aspects of Iraqi society have grown more conservative in recent years, women have been empowered to end marriages that they previously would have been required to endure. Saed Chokhchi, 70, a lawyer at the family court, said that five years ago he worked on one or two divorce cases a month. Now, they take up his entire caseload.
"The way society looks at divorced women is changing. It used to be something disgraceful, but it has become something ordinary," he said. "You have TV and radio promoting independence."
But his colleague, Sara al-Tammimi, 24, said the law was still stacked against female plaintiffs.
While men can bring divorce proceedings for any reason, women can divorce only under certain conditions, such as physical or sexual abuse or abandonment. Absent such mistreatment, a woman can divorce only if her husband consents, and in such cases she forfeits legal benefits such as compensation for the three-month post-divorce period in which remarrying is prohibited.
Since finishing law school a year ago, Tammimi, who is unmarried, said she has handled at least 75 divorces. "It can be depressing," she said. "But I am hoping to get experience from all these cases, so I can do marriage 100 percent right."

For more information on War Kids Relief visit, http://www.vvaf.org/programs/war-kids-relief/

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The doctors who are too afraid to care for patients

Many of Iraq's wounded can no longer be saved as the healthcare system collapses amid violent intimidation.
THE number of violent deaths in Iraq topped 100 a day last month as the country descended into open sectarian warfare.
Almost as shocking is that the number killed in May and June was greater than the number of injured: Iraq’s health care system is close to collapse and can no longer care for the wounded.
The statistics were compiled by the United Nations mission that monitors Iraq from outside the country because its headquarters were blown up by terrorists almost three years ago.
They show that the death toll reached 2,669 in May and 3,149 in June, and that 14,338 civilians have been killed this year.
“The emerging phenomenon of Iraqis killing Iraqis on a daily basis is nothing less than a catastrophe,” said Ashraf Qazi, the UN envoy to Baghdad.
The figures also show that in May and June 5,762 civilians were wounded, fractionally less than the number killed.
The reason, according to Iraqi medical officials, is that doctors are too terrified to do their jobs following a deliberate campaign of murder, kidnap and intimidation.
Baghdad’s medical facilities are simply overwhelmed by the daily carnage. They were stripped down by a decade of UN sanctions, looted after the US invasion and then slowly rebuilt to cope with a peacetime city than never materialised. There are only 30 intensive care beds in the capital.
The Ministry of Health has been taken over by supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr, the rebel Shia cleric, who have little medical experience.
Adel Abdel-Mohsin, the Deputy Health Minister, told The Times that 190 medical staff had been murdered and 400 doctors kidnapped and that 1,000 doctors had fled the country.
“They are soft targets, easy to get and that’s why the hospitals are out of control in some areas. There have been raids or insults by gunmen or security forces storming the place and beating the doctors because there is no proper protection,” Mr Abdel-Mohsin said.
Doctors have been kidnapped for money by criminals, murdered by insurgents because they are viewed as government workers, or shot by militias because they work in hospitals in areas dominated by a different sectarian community, be it Sunni or Shia.
In this country full of guns, grieving relatives or angry comrades-in-arms have been known to beat or even murder doctors when a patient dies on the operating table.
“Doctors are all afraid of showing up in the wards because of the recent threats to us,” a doctor from Baghdad’s main hospital complex at Medical City told The Times yesterday.
“I have started telling families after surgery that their relative will die soon because there is no proper follow-up,” he said. “I can’t do anything about it. At least I am honest.”
Doctors in Baghdad’s hospitals no longer even wear white coats or carry stethoscopes for fear that gunmen might storm their hospital. Instead they try to mingle with relatives whenever armed men enter the building. “We are afraid of going near a patient because if he dies we’ll be kidnapped or killed,” said the doctor, who wished to remain anonymous.
Last week the Medical City administration received a threat that any staff going to work would be kidnapped — a clear attempt by militants to bring the service to its knees.
Two days later, a woman doctor who ignored the alert was kidnapped with her father, who was driving her to work at Medical City.

Since then, few have shown up for duty. Yesterday in the hospital canteen, 15 medical staff were present where once 500 would have gathered to eat.
Alaa Muti, a Sunni doctor working at a hospital in the Shia area of Qaddumiyah, recently discovered that his name was on a list of 35 doctors marked for execution by a local Shia militia. In the previous months two Sunni specialists have been killed and two resident doctors have fled after receiving similar threats.
“When I saw my name I didn’t hesitate for second, I just rushed to my room at the doctors’ accommodation and packed all my stuff, and left the place because I know they are serious. Now I’m leaving for Kurdistan as my friends told me I can find a job there and it’s safer.”
Ziyad, an anaesthetist who declined to give his surname, said that nothing was being done to protect the country’s vital health workers. “It’s unbelievable. Every day we lose another doctor and neither the Health Ministry nor the Government does anything. They fail to provide protection [for doctors] while they managed to provide their illiterate MPs with 30 guards each.”
Doctors have frequently staged strikes in the past to protest about beatings by government security forces, who often insist that their wounded are treated before anyone else. Now, with death threats proliferating, the doctors are simply getting out.
As medical staff flee they are often replaced by barely qualified workers affiliated to powerful militias. The doctor at Medical City said that he was too scared to reprimand subordinates for failing to do their jobs properly, for fear of violent reprisals.
“The Ministry of Health collapsed ages ago, but they are afraid to admit it,” he said.
“I’m working on getting a passport for me and my wife because leaving the country is the only solution for the next five years”
Omer Salah, 36. Sunni Engineer. Lives in Amariyah, west Baghdad
“I had to send my family 200 miles away to keep them safe and I’m in hiding here with the Americans because it’s the only place I feel safe from the Shia militia . . . If this is freedom and democracy then all countries should start looking for a dictator”
Mahmoud Mowafaq. 27, a Sunni in the Green Zone because he works for a foreign contractor
“The situation is miserable and it’s getting worse and worse every day. There is complete absence of government and law. I doubt there’s a single Iraqi in Baghdad nowadays who feels safe”
Ahmed al-Iqabi. Shia, 37, telecoms worker
“We live in a prison. My family is not letting me go outside because they are worried that I might get killed or kidnapped. I also stopped going to work because it’s not safe any more. I don’t know how long we will be able to carry on like this”
Inas Al Azawi, 29-year-old woman living in Mansour, Baghdad

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Baghdad’s Class of ’06 eyes uncertain future

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - At last, the time for learning has come to an end and I have completed my four years of study at Baghdad University. I packed up my books, papers and pens on the last day of finals and have pinned on the wall the only memento I have of the Class of 2006 -- a group picture on graduation day. One question hangs over every face. Do we stay? Or do we go abroad, hoping for a better life? Studying in Iraq was never easy. When we began our course in 2002, Saddam Hussein was still in power, and years of oppression and sanctions had taken their toll on the education system. The looting that followed the U.S. invasion in April 2003 wreaked further damage; books and furniture were stolen and some libraries and classrooms burned. I recall the sweltering heat of July 2003, doing exams with no electricity to power air conditioning or fans in temperatures of 45 degrees Celsius (115 Fahrenheit). As I juggled my English degree with a job as a Reuters reporter, there were other hardships too. Black banners mourning a student or a professor, killed "perfidiously" in a violent act, were scattered on most of the department's walls, serving as a reminder that death is near. Last year, a 23-year-old classmate was shot and killed in front of his house for no clear reason. The next day, Akram's gloomy fellow students mourned his death with a strike. This year, on the eve of a linguistics exam, a brother of Zahraa, another classmate, was snatched from outside his home. His weeping sister said the kidnappers made a mistake. A few hours later, he was released. For a ransom of $2,000. Many other burdens shadow you. Living on the far bank of the Tigris from campus has stopped many students from attending classes and sometimes made them miss an examination or two. I've been stuck for hours on bridges or in slow-motion traffic. Once it made me miss a test on the poet Shelley. As life gets harder, the psychological impact cuts deeper. Maiss, a hard worker, lost her father this year. He was gunned down on his way to work. As a result, she missed the second semester. Shadows of death and horror are prevalent. But the rhythm of life continues. Last month, the "War Class" of 2006 celebrated their graduation. Smartly dressed students with smiling faces, holding roses, posed for pictures; moments in which laughter and tears are chronicled. The English faculty's corridors were decorated with balloons and colored banners. The favorites were those with comic drawings of professors and their famous quotes in class. A wooden plaque above the main doorway bore a few promising words written in bold: "Life goes on." Despite an atmosphere plagued by fear, the sign summed up the hope of a better future. Hit songs by Western and Arab singers could be heard, while fresh graduates danced in a cautious carnival under tight security. For hours everything went well, until a loud explosion nearby muddled the air. But the blast could not stop me from asking: "What's next?" Zina replied that she would leave for Jordan "for good". Ali was undecided on his future. I plan to leave my country. But as the party went on, hope seemed to rise for some. Teeba said she would apply for a masters course next year, then pursue an academic career in Baghdad: "I'll stay right here," she said.

For more information on War Kids Relief visit, http://www.vvaf.org/programs/war-kids-relief/

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Revenge cycle fragments Iraqi capital

BAGHDAD – In the month since a new security plan was unveiled in the capital involving 10,000 Iraqi soldiers and police, sectarian murders and tit-for-tat mosque bombings by Shiite and Sunni militias have surged. A visit to Baghdad's Yarmuk Hospital reveals how far the capital has been thrust into civil war. In a 30-minute period Tuesday, the stream of tragedy through its doors included both Shiite and Sunni victims of rival killing squads, civilians and soldiers gunned down at work, and a fiercely angry boy who had just lost both parents. There is still hope that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will be able to stem the tide by getting the Army and police to act as peacekeepers between warring Muslim sects. But it appears that his political honeymoon, in Baghdad at least, may be over. "We have Iraqis killing Iraqis every day and the police do nothing,'' says Imad al-Zekki, waiting at the hospital to collect his murdered cousin's body for burial. "Where is Maliki? Is this what his security plan is all about?" Serial atrocities against Shiites and Sunnis in recent days, all in close proximity to police stations and US and Iraqi Army installations, are undermining confidence in Mr. Maliki's vows to restore stability quickly to Baghdad. "The country is sliding fast toward civil war," said Dawa parliamentarian Ali Adib during a contentious parliament session Tuesday in which the prime minister was attacked by members of his own Dawa Party for the sharp decline in basic security. The massacres - like the two-hour spree of a Shiite gang who roved over the mostly Sunni neighborhood of Jihad Sunday, killing about 50 Sunnis in a reprisal attack for the bombing of a Shiite prayer room Saturday evening - are now clearly being carried out by Iraqis, not the "outside forces" that so many here prefer to blame. Fitnah, a catch-all Arabic word for civil war and sectarian discord, is now on many Iraqis' lips. Police and Iraqi Army checkpoints have been more visible on Baghdad's major roads, but security forces have yet to patrol deeply into troubled neighborhoods, drawing complaints from both Shiite and Sunni politicians. They say that security forces are aiding the "other" side. US officials here admit that infiltration of the security forces by both Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias remains a major problem.
Sectarian divide widens While there are no precise measures for sectarian hatred, the subjective evidence points to communal trust being at its lowest ebb since Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in 2003. The bitterness of three years of political competition and occupation has made the city ripe for the spread of sectarian militias, leading to countless murders and personal tragedies. The destruction of the Shiite Askariya Shrine by Sunni insurgents last February, and the attacks on dozens of Sunni mosques by Shiite Mahdi Army militiamen afterward, further widened divisions and fed the current cycle of gruesome revenge attacks. In recent weeks, sectarian tension has risen to new heights. Baghdad's Yarmuk Hospital provides the grimmest of evidence of that. Tuesday evening, Iraqi soldiers roared up and carried a wounded comrade inside, shot in the leg in a firefight with Sunni insurgents in Dora; then Iraqi police commandoes arrived, bearing the wounded and the dead from a suicide car bomb on Karada Meriam street, a block from the protected Green Zone; then wailing was heard inside as an extended Shiite family learned their relative had died on the operating table. Two sedans pulled up with three Sunni victims of a shooting in Mansour - two dead men and a middle-aged woman, breathing but in shock. Hamid Khadim, a nurse, shrugs when asked how he copes with the daily toll. "You get used to it - today is about average for the past month,'' he says. "It's been like this since the new government was formed."
Massacre in Jihad Sunday's massacre in Jihad - three miles from the airport and the US military's sprawling Camp Victory - shows how Baghdad's seemingly random violence is spreading hatred and institutionalizing atrocity. Tensions in the area - which is mostly Sunni but, unusually for suburbs west of the Tigris, still has many Shiites - have been running high all year. Until recently, the violence had been confined to assassinations of Shiite residents in ones and twos, notes slipped under doors warning Shiite residents to move or else, and roadside bombs. But, recently, Shiite residents have been getting organized into their own militias, with the help of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, according to two residents of the area - one a Shiite, the other Sunni. Since the Askariya shrine bombing on Feb. 22, locals deemed to be salafiyah - a rigid Sunni ideology that has much in common with the Wahabbism of Saudi Arabia - have been taken away at night and murdered, though not as often as Shiite residents, they say. After a recent string of explosions at Shiite mosques and Hosseiniya (Shiite prayer halls) to the west of the river, local Shiites have reportedly mounted their own intimidation campaign, with notes slipped under doors and murmured promises of revenge for future attacks.
Fleeing to safety On Saturday night, a bomb planted at the garage of the Zahra Hosseiniya, founded after the fall of the regime in a building confiscated from Mr. Hussein's Baath Party, killed eight worshippers leaving evening prayers. By 9 o'clock the next morning, revenge attacks were in full flow. One Shiite man, called by his brother to take two nieces and a nephew to a safer area, recalled the harrowing trip. After passing an armory for the national in a compound once used to train Hussein's domestic spy agency, he turned onto National Security Street, which marks the area's eastern edge, and found militias in control. A mile to the north, gunmen were manning a road block. Another gang stood watch a half-mile to the south. He darted into a residential street between their checkpoints, passed three bodies, and arrived at his brother's house. After talking with a Sunni neighbor who also wanted to move his children to a safer place, his brother loaned him a second car and they began to make their way from the neighborhood - past more bodies, with the witness ordering his young relatives to duck their heads beneath the seats, but too late to stop their tears. In front of the Zahra Hosseiniya - half a mile from Jihad's main police station - he saw gunmen roughly hauling blindfolded men - presumably Sunnis - into a waiting minibus. He called the police emergency line on his cellphone, but there was no answer. Finally back at the small side road he'd used to get into the neighborhood, the way out had been blocked with tires and concrete. He ordered his 12-year-old nephew, Haider, to hop out, "quick as you can," and remove the obstacles. The gunmen took little notice, and they sped off. "After about five minutes, we came to a police commando checkpoint. I told them, 'I'm a Shiite, but people are being slaughtered over there, do something,' " he says. "But they looked at me like I was crazy. 'If we go over there, they'll just run away. Why bother,' one of them said. I was there for over an hour - shooting was almost nonstop - and I didn't see a single police, Iraqi Army, or US Army patrol."
Hoping for justice Back at Yarmuk Hospital, bad news unleashed a cacophony of grief for Haider Abdel Satah and his family. The 13-year-old's father had just died in the operating room, joining his mother and 10 other relatives killed about an hour earlier. Haider said gunmen in uniforms opened fire on the minibus carrying the family and a dead relative - killed in a terrorist attack the day before - to the holy city of Najaf for a funeral. The attack happened on Mechanic's Bridge in Dora, a Sunni stronghold on Baghdad's southern edge. Insurgents and Iraqi soldiers have been holding prolonged firefights there all week. The bare-chested boy, his right bicep bandaged where a bullet fragment was extracted, stormed out of the emergency room when a group of Iraqi soldiers arrived with a wounded comrade. His grief became anger. "You killers and cowards,'' he shouted, an aunt trying to shush him. "You murdered my whole family!" Haider insisted that the army opened fire on the minibus, though an AP report Tuesday quoted Police Lt. Thaer Mahmoud as saying 10 members of the family were killed by unknown gunmen. Surrounded by extended family members, Haider was almost chillingly lucid, perhaps a byproduct of his childhood on Baghdad's Haifa street, where hundreds have been killed since the start of the war. He said the family was attacked with an RPK, a heavier variant of Ak-47 that fires 10 rounds per second. "I've seen the bodies of the wahabbi victims, I've seen the drill holes in their foreheads, but I've never seen as many bodies as I have of my family," he said. "The car came to a halt and they just kept shooting. I was reaching for my Dad's mobile when I got hit." "I want justice but I know I'm not going to get it."

For more information on War Kids Relief visit, http://www.vvaf.org/programs/war-kids-relief/

IRAQ: Low-quality food rations pose health risks, officials concede

Following complaints over the quality of state-distributed food rations, the Ministry of Trade plans to boost quality controls and acquire food items from alternate sources, say officials. The decision to boost the quality of state food rations was taken after doctors in several local hospitals reported numerous cases of food poisoning and malnutrition. A subsequent investigation found that cases were largely the result of spoiled or inadequate rations. According to Dr Khalil Mehdi, a spokesman for the health ministry’s Nutritional Research Institute, tainted or inadequate food rations can cause malnutrition, particularly in children. Many of the rationed food items, meanwhile, such as beans and biscuits, lack the vitamins and essential proteins essential for children’s growth. “Some families depend entirely on food rations to survive,” said Mehdi. “If these aren’t nutritious, they’ll suffer from malnutrition and other diseases.”

To read entire article: http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=54520&SelectRegion=Middle_East&SelectCountry=IRAQ

For more information on War Kids Relief visit, http://www.vvaf.org/programs/war-kids-relief/

New wave of attacks hits Baghdad

Earlier on Monday, a series of explosions in Baghdad killed at least 10 people and injured more than 40.
Our correspondent says Monday's blasts appear to be reprisals for Sunday's bloodshed when Shia gunmen roamed the Sunni neighbourhood of Jihad in the west of Baghdad, dragging Sunnis from their cars and shooting them. Many were shot execution-style in the street. Police maintain that more than 40 died, disputing a claim by a senior government official, Haidar Majid, that only nine people were killed. Hours after the shootings, a double car bomb attack near a Shia mosque in Baghdad's northern Kasra district killed about 20 people and wounded dozens of others.
Women and children were among the casualties of the Jihad attack

To read entire article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5164082.stm

For more information on War Kids Relief visit, http://www.vvaf.org/programs/war-kids-relief/

Monday, July 10, 2006

IRAQ: Children suffer from dearth of entertainment, say health experts

BAGHDAD, 10 July (IRIN) - Bedi'a Mahmoud, 20, does not have any options for entertainment other than going to the cinema every week. "Cinemas are very bad places, and some people go there to find prostitutes," said Mahmoud. "But even this is better than staying at home listening to the same political and religious arguments."
According to health experts, the lack of entertainment is one of the biggest problems afflicting Iraqi youth. "Iraqis have to be careful in whatever they do," said Maruan Abdullah, a spokesman for the Association of Psychologists of Iraq. "They're often afraid that doing this or that might be against religious laws."
Mahmoud recalled a recent incident in which he and his friends were berated by a group of Islamic extremists for sitting with girls in a restaurant. "When my friend tried to explain that we were just college friends, they shot him dead and warned us that we would be the next if we didn't change our ways," Mahmoud said.
Psychological effects
Dr Lamia'a Ibraheem, a health ministry psychiatrist, pointed to an increase in the number of young people suffering from serious depression and stress since last year. Ibraheem added that these symptoms have, in some cases, resulted in cardiac and pulmonary diseases. "I've found hundreds of cases of people who were psychologically stressed due to the lack of entertainment for all genders and ages," she said.
Ibraheem went on to say that the constant insecurity that has come in the wake of the US-led invasion and occupation of the country has only worsened a problem already present during the regime of former President Saddam Hussein. "During Saddam Hussein's time, there were few places for us to go to have fun," said Hiba Rabia'a, one of Ibraheem's patients who has been suffering bouts of depression ever since she witnessed the death of a friend at the hands of religious zealots. "But at least we were safe, and we weren't afraid to meet our friends."
Today's Iraq has very few places available to the public for diversion. The capital boasts about ten cinemas that screen old movies and two dilapidated public parks, while restaurants generally close at 8:00pm. There are also two night clubs, but these are about to be shut down after having received threats from religious extremists. While there are two theatrical troupes working with children in Baghdad, both have received threats from extremists.
Children, meanwhile, express exasperation. "I need to go out, I need to have fresh air, I need to play," said Barak Muhammad, 13. "I prefer to be killed having fun than die in my home between these four walls."
Ibraheem warned of the possible psychological consequences if the situation does not improve. "It's a critical problem," she said. "If it continues, it could cause retardation or incurable depression."
Suffer the children
It is young children, however, that are most affected by the dearth of amusement. "I'm sad because we're now in the summer holidays," said 10-year-old Baghdad resident Mounir Zuheir. "At school, we had fun – but now my parents are afraid to let me play football outside my home."
While Zuheir suffers from regular bouts of depression, his mother has rejected a psychiatrist's suggestion that she take him to play in public places, saying that she would not expose him to danger. According to Ibraheem, however, such a degree of "overprotection" can also have negative effects on the child and make the learning process more difficult when he or she returns to school.
"The holidays should be a time for children to play," said Saleh Muhammad, a spokesman for the Baghdad-based Children Saving Association. "But in Iraq, it's like prison, because children are over-protected by their parents. If security doesn't improve, children's mental health is going to get worse by the day."

For more information on War Kids Relief visit, http://www.vvaf.org/programs/war-kids-relief/

IRAQ: Insecurity, under-funding threaten children's health in Basra

BASRA, 9 Jul 2006 (IRIN) - NGOs devoted to health issues in southern Iraq say that dozens of children have died of relatively common diseases since January due to a lack of medicine.“There are no official statistics about the number of children who have died in Basra since January,” said Hassan Abdullah, a senior official in the Basra governorate. “But local health department employees and volunteers from some NGOs have collected information suggesting that about 90 children have died as result of the lack of medicine.” According to Abdullah, this is worse than the same period last year, when some 40 children died for similar reasons.Marie Fernandez, a spokeswoman for Vienna-based aid agency Saving Children from War, said that the agency – which has been working with local doctors – has noted a lack of essential supplies, especially intravenous infusions and blood bags. “There’s a lack of everything. Children are dying because of bleeding because there are no blood bags available,” said Fernandez. “Antibiotics, Pentostam [an antimony compound used in the treatment of parasite infection], special milk for dehydrated children, and almost all medical material for emergency conditions aren’t available.” In Baghdad, Ministry of Health officials say they are struggling to acquire the required medicines, but noted that their efforts were largely impeded by security issues and official corruption. “Because of security problems, it’s difficult to have a complete picture of the problem,” said senior ministry official Ahmed Saleh. “We’re going to conduct a thorough study on the cases in the south – especially on the lack of medicine, because corruption is complicating the problem.” Rising mortality ratesFernandez noted that about 40 children per day had been admitted to the children’s hospital in Basra since May, due to high temperatures and poor water quality. “Children between the ages of one and three years are the most affected by problems of dehydration and pneumonia, meningitis, malnutrition and typhoid,” she said. “And some cholera cases have also been reported.” According to doctors at Basra’s Maternity and Child Hospital, about 14 to 16 new cancer and leukaemia cases have also been reported among children each month. “It’s painful to see so many children dying of cancer as a result of inadequate treatment,” said Dr Ali Hashimy, an oncologist at the hospital. “If there was medicine, they would have been saved.” Two weeks ago, Saving Children from War sent a consignment of medicine worth 250,000 euros to the only two hospitals specialising in child care in southern Iraq. “We’re very happy that some organisations are helping us, but the consignment isn’t enough,” said Hashimy. “We urge all international organisations to give more assistance to these innocent victims of war.” Specialists also note a disturbing increase of cases of Kala Azar among children, especially at the height of summer and under deteriorating sanitation conditions in Basra. Kala Azar, transmitted by the sand fly, is a chronic and potentially fatal parasitic disease that preys on the internal organs. “There are about 40 to 50 cases of Kala Azar per month in Basra’s Maternity and Child hospital,” said Fernandez. “Kala Azar can be completely cured if treated by Pentostam, but it can be fatal without treatment.” Pentostam has not been available in southern Iraq for several months – not even on the black market, where the drug had been available last year. A waning professional classA concurrent shortage of doctors and nurses has also been reported in Basra. According to Abdullah, there are no reliable statistics on how many doctors, dentists, pharmacists and nurses have left the area, but unofficial data suggests that at least 200 health professionals have left since January. Health ministry statistics also suggest that an average of 30 doctors and nurses per month have left Iraq over the past year after being targeted by criminal gangs.The emergency unit in the Teaching Hospital was closed for five months after a number of doctors were killed by unidentified attackers while working there. Now many doctors and nurses refuse to go to work, fearing for their lives. “I have a family to look after,” said one paediatrician from the Teaching Hospital, speaking anonymously. “Even though it’s my responsibility to look after my patients, I can’t risk turning my sons into orphans – their father, also a doctor, was killed while doing his duty at the hospital.” Nurses earning the equivalent of between US $150 and $200 per month say these salaries do not justify the tremendous risks they take. “We’ve asked the central government to review their salaries,” said Abdullah. “If salaries aren’t increased, we’re going to lose the nurses.”

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Bomb targets Iraq shrine pilgrims

At least 12 people have been killed and about 40 others wounded in a car bombing at a Shia shrine in the Iraqi city of Kufa, Iraqi police say. Police said the bomb blew up two buses carrying the pilgrims. Witnesses said the vehicles were burnt out by the explosion. A number of children were also caught up in the blast, reports say.

To read entire article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5152930.stm

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US ‘finds Iraq killing failings’

US marine officers at all levels failed to investigate conflicting reports of killings in the Iraqi town of Haditha, a report quoted by US media says. Twenty-four civilians died in the incident in November. The US military initially said they were killed in a bomb blast and exchange of fire. But reports subsequently emerged alleging that US soldiers killed them. A number of women and children were among those killed in an incident that has become the most serious allegation against US troops in Iraq since the invasion.

To read entire article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5160276.stm

For more information on War Kids Relief visit, http://www.vvaf.org/programs/war-kids-relief/

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Suicide bomber hits Iran pilgrims in Iraq, 12 dead

-A suicide car bomber blasted two coaches carrying Iranian pilgrims outside a Shi'ite Muslim shrine in Iraq at dawn on Thursday, killing 12 people and wounding 41, police and health officials said. Police said several Iraqi children, who make a living wheeling invalid pilgrims in carts at the shrine, were also caught in the blast. Many sleep there, waiting for business. Eight of the dead were Iranians, three of those women, the head of Najaf's health service, Munther al-Athari, said. Men, women and children were among the 41 wounded, 22 of whom were Iranian, he added. Earlier, doctors put the death toll at 13.

ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUALS COVERAGE OF SCENES OF DEATH OR INJURY A boy receives treatment from a hospital after he got wounded by a suicide car bomb attack outside the Maithem al-Tamar shrine in Kufa, a religious centre on the outskirts of the main Shi'ite holy city of Najaf, 160 km (100 miles) south of Baghdad, July 6, 2006. A suicide car bomber blasted two coachloads of Iranian pilgrims outside a Shi'ite Muslim shrine in Iraq at dawn on Thursday, killing 13 people and wounding 41, police and hospital sources said.

To read entire article: http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L06878452.htm

For more information on War Kids Relief visit, http://www.vvaf.org/programs/war-kids-relief/