Thursday, June 21, 2007

In Baghdad orphanage barely alive young children found by US Troops

It was a shocking scene for US and Iraqi soldiers to come across: barely alive young bodies strewn around a Baghdad orphanage. Twenty-four boys, ages 3 to 15, were discovered. Most were emaciated and weak, and human waste covered the floors, the statement said. In a room of the orphanage, shelves of food and clean clothing lay untouched, to be hoarded and sold by adult employees, the military alleged.

A government minister says photos of starving boys rescued by U.S. troops are propaganda.

The Iraq minister of labor and social welfare accused U.S. troops and the media of exaggerating the situation and distributing the photographs for political gain.

Abused orphans found in Baghdad

"Are they really concerned about how well the children are treated in that shelter, or is it just propaganda for their alleged kindness?" Mahmoud Mohammed Jawad Radi said to reporters after the U.S. military released the photographs.

Radi said it was U.S. troops who had brutalized the children by raiding the building in the middle of the night.

"Of course the shelter is not as expected, as it is newly opened and still lacks a lot of services," he said when asked about the lack of fans or air-conditioning where the boys were sleeping. He did not explain why the children were lying on the floor instead of in the cribs with mattresses lining the walls.

Standing beside Radi was the orphanage director, Diyaa Abdul Amir, who denied that the children were mistreated. He said that the photographs released by the military focused on two boys suffering from skin infections but that the rest were healthy.

TheIraqi Cabinet minister whose department is investigating the case criticized publicity surrounding the boys and said news reports were inaccurate.

“We totally reject the tricks they used to manipulate and distort facts and show the Americans as the humanitarian party. That could not be further from the truth,” said Labor and Social Affairs Minister Mahmoud Mohammed al-Radhi.

The minister said the institution in which the boys were housed had saved them from a certain death on the streets of Baghdad. All the boys, he said, were severely handicapped and abandoned by their families. He accused the Americans of staging a photograph of the children.

To those who work with Iraq's growing legions of orphans and homeless children, whatever the truth about the photographs, the case illustrates the splintering of family and social ties as the war leaves extended families economically stretched and unable to take in additional relatives.

violence claims 100 Iraqis a day and that 90% of them are men.

Iraqi children are thought to have suffered most in the violence that has torn Iraq for more than four years.

The U.N. Children’s Fund said last month that Iraq’s children are caught in a rapidly worsening tragedy and that half the estimated 4 million Iraqis who have fled their homes since the war began in 2003 are children.

“Violence is creating widows and orphans on a daily basis, many of whom are left to struggle for survival,” it said. “Iraq’s children, already casualties of a quarter of a century of conflict and deprivation, are being caught up in a rapidly worsening humanitarian tragedy.”

There are no verifiable statistics on orphans or homeless children in Iraq, but Claire Hajaj of the United Nations Children's Fund, or UNICEF, said casualty trends indicate that the problem has soared along with Iraq's violence. Recent U.N. casualty reports estimated violence claims 100 Iraqis a day and that 90% of them are men.

Based on that estimate, "you would be looking at tens of thousands of children losing a parent due to violence in 2006 alone," Hajaj said. As the number of deaths increases, she said, the capacity to care for orphaned children diminishes nationwide.

The orphaned Children's Plight

Husham Dahabi knows this well. He runs a private home in Baghdad called Dar al Bait al Amin where he oversees three dozen children and teenagers. Many of them had fled state-run institutions they had been placed in after losing relatives to the war.

The sectarianism and suspicion that pervade Iraq affect the children. A 7-year-old named Omer changed his name to Ammar to hide the fact that he is a Sunni Arab, Dahabi said. The home is in a Shiite Muslim district.

Dahabi and his volunteers know the hide-outs of homeless children and go searching for them at the cafes where they look for piecemeal jobs, or on the streets where they scavenge for soda cans to sell to factories.

"They do not come to me," he said. "I go to them. It is very hard to win their trust."

One resident of the home is 2-year-old Mosa, whose mother died of leukemia and whose father was killed last year by a bomb. Mosa's uncles said they could not afford to care for him. Another, Saif, 4, was brought to Dahabi several months ago by a temporary guardian who had found him crying and bleeding at the scene of a car bombing that killed his parents.

Some struggle to adjust to life in a sheltered place after living on the streets. When he checks on the children at night, Dahabi says, he often finds them with their T-shirts pulled down to cover their bodies, a habit of street children trying to protect themselves against the elements.

"In their unconscious minds, they cannot get rid of living in the streets," he said.

What will become of the boys found by US Troops

As for the boys found at the recently raided institution, members of the local Neighborhood Advisory Council have arranged for them to return to the coed orphanage for the time being. It was unclear what happened to the orphanage's staff members. Radi said some had fled, not because they had done anything wrong but because they feared the U.S. troops.

Adel Muhsin, the Iraqi Health Ministry’s inspector general, said arrest warrants were issued for three employees of the orphanage who have gone into hiding. He did not identify the three or say what jobs they held at the facility.

Note: Though this discovery of abuse of these orphans is obviously reflects badly on the Iraq government - In the US we have been greatly embarresed by the care given to returning soldiers- especially (though not only) at Micheal Reese Hospital. We have also been embarrassed many times by US soldier behavior and the behavior of the Administration ( attacking without UN approval, lack of planning, imprisonment without trial, secret prisons, the use of torture ..just to name a few.)We in the US have also had institutions that were supposed to take care of orphaned and elderly that have turned out to be poorly run. So one should not look at this case as being necessarily an example of how all facilities are run, nor that the negative conditions were in anyway condoned by either the Iraqi leadership - or the people of Iraq. This is a result of the invasion and occupation, and the civil war that resulted.

Paul Grant (follower of Basho.

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