Iraq's orphans battle to outgrow abuse

Sun Mar 1, 2009 7:19pm EST
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By Aseel Kami

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - At night, 11-year-old Salah Abbas Hisham wakes up screaming. Sometimes, in the dark, he silently attacks the boy next to him in a tiny Baghdad orphanage where 33 boys sleep on cots or on the floor.

Salah, who saw both his parents blown apart in a car bomb blast two years ago, can never be left alone at night, said Ahmed Abdul-Baqi, the night shift social worker at the Safe House, a private orphanage in Baghdad.

"He wakes up in the night and tries to hit or even to choke the boy beside him," said Abdul-Baqi.

His hands always trembling and unable to speak properly, Salah is one of an army of uncounted orphans left behind by six years of sectarian slaughter and insurgency that was unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

As violence finally fades and U.S. troops prepare to withdraw, sociologists and health experts say the children's reactions to such trauma could threaten Iraq's fragile calm just as it needs stability to rebuild.

"The issue is not a place where they can sleep and eat," said psychiatrist Haider Abdul-Muhsin. "More important than that is whether they can find peace inside themselves.

"It is to be expected that when you have a high percentage of orphans and deprived people in Iraq, you will have a corresponding increase in crime and violence in the future."

No one knows how many children had parents torn from them by the war, or the conflicts waged by Saddam against Kuwait and Iran. Some fathers were hanged or shot under Saddam.   Continued...

<p>11 year-old orphan Salah Abbas (top R) shows his picture with other medals hung on the wall while sitting with other roommates in a room at the Safe House orphanage in Baghdad's Sadr City February 11, 2009. REUTERS/May Naji</p>