orphans’ ordeal: Who’s to blame?
|Posted By Ahmed
The heart-breaking pictures of
severely malnourished children found
at a state-run Baghdad orphanage last
week revealed the inability of the
U.S.-backed Iraqi government to care
for its most vulnerable citizens.
Ironically, the orphanage name is
tenderness in English. But the
treatment of the poor orphans who have
been living there cannot by any means
be related to the word. The 24 boys -
most of whom are mentally handicapped
and aged 3-15 - were found on June 10
by a U.S. military advisory team that
was out on patrol with Iraqi soldiers.
Images broadcast by CBS News showed
some of the orphans tied to their
beds, others covered in their own
waste, and some appearing, at first
glance, to be dead.
"They saw multiple bodies laying
on the floor of the facility,"
Staff Sergeant Mitchell Gibson of the
82nd Airborne Division told CBS News.
"They thought they were all dead,
so they threw a basketball [to] try
and get some attention...And actually
one of the kids lifted up his head,
tilted it over and just looked and
then went back down."
Gibson added that one of the boys had
"thousands of flies covering his
body, unable to move any part of his
body, you know we had to actually hold
his head up and tilt his head to make
sure that he was okay... The only
thing basically that was moving was
his eyeballs. Flies in the mouth, in
the eyes, in the nose, ears, eating
all the open wounds from sleeping on
Another member of the patrol, Lt
Stephen Duperre, described the
discovery as devastating. "The
kids were tied up, naked, covered in
their own waste, faeces". He said
they also found a kitchen inside the
orphanage that was full of food and a
storeroom stocked with brand-new
clothes that the soldiers believe were
being sold to local markets instead of
giving them to the disabled children.
The case has infuriated parents of the
children. "If we were living in a
normal country, I would have sued
these criminals," said the father
of two of the boys. "But we are
living in complete chaos," he
The father, who refused to be
identified, left his children in the
orphanage after becoming a displaced
person nearly two years ago.
"What can we do? They became a
heavy burden on us. We decided to send
them there and we still can't take
them back because of our harsh living
conditions," he said.
The orphanage's caretaker, who had a
well-kept office, and two women
employees have disappeared after the
discovery. But two security guards
have been arrested on the orders of
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.
The severely disabled children have
since been moved to another clean,
well-lit orphanage in Baghdad, with
smiling social workers, sun-drenched
rooms and stuffed animals.
But the socking discovery underscored
the breakdown of social services and
family structure in a country ravaged
by a devastating war.
"Iraq has never been a more
difficult and dangerous place to be a
child," UNICEF said in a
statement last week. "The ongoing
conflict and displacement are now
putting the welfare of all children at
risk, particularly orphans. Families
struggling to feed and educate their
own children are increasingly unable
to take on others,” it added.
UNICEF also listed several problems
concerning Iraqi children, including a
serious decline in immunizations,
signs of stunted growth for "one
in five Iraqi children," falling
education rates, less pre-natal and
obstetric care, and children
"orphaned by violence almost
Realizing the plight of helpless
orphans who have no one to depend on,
many Iraqi volunteers have begun
providing vital social services at
their own expense, relying on the
generosity of friends and neighbors.
In Baghdad, the only thing that keeps
orphans alive is the kindness of
civilians, according to an article on
Husham Hassan, a 37-year-old Iraqi
volunteer, cares for around 30 orphans
in a home funded by private donations
in Sadr City, a Shia district in
northeast Baghdad controlled by the
political movement of prominent cleric
Before opening the "Safety
House," Hassan worked for another
private organization established in
2003 to care for Baghdad's orphans.
But that organization has been forced
to close for financial reasons four
months ago, and Hassan had to open his
own facility with funds collected from
friends and neighbors. His orphanage
is clean, and the children there –
aged five to sixteen – are active
and healthy. Iraqi volunteers teach
the children reading and math, play
with them, sew their clothes and
"I am in charge of sport
activities and sometimes give the kids
lessons in reading and
mathematics," said Salim Hassan.
"I volunteered to serve these
children without any charge. I regard
myself as their father and I have good
relations with them. They are just
Husham Hassan says he turned to the
local community for help, collecting
donations from Sadr City’s tribal
families because the government failed
to help him. "When I opened this
house four months ago, I did my best
to get support from the government
through writing appeals and
requests...I even invited them to
visit on some occasions, but I
received no response."
Ali Sumaysum, a tribal chief, says
“We are supporting the house with
material and moral support. We are
providing security, food, clothes and
all the other things that the kids
According to Hassan, some of the
children he cares for have lost their
parents to the war, but the majority
have been orphaned by divorce, with
the collapse of Iraqi society
replicating itself in an increasing
number of broken homes.
His comments raise a serious question:
Who’s to blame for the orphans’
ordeal? The negligence of the Iraqi
government, or the unjustified U.S.
invasion that degraded the lives of
Iraqis in every possible way?