Take a Long Hard Look at the Children of Iraq

Take a Long Hard Look at the Children of Iraq
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Ed. Note: The images below may disturb you. They should. They disturb me too. But that doesn't necessarily mean we shouldn't look at them.

Sometimes you have to take people by the scruff of their necks and stick their noses in something for them to finally see it.

You might wonder why I posted that slideshow. Well, it started gelling in my mind while I was catching up on my blog reading during my commute to work. (Hey, when you have a five-year-old and an infant, you read when you can.) I came across this on the Air America blog.

Last week I had to put down my newspaper in the Metro for a long time. The front page news photo -- connected with the story "U.S. Role Deepens in Sadr City" -- was this:

Two-year-old Ali Hussein is pulled from the rubble of his family's home in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad, Iraq, April 29, 2008. (Karim Kadim/AP photo)

It might have been a more cropped version. Certainly all I looked at was the boy, Ali Hussein, aged 2. According to the caption in the newspaper, he died at the hospital he was brought to. Reacting to the photo in a letter to the editor this past weekend, Virginia mom Valerie Murphy was upset, writing:

We know that a war is going on. Must you use a photograph of a dying Iraqi 2-year-old, especially on the front page?

I can think of no other reason for putting such a picture on the front page than to stir up opposition to the war and feed anti-U.S. sentiment.

You have sensationalized a child's death and subjected young children to inappropriate images. From now on, I will preview what's in your paper before my children see it.

Here is little Ali Hussein.

When a U.S. patrol in the Shiite militia stronghold was fired on by a dozen fighters, American forces fired 200-pound guided rockets that devastated at least three buildings in the district.

The U.S. military said 28 militiamen were killed. Local hospital officials said dozens of civilians were killed or wounded.

Hussein's mother recounted being buried in rubble and crawling around the home, looking for her children.

"I was crying, 'My children, my children.' I saw the house destroyed. I did not know if they are alive or not."

When Hussein's father could not locate Ali, he said he began frantically digging.

"Everyone felt desperate and the police have left the scene, but I kept on digging. I told them I will not leave my son. I will take him out. I felt fainted after two hours of digging."

The fire brigade arrived to help him find Ali and remove him from the house, according to Hussein's father.

"They gave him to me, run to the ambulance, I hold his hand in the ambulance and it was cold. They made the first aid thing to the kid, open his eye, the rescuer looked at me, I told him you're a believer, and accepts the results."

And all this woman can say in response is, "We know a war is going on, but can we please not see it?"

Gee, you'd think this was the first image of an Iraqi child's suffering — caused by our war of choice — to come across the wires. You'd be wrong.

This is Ali Ismaeel Abbas. I blogged about his picture a long time ago. Here's what happened to him.

ALI Ismaeel Abbas, 12, was fast asleep when war shattered his life.

A missile obliterated his home and most of his family, leaving him orphaned, badly burned - and blowing off both his arms.

With tears running down his face he asked: "Can you help get my arms back? Do you think the doctors can get me another pair of hands? If I don't get a pair of hands I will commit suicide.

"I wanted to be an army officer when I grow up but not any more. Now I want to be a doctor - but how can I? I don't have hands."

Lying in a Baghdad hospital, an improvised metal cage over his chest to stop his burned flesh touching the bedclothes, he said: "It was midnight when the missile fell on us. My father, my mother and my brother died. My mother was five months pregnant.

"Our neighbours pulled me out and brought me here unconscious.

"Our house was just a poor shack. Why did they want to bomb us?"

He did not know the area where he lived was surrounded by military installations.

Hospital staff were overwhelmed by the sharp rise in casualties since US troops moved on Baghdad and intensified the aerial assault.

When his picture appeared in western newspapers it prompted a huge response, including free medical care. A "happy" ending? Maybe, but before we invaded his country he still had the arms and legs he was born with.

Then there's this little girl. I blogged about her story around the time of Dubya's second inaugural. Seemed appropriate since it was unfolding around the same time the champagne was being unpacked for one inaugural ball or another.

A car with eight Iraqis inside was headed toward an American patrol in Tal Afar, in northern Iraq, late Tuesday at dusk, when the soldiers were said to have fired warning shots to try to make it stop.

Apparently, the soldiers' warning went unheeded, said Chris Hondros, a photographer with Getty Images who took these pictures. They redirected their guns so the bullets pierced the windshield. The car rolled to a stop.

It was not the first time soldiers in Iraq have fired on vehicles driven by people who were either uncomprehending of the danger or unwilling to stop. Insurgents killed a soldier and wounded two others on patrol in Tal Afar just two weeks ago.

Hondros, embedded with the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Stryker Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division out of Fort Lewis, Wash., captured the immediate aftermath.

As the soldiers moved the car, one of the six children, who suffered a nonlife-threatening flesh wound, was taken to the hospital. None of the other children was injured.

Their parents were reportedly killed.

There are more pictures. You probably don't want to see them either, Valerie.

Following this story being reported in western news, another relief fund was established. Before we put boots on the ground in thier country, they had parents. Now they have a relief fund.

I don't know what this child's name was, but I posted this picture two summers ago.

Photographs taken by Agence France Presse but not distributed by major US media outlets show the bodies of Iraqi civilians killed in March in a home in Ishaqi, Iraq. Those photographs -- may of which are graphic and show the decaying bodies of children, some of them babies -- are displayed below. ...

The photographs were discovered and highlighted by by Christopher Floyd of ChrisFloyd.com earlier this year.

According to Reuters report on the incident, the 11 bodies of men, women and children, including a 75-year old grandmother and a child under the age one one, were found bound in their blown-up home. All were shot in the head; the house was riddled with bullets. At the time, "The U.S. military said two women and a child died during the bid to seize an al Qaeda militant from a house."

... "We know that two Iraqi police officials, Major Ali Ahmed and Colonel Farouq Hussein - both employed by the U.S.-backed Iraqi government - told Reuters that the 11 occupants of the house, including the five children, had been bound and shot in the head before the house was blown up," Floyd added. "We know that the U.S.-backed Iraqi police told Reuters that an American helicopter landed on the roof in the early hours of the morning, then the house was blown up, and then the victims were discovered. We know that the U.S.-backed Iraqi police said that an autopsy performed on the bodies found that "all the victims had gunshot wounds to the head." We know that the U.S.-backed Iraqi police said they found "spent American-issue cartridges in the rubble."

I don't know much else about this kid except that he was alive before we stirred things up in his country. And there are pictures of lots more like him.

Here's another one.

And here's what happened to her.

A suicide truck bomber ripped through a busy commercial district in Kirkuk on Monday afternoon, leaving a large crater surrounded by dozens of mutilated bodies, police and military officials said.

At least 80 people were killed in the blast and another 170 were wounded, according to officials.

Several shops were damaged in the explosion in Kirkuk's Qalah neighborhood, as well as a Kurdish political office affiliated with President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Attacks on civilians in northern Iraq have increased since U.S. and Iraqi forces initiated a security crackdown in Baghdad and neighboring Diyala province.

After a suicide attack at a market in Amerli killed 150 people earlier this month, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said he was concerned that insurgents had been flushed from Baghdad and Diyala province and were fleeing to havens in northern Iraq. Al-Maliki called for tighter security along the highway connecting Baghdad and Kirkuk.

Well, we didn't do that to her, of course. But did her country have an overabundance of car bombers before we showed up?

Here's another one. This Iraqi child is alive, at least. So maybe this would be more acceptable to you, Valerie.

A suicide bomber detonated his explosives as American soldiers were handing out toys to children northeast of Baghdad yesterday, killing at least three children and three of the troops, US and Iraqi authorities said.

Seven children were wounded in the attack near Baqubah, where US soldiers wrested control from Al Qaeda in Iraq last summer. The attack, along with a series of other blasts in the capital and to the north, underlined the uncertainty of security in Iraq even as the US military said violence is down sharply across Iraq.

Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, a US military spokesman, said yesterday that terrorist attacks in Iraq are at their lowest levels since January 2006. He said overall violence has dropped 55 percent since a US troop buildup began this year.

Police said the bomb attack occurred as US soldiers were handing out toys, sports equipment, and treats in a playground near Baqubah, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. Few details were available, but the US military said it was a "suicide vest attack" and that three American soldiers were killed.

He was injured by suicide bomber. But, refresh my memory here, did Iraq have suicide bombers before we invaded and occupied the country?

These Iraqi children are alive too, or at least they were when this picture was taken.

Not only are they alive, they're even playing a little game.

A 4-year-old Iraqi child cries as older boys stage a mock execution Monday in Baghdad, Iraq. Children's games are under a heavy influence of ongoing violence in the country. One of the more popular games is the clash between militias and police.

Oddly enough, its appearance in a newspaper elicited a reader response similar to yours.

The photo of "Children At Play" in today's News & Record, page A2, is very, very, very disturbing. How can you show such an influential photo such as this?? Do you have any realization as to what influence this will have on children much less some adults? This is not news. It is sensationlism on your part. Why can't you show photos of our troops helping the children? Many times in the past you have upset many people with some of your photos, but this one takes the cake. Where are your ethics????? Where are your morals????

I'm not sure the reader considered what these children have seen as a result of our war, and the effect it may have had on them. Perhaps they, or some of their friends and family had experienced mock executions.

The earliest abuses on record in Iraq apparently came in May 2003. On May 15, two marines in Karbala held a 9-millimeter pistol to the head of a bound detainee while a third took a picture. One marine, according to military records, then poured a glass of water on the detainee's head. In June 2003, according to records, a marine ordered four Iraqi children who had been detained for looting to stand next to a shallow ditch, then fired a pistol in a mock execution.

Children's play, after all, often just mimics what they have seen. I guess — like yourself, Valerie — this reader would probably rather not see what the children of Iraq have seen.

Two million children in Iraq are facing threats including poor nutrition, lack of education, disease and violence, the UN children's agency, Unicef, has said.

Hundreds were killed in violence during 2007, while 1,350 were detained by the authorities, it said in a new report.

Some 25,000 children and their families had to leave their homes each month to seek shelter in other parts of Iraq.

…In a report entitled "Little Respite for Iraq's Children in 2007", Unicef said Iraqi children continued to pay too high a price for their country's turmoil, and that this year things had got worse.

The report said an average 25,000 children per month were being displaced from their homes as their families fled violence or intimidation. By the end of the year, 75,000 children had resorted to living in camps or temporary shelters.

The disruption led to extreme hardship for many children and eroded access to education and healthcare, Unicef said.

What some Iraqi kids have seen will be with them for the rest of their lives.

Marwa Hussein watched as gunmen stormed into her home and executed her parents. Afterward, her uncle brought her to the Alwiya Orphanage, a high-walled compound nestled in central Baghdad with a concrete yard for a playground. That was more than two years ago, and for 13-year-old Marwa, shy and thin with walnut-colored eyes and long brown hair, the memory of her parents' last moments is always with her.

"They were killed," she said, her voice trailing away as she sat on her narrow bed with pink sheets. Tears started to slide down her face. As social worker Maysoon Tahsin comforted her, other orphans in the room, where 12 girls sleep, watched solemnly.

Iraq's conflict is exacting an immense and largely unnoticed psychological toll on children and youth that will have long-term consequences, said social workers, psychiatrists, teachers and aid workers in interviews across Baghdad and in neighboring Jordan.

"With our limited resources, the societal impact is going to be very bad," said Haider Abdul Muhsin, one of the country's few child psychiatrists. "This generation will become a very violent generation, much worse than during Saddam Hussein's regime."

I'm not sure this boy will see anything again.

And those are just a few of the kids who are dealing with the consequences of our war in Iraq. A war we didn't have to fight.

Hey Valerie, how about the kids you don't see? Would you object to snapshots of the kids who are suffering war-related trauma? How about the kids who are suffering fro cholera, and will for the next two years, because their cities and towns are swimming in raw sewage? How about the kids who are burned when the come across our left over WMDs? You might prefer pictures of schools being painted, but how about the children trying to learn in ruined schools; schools ruined as a consequence of our war, that is? How would you feel about pictures of the Iraqi children turned out into the sex trade, to relieve the grinding poverty our war plunged them and their families into? Would you be offended by pictures of the Iraqi children forced to sell their bodies as a means to support their families? If a picture of a dead two-year-old offends you, would you prefer a picture of a live 16-year-old boy, trapped in the Baghdad sex trade? Would you rather see a picture of the two dozen orphan boys found starving and neglected in an government run orphanage? (We can't blame Saddam for this one, either, since this happened just last summer.) Speaking of orphans, How about pictures of the children whose parents have abandoned them, out of desperation for their own survival in the U.S. occupation of Iraq? If their owners will allow it, maybe we could get a snapshot of the children who have been sold by their families, just to get them out of Iraq and give them a chance at a better life.

And none of it had to happen. None of it was necessary. What's happened to these children, their families, and the only world they've known was a matter of choice. Our choice.

None of it had to happen, because none of our reasons for going there were valid. At the risk of repeating myself, I'll go through it all again.

None of it had to happen, because the alleged ties between Saddam and Al Qaeda never existed. Four thousand lives later, we poured over 600,000 documents only to find no support for an "operational relationship" between Saddam and Al Qaeda, as the administration asserted when they were selling this war. The 9/11 commission said the same thing in 2004. Having learned its lesson since 2004, the Bush administration simply buried the report this time.

None of it had to happen because there were no weapons of mass destruction. Not only has the CIA said that there were no WMD, but CIA officials have said that Bush knew there were no WMDs as early as September 2002, and kept that intelligence out of pre-war policy making. When the administration claimed two trailers captured in Mosul were "biological laboratories," and the Pentagon produced a report saying the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons, the administration classified and shelved the report. Burying it, essentially. Not a surprise, from an administration that lied at least 935 times in the run up to this war.

None of it had to happen because there was no humanitarian imperative to go to war in Iraq. There was no mass slaughter underway and no mass slaughter on the way. If we wanted to stop Saddam from committing mass murder, we were over two decades too late to stop it, but at least we finally got around to digging up the victims. (Two thirds were children, by the way, including 10 infants.) I've heard people point to those mass graves as justification for going into Iraq, even going so far as to say "those people want us there", as if we went to war to rescue a hundred or so corpses, 20-plus years after they might have needed our help.) The humanitarian crisis in Iraq today is a direct result of our war.

None of it had to happen, because even if we'd gone to war knowing all of the above, we might have at least gone to war with a plan for the post-war scenario to minimize the amount of suffering experienced by the Iraqi people. But we didn't. And when yet another report verified that lack of planning, the administration buried another embarrassing report.

Funny thing, that. Post-war panning might have made this post and the stories in it non-existent. Not to mention the pictures.

Except for those of us who have served in Iraq, and those who have loved ones serving in Iraq, who have served in Iraq, or who have died in Iraq, most Americans have not sacrificed anything in the course of this war. We haven't been asked to. (Even after 9/11, the president's advice mostly consisted "Keep shopping.") We haven't been asked to either. In fact, the children in these pictures, and the thousands who don't appear, have easily sacrificed more than most Americans have or will.

The other disturbed news reader asked, "Why can't you show photos of our troops helping the children?" A good question. Certainly such photos exist. Some have been seen far and wide, and some haven't.

Greg, at Daddy Types, hadn't seen this on before.

You can't see him in this picture. He's out of the frame, but a soldier did a very nice thing for this child and his father.

The photo was made during a rare moment of humanity in a war zone, Bouju said, when a father who had been taken prisoner by American troops was allowed to hold his 4-year-old son who also was taken when the man was arrested.

The boy, Bouju said, was panicking and crying, so an American soldier cut the plastic handcuffs off.

"My little girl was four at the time and I couldn't help thinking what would she have thought in the same situation," he said. Bouju wasn't able to get the prisoner's name and doesn't know where he or the child is now.

The father and son featured in the image are sitting side-by-side behind coils of razor wire. The father has one hand over the boy's forehead and his other arm hangs loosely at the boy's waist. A small pair of sandals lies a few feet away in the sand.

The truth is, Valerie, we chose those pictures long before they showed-up in out newspapers. We chose them when we went to war on the basis of justifications that had already been debunked before the first pair of boots hit the sands of Iraq, knowing the likely consequences for Iraqi civilians. Including children. We chose them when we chose to keep in power the people who ultimately made sure what we see in these photographs happened.

And you, Valerie, are upset because you saw a picture? We unleashed hell on the Iraqi people and their children, and your sensibilities are offended because you caught a glimpse of it?

You're worried that your children might see in a picture what the children of Iraq see up close, every day?

I understand that much. As a parent, who wants to protect my children's innocence, I wouldn't want them to see those pictures either. But, like the photographer above, I look at these pictures and also think "What if that were my child."

Maybe if we'd thought about that before — about what would happen to the children of Iraq, and what if they were our children — maybe would have planned for the post-invasion scenario. Maybe we wouldn't have invaded and occupied Iraq in the first place.

But we didn't. And now as you worry about what you will say to your children about a picture in the paper, a parent in Iraq wonders what to say to her child about the reality surrounding him. The difference is, you can turn the page.

These are our pictures, Valerie. We ordered them. We paid for them. We might as well see them.

So be a big girl, already, and deal with it. The children of Iraq, and their parents, do it every day.

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