When George W. Bush arrives in Sydney tomorrow night, rest assured we’ll only be hearing the Green Zone version of Iraq. Writing from Baquba, Ahmed Ali takes a tour:
The violence around the continuing U.S. military operations in this city has robbed children of their childhood.
Only two provincial schools and one private kindergarten school are functioning in this city of 280,000, located 50 km north of Baghdad. Most children know neither school nor play.
Or even the food they want. “We parents can hardly meet the basic requirements of food,” Mahdi Hassan, a father of four, told IPS.
“Nobody even mentions chocolate or pastries or anything else because Iraqis know they are not important,” Baquba resident Wissam Jafar told IPS. “Children eat what the other members of the family eat. Toys and games are offered only at festivals and on special occasions.”
Baquba city, capital of Diyala province, has been at the centre of major U.S. military operations to fight al-Qaeda like forces. People have suffered from the violence from both sides.
By now Iraq has seen a generation of children pass with just survival a major issue. During the period of economic sanctions imposed on Iraq in the 1990s, more than half a million children died, according to the United Nations.
In 1996, former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright was asked by Lesley Stahl on the CBS à½¸ Minutes’ show if she thought the price of half a million dead children was worth it. She replied, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.”
One in eight children in Iraq died during that period of malnutrition, disease, and lack of medicine.
The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq during March 2003 brought hope that things might change, but that change has only been for the worse.
“During the nineties, they were malnourished but they could find a place to play in the streets,” Khalid Ali, a local economist, told IPS. “Nowadays, they cannot even get out of their home because of the violence. And a large number of children have been killed through the violence.”