Iraq’s children of war: shelling, death and chaos
By Carlos Grau Sivera
Baghdad, Mar 15 (EFE).- Twenty years after the United States’ invasion of Iraq, most young people share traumatic memories of deafening explosions, corpses littering Baghdad streets and living in fear they would never see their parents again.
“The invasion left the country full of orphans. These young people now can’t even remember their father’s face,” says Ali, one of many young Iraqis who grew up amid shelling, death and chaos.
The 29-year-old lost four of his uncles and his wife lost her father in the violent aftermath of the invasion.
“I always have to remind my wife that her father was a fantastic person because she doesn’t recall anything about him. This is what the Americans took from her,” Ali, who like most who spoke to Efe, preferred not to give his surname.
Although there is no official civilian death toll, several studies have reported that anywhere between 100,000 and half a million people were killed in the invasion and subsequent war in Iraq.
CHILDHOOD SCARRED BY VIOLENCE
In Baghdad’s atmospheric Al Mutanabbi street, which houses a huge open-air bookstore, Ali hand paints temporary tattoos using a brush.
A young client approaches him and chooses to stamp an AK-47 assault rifle in the middle of his arm because “it is what we know,” he tells Efe.
The 2003 US invasion of Iraq unleashed violence and chaos, led to clashes between Iraqi militias and US troops, and later devolved into a sectarian civil war that spiraled between 2006 and 2008.
“Ours was a childhood that was far from innocent. We couldn’t go out on the streets or have good food, we saw people die every day before our eyes,” Alaa, 28, tells Efe from a humble cafe in downtown Baghdad, where he has met his friends to smoke a shisha pipe.
His classmates listen to him speak carefully and nod when the young man says that, at the age of eight, his life consisted of “watching how people were being murdered in the streets every day” under a relentless “rain of rockets” targeting the capital.
Blood, gunfire and car bombs at all hours became the norm for children who would all too often get a call or visit informing them that one of their relatives had died.
Sarmad, 27, recalls that when US soldiers stormed Baghdad in early April 2003 “they were good to the children, giving them sweets and playing” with them – acts, he says, that were a “way to clean up their crimes.”
“Yes, they killed Saddam (Hussein), but they left us in a worse situation. We don’t see that anything has gotten better,” he says.
Like so many other young Iraqis, Sarmad believes that “life is extremely difficult because of everything that has happened in Iraq” and is convinced he will never achieve his dreams in a country ravaged by decades of conflict and where the corruption of the ruling elite has blocked any prospects of development.
Aliya, a 29-year-old who sells bracelets on Al Mutanabbi street, says that “life before the US invasion was better.”