Conflict's Psychological Impact on Children Is Immense, Experts Say
"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."
Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, 4 million Iraqis have fled their homes, half of them children, according to the United Nations Children's Fund. Many are being killed inside their sanctuaries -- at playgrounds, on soccer fields and in schools. Criminals are routinely kidnapping children for ransom as lawlessness goes unchecked. Violence has orphaned tens of thousands.
This war will lead to the next generation of terrorists. There is almost no treatment for these children as most of the psychiatrists have left the country as did a large majority of the rich and educated.
Short and lean with a square jaw, Abdul Muhsin started to focus on children only last year. Like many of the estimated 60 psychiatrists who remain in Iraq, he treated only adults before the invasion. Back then, he said, children with psychological problems were a rarity.
Inside his bare office at Ibn Rushed Psychiatric Hospital, where armed guards frisk patients at the entrance, he flipped through a thick ledger of patients. In the past six months, he has treated 280 children and teenagers for psychological problems, most ranging in age from 6 to 16. In his private clinic, he has seen more than 650 patients in the past year.
In a World Health Organization survey of 600 children ages 3 to 10 in Baghdad last year, 47 percent said they had been exposed to a major traumatic event over the past two years. Of this group, 14 percent showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. In a second study of 1,090 adolescents in the northern city of Mosul, 30 percent showed symptoms of the disorder.
Today, toy weapons are among the best-selling items in local markets, and kids play among armored vehicles on streets where pickup trucks filled with masked gunmen are a common sight. On a recent day, a group of children was playing near a camouflage-colored Iraqi Humvee parked in Baghdad's upscale Karrada neighborhood. One boy clutched a thick stick and placed it on his right shoulder, as if he were handling a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. He aimed it at cars passing by, pretending to blow them up. Two soldiers pointed at the children and laughed.
Many of the children Abdul Muhsin treats have witnessed killings. They have anxiety problems and suffer from depression. Some have recurring nightmares and wet their beds. Others have problems learning in school. Iraqi children, he said, show symptoms not unlike children in other war zones such as Lebanon, Sudan and the Palestinian territories.
When you read stories like this it reminds you of the horrible consequences of war. How can anyone still support this war based on lies? We have destroyed a nation and its people and we will be dealing with the aftermath for a generation.
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