music: Coyote
Iraqi girls prefer crying dolls

Inter Press Service
Dahr Jamail and Ali Al-Fadhily
(c)2006 Dahr Jamail.

FALLUJAH, Dec 25 (IPS) - Ahmed Ghazi has little reason to stock Christmas toys at his
shop in Fallujah. He knows what children want these days.

"It is best for us to import toys such as guns and tanks because they are most saleable in Iraq
to little boys," Ghazi told IPS. "Children try to imitate what they see out of their windows."
And there are particular imports for girls, too, he said. "Girls prefer crying dolls to others that
dance or play music and songs
."

As children in the United States and around the world celebrate Christmas, and prepare to
celebrate the New Year, children in Iraq occupy a quite different world, with toys to match.

Social researcher Nuha Khalil from the Iraqi Institute for Childhood Development in Baghdad
told IPS that young girls are now expressing their repressed sadness often by playing the role
of a mother who takes care of her small daughter.

"Looking around, they only see gatherings of mourning ladies who lost their beloved ones,"
said Khalil. "Our job of comforting these little girls and remedying the damage within them
is next to impossible."

Hundreds of thousands of children have faced trauma of some sort. And for others, the lack
of a normal life is trauma enough.

Just a lack of entertainment is developing into a serious problem. There are only 10 cinemas
in Baghdad, and two dilapidated public parks. These are no longer safe for children.

Children do not go out much to play, and they are not sure of home any more. The United
Nations estimates that more than 100,000 Iraqis are fleeing the country every month. The
number of Iraqis living in other Arab countries is now more than 1.8 million. There are in
addition more than 1.6 million internally displaced people within Iraq.

The group Refugees International says that the increasing number of people fleeing Iraq
means that this refugee crisis might soon overtake that in Darfur. And children suffer most
from leaving, and they suffer most where they go.

"Homeless children are inclined to be rough, and isolated from their new neighbourhood
and new school colleagues," Hayam al-Ukaili, a primary school headmistress in Fallujah
told IPS. "They do not mix in with thei rnew atmosphere as they should. It is as if they feel
it is imposed upon them, and they simply reject it."

Teachers and social workers say children have begun to nurse a strong hatred of the
United States. No more is the United States the image of a good life.

"Children have lost hope in the United States and the Iraqi government after the situation
has only worsened every day," Abdul Wahid Nathum, researcher for an Iraqi NGO which
assists children told IPS in Baghdad (he did not want the organisation to be named).

"Their understanding of the ongoing events is incredible," he said. "It is probably because
the elder members of the family keep talking politics and watching news. Talking to a
12-year-old child, one would be surprised by the huge amount of news inside his head,
which is not right."

"Children are the most affected by the tragic events," Dr. Khalil al-Kubaissi, a
psychotherapistin Fallujah told IPS. "Their fragile personalities cannot face the
loss of a parent or the familyhouse along with all the horror that surrounds them.
The result is catastrophic, and Iraqi children are in serious danger of lapsing into
loneliness or violence."

The difficulties of children have become particularly noticeable this year. "The only things
they have on their minds are guns, bullets, death and a fear of the U.S. occupation," Maruan
Abdullah, spokesman for the Association of Psychologists of Iraq told reporters at the launch
of a study in February this year.

The report warned that "children in Iraq are seriously suffering psychologically with all
the insecurity, especially with the fear of kidnapping and explosions." The API surveyed
more than 1,000 children throughout Iraq over a four-month period and found that "92
percent of the children examined were found to have learning impediments, largely
attributable to the current climate of fear and insecurity."

With nearly half of Iraq's population under 18 years of age, the devastating impact of the
violent and chaotic occupation is that much greater. Three wars since 1980, a refugee crisis
of staggering proportions, loss of family members, suicide attacks, car bombs and the constant
threat of home raids by occupation soldiers or death squads have meant that young Iraqis
are shattered physically and mentally.

As early as April 2003, the United Nations Children's Fund had estimated that half a million
Iraqi children had been traumatized by the U.S.-led invasion. The situation has degenerated
drastically since then.

A report issued by Iraq's Ministry of Education earlier this year found that 64 children had
been killed and 57 wounded in 417 attacks on schools within just a four-month period. In
all 47 children were kidnapped on their way to or from school over the period.
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