Iraq’s war-damaged children need specialist help to heal their trauma

Iraq’s war-damaged children need specialist help to heal their trauma

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(The Guardian) Rahaf, aged 10, from west Mosul in Iraq, can’t tell you what caused the war that left her an orphan, killed her friends and robbed her of her childhood. But she can give you a child’s-eye view of the collective trauma, grief and loss that weigh on children across her devastated city. “I wake up and I witness war every day. I don’t want to go through another war,” she says.

One year after Mosul was retaken from Islamic State by Iraqi-led forces, work has started on reconstruction. Yet for children trying to rebuild their lives, cope with loss and keep alive the hope on which the future of their city depends, the response so far has been derisory.

While aid agencies and the Iraqi government focus on rebuilding cities flattened by war, the psycho-social needs of thousands of children who suffered traumatic experiences are being sidelined.

“Flattened” doesn’t do justice to west Mosul. Crossing the old iron bridge across the Tigris into west Mosul is like entering a scene from Stalingrad or Dresden. This is where Isis fighters made their last stand. Entire districts were reduced to rubble by the explosive weapons delivered by US-led coalition airstrikes and Iraqi artillery. The nine-month assault was described by US officials as the most intense urban fighting since the second world war.

Looking at the piles of stone and twisted girders that were once homes provides a glimpse of the terror experienced by civilians trapped by urban warfare. It is impossible to know how many were killed or wounded by snipers and car bombs. What is clear is that many children emerged from the military devastation, and the three years of Isis rule that preceded it, carrying deep psychological scars.

At the sprawling Hamam al-Alil camp for displaced people who fled west Mosul I meet Ayesha, 12. She saw her mother killed by a shrapnel blast that left a chunk of metal in her own chest. Ayesha is being cared for by an aunt who lost her own daughter, two brothers and her father. The aunt breaks down in tears as she describes her struggle to cope.

Like most of the 300,000 children from west Mosul still living in displacement camps, Ayesha is not going to school – denying her a chance to restore some sense of normality.

Back in Mosul, 13-year-old Dina, like most of her friends, dropped out of school for the three years of Isis rule. “I didn’t want to learn about killing westerners and suicide bombs,” she says. Eventually Dina and her family escaped Mosul. But not before she had seen the aftermath of a coalition airstrike that left more than 20 dismembered bodies strewn across a street. She still has nightmares.

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