- Title: IRAQ: Sadr City orphans are Iraq war legacy.
- Date: 1st March 2009
- Summary: (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) SAMIR JASSIM, ASSISTANT TO THE ORPHANAGE MANAGER, SAYING: "The number of children currently in the house is 33. The house is 72 metres square. What really makes us suffer and our worst tragedy is the small size of the house which consists of this room, which you can see, and the room upstairs. And it is a rented house."
- Embargoed: 16th March 2009 12:00
- Location: Iraq
- Country: Iraq
- Topics: War / Fighting,Social Services / Welfare
- Reuters ID: LVA394CSYRZM5RTQG1N5DPQI5M72
- Story Text: An orphanage in the Baghdad suburb of Sadr City takes care of children who lost their families during years of war in Iraq.
Sadr city's "Safe House" is home to around 33 orphans, most of whom lost their parents in the wave of violence that Iraq experienced after the attacks on the Samarra shrine in 2006.
Security conditions may have improved as the U.S. troops that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003 are preparing to gradually withdraw, but the 33 boys living in this crowded little house are still haunted by their experiences.
If not dealt with, the trauma they suffered could threaten Iraq's fragile calm, creating crime waves, homelessness and other social problems, sociologists and mental health experts say.
Social workers at the house pay special attention to those whose parents were blown up by the bombs that killed tens of thousands after Iraq's majority Shi'ite Muslims and formerly dominant Sunnis went to war against each other.
Eight-year-old Saif Salah lost his parents to an explosion northeast of Baghdad in the volatile Diyala province. He was four at the time. Now, his mind is focused on his future.
"I want to be a policeman," he said. "To protect my country, arrest the terrorists and put them in prison and defend the people."
The orphanage, which depends on private contributions and donations from non-governmental organisations, was initially set up by a Kurdish agency in 2003 but was then abandoned to the care of its managers and volunteers when Baghdad became too violent.
The boys, who are aged six to 16, share 72 square metres of space, spread over two rooms, on two floors. Each room has seven beds, where the lucky ones get to sleep.
Boys inside the house say they need more space.
"This house is a small one, so we cannot play or walk freely. It is a small house: this room, which we sleep in, a room for the old people, the administration room, kitchen and bathroom. We only have these rooms and we want a big house," said 10-year-old Sajjad Mohammed.
Samir Jassim, an assistant to the orphanage manager, also complained about the size of the house.
"The number of children currently in the house is 33. The house is 72 metres square. What really makes us suffer and our worst tragedy is the small size of the house which consists of this room, which you can see, and the room upstairs. And it is a rented house," he said.
The owner of the building wants the property back and staff have been given notice to clear out within three months. They do not know where they will go.
Jassim said the government should help provide them with alternative, more spacious accommodation.
"We are asking the government to provide us with a bigger house.
If we manage to get a bigger house, we would be able to care for more children. We have made field tours in Baghdad and other cities and we know many places we can bring a large number of orphans from," he said.
No one knows how many orphans are scattered over the country, their parents torn from them not just by the U.S.-led war but also by the conflicts that Saddam launched against Kuwait and Iran. Some lost their fathers to the hangman's noose or to firing squads under Saddam.
There are about 23 orphanages in Iraq, seven of which are in the capital, Baghdad. They are too few to accommodate all the orphans and homeless children in the country, who are increasing in number, due to the tragic realities of Iraqi life since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Orphans often live in the streets as beggars or drug addicts. Some are believed to have been used by insurgents to carry out attacks; others have reportedly been forced by criminal gangs to work as thieves, according to ministry officials.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs says it is trying to help those orphans by taking them in and providing 15,000 Iraqi dinars (about 12 dollars) per month to each of the country's orphanages. Ministry officials hope to eventually increase this amount to cover the requirements of additional orphans in the future.
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