Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Women and Children Suffer From Continued Fighting

Children drop out of school and women stay off the street following weeks of conflict in Anbar province.
By Yasin Ayed
Asma Ali Ibrahim wishes that she had died last month when a United States air strike on her village killed her two sons, aged seven and six, and her four-year-old daughter.

"I now live without hope," said Ibrahim, a 35-year-old housewife from Abu Faraj village in the turbulent Anbar province.

US and Iraqi forces have battled with insurgents for several weeks in Anbar province, a centre of Sunni Arab resistance. As in other conflicts around the world, women and children in Anbar have suffered in the fighting.

In Ramadi, the capital of Anbar in western Iraq, and its surrounding villages, few women dare walk the streets because of the dangerous security situation.

Basic services such as electricity and water function in this city of about 400,000. But fighting regularly breaks out, often without warning, forcing shops and schools to shut down.

"When we hear people say 'God is the living provider', we immediately close our shops because it’s a signal that clashes have begun," said Walid Mohammed, a 35-year-old owner of a women's clothing store.

His business has suffered since the fighting began because his female customers are afraid to venture out.

Civilian deaths and injuries are not being tracked in Ramadi. The US military reported that its most severe air strike in the region, carried out on October 16, killed 70 insurgents. Doctors and residents in the region said at least 20 of the dead were civilians.

The US military has said it targets only insurgents and attempts to minimise civilian injuries and deaths.

The conflict also has indirect victims. Dr Anam al-Basam, a gynaecologist and obstetrician at the Ramadi hospital, said 20 to 25 per cent of women have miscarried over the past three months due to stress from the air strikes, artillery bombardments and fighting.

Muhanad Shahab, an assistant medic, said pregnant women have faced difficulties even in reaching the hospital, the only one in the area offering gynaecological care. The hospital lies between two bridges that are the site of frequent clashes and are regularly blocked by US troops following bouts of fighting.

Women with children fret over their welfare, especially the lack of early learning and play facilities.

"Our children need to live as all other children do," said Ibtisam Jasim, a 30-year-old civil servant. "They need playgrounds, nurseries and kindergartens. We want them to live free from terror, killing and violence."

Mohammed Tawfiq, a sociology professor at the University of Anbar's college of education, says many children are now refusing to go to school because they fear the clashes that often break out in the middle of the day.

Tawfiq worries that some children will grow to admire and imitate the forces of war, whether insurgents or American troops.

Sheyma Sadiq, a resident of the al-Tamim neighbourhood on the outskirts of Ramadi, says her eight-year-old daughter now suffers from incontinence problems because of a traumatic raid on the house by US forces 10 months ago.

Her other daughter, seven-year-old Hajar Ismael, stopped attending school when heavy fighting began in September. "I am afraid of the bombardments and shootings," said Hajar. "I am scared of the Americans."

Eight-year-old Atheer Fuad lost his brother Ala to a stray bullet while they were grilling kebabs together in Ramadi.

"The Americans came to my house to apologise for mistakenly killing my brother," he said. "I am now scared to go to school because the image of my brother Ala never leaves my mind."

In Fallujah, a large city in Anbar, Mayor Zari Abdul-Hadi al-Ursan accused US forces of arresting women and children suspected of having ties with the insurgency. Residents protested in September when US troops arrested a woman because she was the daughter of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

"We have told the Americans that the women and children of this city are red lines that cannot be crossed," said al-Ursan.

That does not mean the insurgents themselves are popular. One Ramadi resident who asked to remain anonymous said he wondered about the "hidden faces" behind the insurgency. It is not always clear who they are for or against, he said, adding, "We only know that they are mujahedin."

But in the end, he said, one fact remains constant, "The Iraqi is always the victim."

Yasin Ayed al-Dilaimi is an IWPR trainee journalist in Ramadi.

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