The Silent Tragedy: Iraq's Widows
Another excellent, but depressing article from independent journalist Dahr Jamail.
Hundreds of thousands of widows are becoming
the silent tragedy of a country sliding deeper into chaos by the day.*
Widows are the flip side of violence that has meant more than a million
men dead, detained or disabled, Iraqi NGOs estimate. These men's wives
or mothers now carry the burden of running the families.
"The total figure of men who have been killed, disabled or detained for
long periods of time adds up to more than one and a half million,"
Khalid Hameed, chief of the Iraqi al-Raya human rights organisation told
IPS. "The average number of Iraqi family members is seven, so about ten
million Iraqis are facing the worst living circumstances."
In these circumstances, he said, women have had to "search for ways to
survive and support their families at a time when not much help comes
from the international community."
Most international NGOs left the country by last year apparently on the
advice of governments of their countries pointing to growing violence
and dangers to NGO members.
"International NGOs were conducting support projects for Iraqi women
before they suddenly quit and left the country in a rush in October
2005," Faris Daghistani, who was project manager at the Baghdad mission
for the Italian humanitarian aid organisation in Iraq INTERSOS told IPS.
"There was a wide focus on working women and how to support them by
training and providing them with necessary tools to raise income on
their own," he said. "It is a pity that most of our productive projects
have stopped, and we had to leave women to face their fate on their own."
The violence since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 is not the first to have
taken its toll. Hundreds of thousands of men were killed, taken prisoner
or disabled during the 1980-1988 war between Iran and Iraq.
"We have never lived our lives as human beings should live," 42-year-old
Dr Shatha Ahmed told IPS at her home in Baghdad. "The Iraq-Iran war took
our fathers, and now the Bush war is taking our husbands and sons."
Women now face a long struggle surviving and bringing up families on
their own, she said. "We could not even dream of developing our own skills."
Dr. Shatha's husband, also a doctor, was killed by Muqtada al-Sadr's
Mehdi Army in September this year when he was leaving the Ministry of
Health offices in Baghdad. She now has to support her family, and her
husband's parents as well.
Some help is on offer to widows through groups such as the Iraqi Red
Crescent, the Islamic Party, the Muslim Scholars Association and
non-governmental organisations. But this support is not well organised,
and is insufficient to help the growing number of widows.
The Social Affairs Office of the government has started paying the
equivalent of about 100 dollars monthly to widows. But this payment
cannot support whole families, given particularly the shooting inflation.
And the payment is not easy to get. "I had to pay a lot of money as
bribes to government officials in order to get the monthly support
payment, and that is not enough to support my big family," 47-year-old
widow Haja Saadiya Hussein from Baghdad told IPS.
"Americans killed my husband last year near a checkpoint, and now I have
to work as a servant in government officials' houses to earn a living
for my six children. I have stopped them going to school, to cut my
Some widows have attempted to remarry in order to find support. Some
second husbands, who are usually older, offer to take care of their new
sons for religious reasons.
"There can be no compensation for losing a husband," a spokesperson from
the Iraqi Red Crescent's social support department told IPS. "The world
is responsible for these women who lost their spouses in the name of the