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Security Concerns Force Iraqi Parents to Rethink Sending Children to Schools - 2004-09-28


School doors will soon open across Iraq following a month-long delay. The interim government delayed the opening of school due to security concerns, as violence in the country has been more widespread. As the opening of school nears, concerned parents are visiting schools trying to decide whether to allow their children to attend.

Following a summer of intensified militant violence in Iraq, the interim government decided to postpone the opening of the country's schools for 30-days, while plans were made to increase school security.

But many parents, and students alike, say the postponement has increased their concerns.

Their fears were heightened following the school tragedy earlier this month in Russia that was perpetrated by Muslim terrorists.

So, even though school is still a few days away from opening in Iraq, concerned parents can easily be found standing on the front steps of schools throughout Baghdad trying to decide whether to send their children back to the classrooms.

One of them, Teresa Tassin, went to the school her 16-year-old son attends to find out exactly what security procedures officials there intend to implement.

Ms. Tassin says while she does not believe what happened in Beslan, Russia will happen in Iraq, she is afraid for her children because of car bombs, roadside bombs and kidnappings. She says she is also afraid of gangsters and worries that something terrible might happen to her son, especially as he travels to and from school. She says she is seriously considering keeping her two daughters out of school because she says the incidents of violence have only worsened over the past year.

Another woman, Halam Hamid Abdullah, also went to her son's school to find out about security.

Ms. Abdullah says she is very scared for her children because of the violence, the shootings and the bombings. She says the situation is getting worse.

Sixteen-year-old student Farrah Hala says her parents are deeply concerned about her safety. And, she says, she is too.

She says now Iraq is in a war against terrorists. She is worried most about kidnappings, but also worries about bombs. She says her parents always tell her to take every precaution while out in public because a bad person might follow her and cause her harm.

But, while some parents contemplate whether to keep their children away from school this year, not everyone agrees with such thinking. Taleb Ibrahim Hussein, the director of one of Baghdad's secondary schools, says while some parents might find it prudent to keep their children at home, to do so would only mean victory for the terrorists.

Mr. Hussein says he encourages parents to send their children to school. He says terrorists are trying to stop the progress in Iraq and parents must fight back by keeping their children in the classroom to let the terrorists know they will never win.

According to Mr. Hussein, last year a militant group associated with Shi'ite leader Moqtada al-Sadr made threats against his secondary school, demanding that it shut its doors. Mr. Hussein said he refused, and at that time also encouraged parents to send their children to school. He does not expect a terrorist incident to occur in Iraq like the one this month in Russia. And he says if it does he will make sure he is, as he put it, the first victim in an effort to protect the children.

As for increasing security, Mr. Hussein says there will be additional security guards stationed at schools throughout the country. But, he says other security measures instituted before the start of school last year, like security checkpoints, will remain virtually the same.

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