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Conflict Causing Mental Anguish for Many Iraqi Children

  • Scott Bobb

The offensive by Islamic State militants in northern Iraq has displaced an estimated 2 million people, and psychiatrists say as many as half of them may be suffering psychological effects from their ordeal. The children are no exception.

Zeinab Samir, 10, is one of the 3,000 residents of the Baharke Camp for displaced people near Irbil. She is angry at the Islamic State, known in the area as Daesh, for driving her family and friends from their homes.

“First we lost our school. Then Daesh took our homes. They must be pushed back so we can go back to our houses,” she said.

She said she was especially angry with the adults in her community.

“Why are all these people sitting here?" she asked. "They must go to the police and ask for guns to go and fight these terrorists so we can go back to our homes.”

'Extreme' conditions

Psychiatrist Naz Abdul-Rahman Baban said war and its atrocities can have an extreme effect on children.

“We do get a lot of referrals for children who are only 5, 6 [years old], and they are very angry — breaking things, even setting their tent on fire, things like that," Baban said. "So, extreme anger.”

Zeinab’s anger is so deep that she wants to fight the militants herself.

“If I grow up just a little bit more, I will take a gun and I will fight Daesh," she said. "If I kill just one of them and they shoot me and I die, I will be a martyr.”

Psychologists and social workers are trying to set up resilience sessions in camp schools and counseling for the parents.

But there are only two dozen psychiatrists in all of northeastern Iraq, and many of those in need go untreated.

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