After the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the U.S. responded with a global war on terror. First, it sent troops first to Afghanistan, then to Iraq. One of the unintended consequences of the U.S.-led overthrow of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is a generation of Iraqi children who bear the scars of eight years of internal fighting.
Friends Mohammed Ahmed and Sadiq Ali have always been together. Born months apart, they grew up on the same block. Walked each other to school and dreamed about becoming soccer stars.
The teenagers were also together four years ago, playing outside Mohammed’s home, when a rocket exploded next to them. Their lives changed forever. Ali lost his right leg, Ahmed, his left. A third friend died.
“My dream was to become a very strong soccer player, but after the missile blew up and I lost my leg, I knew that I’m not able to,” he says.
The two friends are part of a generation of Iraqi children, scarred by the internal violence that followed the the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime.
Sectarian war, criminal gangs and a nationalist insurgency resulted in thousands wounded by car bombs, rocket attacks, street battles and years of fighting. The United Nations says that an additional 800,000 children have lost at least one parent.
Ali Muhammed Hial founded a non-governmental organization to help children affected by ongoing terrorism and violence.
“My childhood was the Iran-Iraq war. But now the tragedy affecting children is much greater," explains Hial. "At least I was free to play in the streets, no explosions, nothing. ”
Social Services lacking
Social services are scarce. Parents, officials and nonprofits say the Iraqi government is unable to provide many of these children with shelter, counseling and medical care. Trauma surgeries are free, but nearly all other medical costs must be paid for.
“The government provided nothing. When Mohammed get injured I had to buy all his medicine from outside," says Mohammed's father, Ahmed Shawadi.
Throughout their pain, Mohammed and Sadiq have never left each other’s side. Mohammed, a good student, tries to keep Sadiq on track at school. They joke. They scuffle. Play football everyday.
As other friendships have eroded and their families’ attention has gradually drifted back to everyday preoccupations, Mohammed and Sadiq have never left each other’s side. Wherever their future lies, they will go there together on a pair of donated crutches and a yellow prosthetic leg.