The scars on 8-year-old Khidhr al-Ani's legs and the cuts on his face are still visible. Every time he stands on the balcony of his home in the centre of Fallujah, or walks through the neighbourhood alley on his way to school, he tries to cover them up.
Khidhr was only three years old when he was kidnapped by al-Qaeda gunmen in 2007 because his father worked for the Iraqi police. He endured all kinds of torture and beatings, his father, Abdul Qader al-Ani, told Mawtani. Al-Ani said his son was torched with fire and placed in an empty flour sack with three feral cats that inflicted the scars still visible on his face.
"This savagery and beastliness left deep psychological scars on my son," he said. "Whenever we try to take a picture of him, he places his hand on his face to hide the scars." Al-Ani, 40, who is still a member of the Fallujah police, said, "A police force found and freed my son two years after he was kidnapped, but by then he was a mere remnant of a human being."
"He was but a skeleton, scared, tortured and shattered; and now, three years after the end of his ordeal, he still suffers from pain, headaches and nightmares which remind him of these nasty beasts," he said. Khidhr is now undergoing an intensive psychological rehabilitation programme to overcome the memories that still torment him and affect his behaviour at home and in school, according to his father.
"Whoever wants to see al-Qaeda closely should take a quick look at me; then he would know them well," Khidhr said. "They are not human."
CHILDREN 'THE MOST INJURED BY TERRORIST OPERATIONS'
Ali al-Dabbagh, spokesperson for the Iraqi government, said, "Children have become the segment most affected by crimes of terrorism in Iraq." "Many of them fell in savage, inhumane explosions, while others were intentionally killed to take revenge on their fathers, who were members of the security services or worked in government offices," he told Mawtani.
"Most of the children wounded in terrorist operations were -- accompanied by their parents -- taken outside the country for treatment," he said. According to al-Dabbagh, "al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups relish in shedding the blood of Iraqi children, without showing any concern."
"Al-Qaeda does not discriminate among its targets, nor does it comply with the ethics of warfare or battle," he said. "That is why we are keen to continue the fight against them regardless of what it takes."
REHABILITATING VICTIMISED CHILDREN
Iraqi Education Minister Mohammed Tamim told Mawtani, "The terrorist attacks killed hundreds of Iraqi children who could have become important figures in the future of Iraq."
Tamim said around 600 children have been killed or wounded in the past three years "in despicable terrorist attacks, leaving behind images and memories among their families, teachers and peers at school".
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) "began a programme in collaboration with Iraqi schools that were targeted by terrorist strikes last month -- killing and wounding a number of children – in order to rehabilitate students psychologically", he said.
In one of the latest attacks on September 24th, a car bomb exploded in front of al-Kifah primary school in Heet, Anbar province, killing five children and wounding six others. Also in September, a second-grade student was killed and six other children were wounded when an explosive charge planted at the entrance of the Ammar Bin Yasser School in the Ameriya district of Fallujah blew up.
"UNICEF is still visiting Anbar province to conduct counselling sessions for students at al-Kifah primary school […] and the Ammar Bin Yasser School," Tamim said. "Students are still in a terrible psychological state, overtaken by fear and grief for their classmates who fell in those explosions."
Dr. Khamees al-Saad, administrative undersecretary for the Iraqi Health Ministry, said the Iraqi government is taking similar measures to rehabilitate children. "Government hospitals across Iraqi cities created special psychological care centres for children because of the violence children are exposed to, or witness daily on the streets," he told Mawtani.
"These centres are staffed by specialised psychiatrists who help children overcome this phase, which normally leaves side effects that can affect the child's intelligence, his social relations and sometimes his inclination for violence," al-Saad said. These centres also advise "the children's families how to help them at home", he said.
Gen. Ali Ghaidan, commander of the Iraqi army's ground forces, said, "While security forces are doing their utmost to prevent terrorists from reaching children, we call on parents to advise their children to refrain from crowding in front of their schools, or to pick up any unknown object they see on the ground, for it may be rigged with explosives."
"[We also call on parents to tell their children to] stay away from explosion sites because there may be other explosive charges," he added.
TERRORISTS 'BROUGHT NOTHING BUT DESTRUCTION'
Nine-year-old Omar Kamel, who lost an eye in a terrorist explosion, sat outside the local soccer field in the al-Ameriya neighbourhood of Baghdad, watching his friends play.
"My friends do not let me play with them, and only let me return the ball to them when it goes out of bounds, because of my impairment," he said. "I was injured in a car bomb explosion on my way back home after playing in this field one year ago," he said.
"My parents spent all their money to restore my eye but the doctors did not succeed." Wiping his tears, Omar added, "The terrorists brought us nothing but destruction. My cousin and brother were both killed in this bombing."
"My father tells me they are now in paradise, and I tell him if I had died with them and gone to heaven with my two eyes, it would have been better than surviving with one eye, preventing me from doing what I love," he said.
By Mohammed al-Qaisi in Anbar