Civil activist Fatin Alobeidi posted on her Facebook page Sept. 8 a photo of Ahmad al-Jaf, a homeless old blind man who has no family. In the photo, the man is sitting on the side of Jisr al-Shuhada (the Bridge of Martyrs) in Baghdad.
Jaf’s situation is not much different from that of many other disabled people in Iraq. According to 2014 statistics from the Association of Short Statured People and People with Special Needs, there are about 4 million disabled people in Iraq.
They face neglect and isolation and take on strenuous occupations; dire poverty leads these disabled people to street begging.
Al-Monitor looked for these disabled persons and examined the living conditions of some of them, including Saad al-Dabisi, 55, from Babil, who lost his left foot on a mine while fighting in east Basra during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88).
Dabisi said that the $150 per month pension the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs pays him is not enough to support his wife and three children, which forced him to sell cigarettes to pedestrians.
In his worn-out wheelchair, he crosses 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) daily to reach al-Arbaeen Street in the Hillah region, where he displays his merchandise.
Mazen al-Adhami, the chairman of Al-Amal Association for the Disabled, confirmed this dire situation of the disabled in Iraq, saying to al-Araby al-Jadeed on June 1, “This category lives under very difficult conditions amid obvious governmental neglect.”
A lot of disabled people in Iraq — whether their disability is congenital or caused by wars and various accidents — are forced to work in inadequate occupations, such as begging, to make ends meet.
Although the Iraqi Constitution guarantees people with special needs access to 5% of government jobs, given the large disabled population, it is not applied on the ground.
Fatima Hassan, 30, from Diwaniya, which is 193 kilometers (120 miles) south of Baghdad, sustained a hearing impairment from a car accident when she was 10 years old.
She told Al-Monitor about her desperation to get a government or civil-service position in line with her disability, as the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs discussed April 18 appointing disabled people to state positions.
For his part, Reda Hassan, 17, from Babil, who has a congenital disability and uses crutches to walk, said he quit school and started working as a cleaner in a barbershop. He admitted to Al-Monitor that leaving school was a mistake.
Hassan said, “I was forced to do so since I was trying to support my mother and three sisters. I lost my father in sectarian violence events in Baghdad in 2007, and the family was subsequently forced to move to Hillah and live with my mother’s relatives.”
In addition to the difficulties experienced by these citizens, they are not spared from experiencing the ongoing violence in the country.
On July 25, they were targeted by terrorists in a bombing in the al-Zafaraniyah neighborhood near Baghdad, killing three and wounding 10 others. The same day, the Iraqi Alliance for Disability issued a statement accusing terrorists of being behind this bombing.
Brig. Saad Maan, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said Jan. 7 that “the Islamic State exploits mentally disabled persons to execute terrorist operations.” On Feb. 6, UNESCO warned that the “Islamic State is using disabled children as suicide bombers.”
Lahib Hassan from Babil, a social researcher, civil activist and volunteer for the disabled, said, “The number of disabled people is growing, particularly in battlefield areas where the explosion of mines and hazardous waste cause amputations.”
Hassan told Al-Monitor, “Iraqi society does not offer adequate help for people with disabilities. Many Iraqis still treat them as a special case requiring isolation and stirring pity. Iraqis see these people as unproductive and unable to integrate into society. Such behavior increases their isolation and leads to negative psychological effects.”
Qutaiba al-Jubouri, Iraqi Minister of the Environment, referred to statistics indicating that the “number of landmine-disabled people in Iraq amounted to about 48,000 to 68,000 people.”
Karim Hassan, a physical rehabilitation physician for the disabled, told Al-Monitor, “There are several centers in all of Iraq for the treatment and rehabilitation of disabled persons, subsidized by the government. But their number is insufficient, and they still lag behind in terms of technologies compared to the developed countries.”
Hassan recognizes the existence of stereotypes and prejudices against people with disabilities. “There is an urgent need to raise awareness in society in order to deal with them [the disabled] in a decent manner, understand their feelings and meet their needs,” he said.
Regarding rehabilitation centers in Iraq, he indicated that they focus on providing some means of assistance, such as the provision of wheelchairs and crutches, while the services of sociologists and psychological therapists are not provided.
In this respect, Hassan called for the establishment of psychological rehabilitation centers for disabled persons.
In this context, the director of the Medical Operations Directorate at the Ministry of Health, Ramzi Moussa, told Al-Monitor there are “plans to turn disabled persons into effective members of society through psychological and social rehabilitation to ensure their involvement in everyday life.”
The undersecretary of the Health Ministry, Star al-Saadi, said in a press statement Sept. 3, 2014, that the plans include “the establishment of physical and psychological rehabilitation centers, meeting their demands and building therapy centers specialized for the disabled.”
Saher al-Hamad, the head of the Babil Rehabilitation Center, told Al-Monitor about the center’s inclination to expand its activities, asserting that its work must not be limited to physical therapy but must also include psychotherapy in a more extensive manner.
Law No. 38 of 2013 on the Care of Persons with Disabilities and Special Needs was promulgated and ratified by the Iraqi Council of Ministers on July 15 at the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
However, this will not be sufficient as long as society does not recognize the role of this category, contribute to its nonmarginalization and abandon the social culture classifying the disabled as weak and incapable of working or contributing to society.
by Wassim Bassem