Years of bloody violence, displacement, social division, political crises have imposed profound physical, emotional and developmental impacts on children in Iraq.
"Horrible images of devastation and torn bodies scattered in the streets and the scenes of killing their family members, relatives and friends will remain firm in the minds of Iraqi children for many years and leave negative psychological stamps on their future behaviors,"
Ammar Qasim, a psychology researcher in Baghdad, told Xinhua. "They may keep the pattern of violence and hatred going on as they enter adulthood," Qasim said. Most Iraqi children suffer from violence and almost daily shootings and bombings that have engulfed their lives since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Nine-year-old Hamid Majid had a tragic experience three years ago, when militants stormed his house in southwest Baquba, some 65 km northeast of Baghdad, and beheaded his father, who was a member of local security forces. The boy was hiding in a chickens' coop as his father ordered him when he realized that militants had surrounded his house.
"After the militants fled the house, the kid got out of the coop and saw his father's body lying on the floor stained with blood and his head on his chest," said Kamal Ahmed, Majid's uncle. Ahmed said that since that day his "shocked" nephew has become hard to be controlled. Sometimes he would scream when someone annoys him.
"His wish, which he always talks about, is to kill the murderers of his father," Ahmed said. "I can feel his pain." Um Mohammed, a 45-year-old housewife, said her son, Sameer, now 14, has been suffering mental problems since he saw his elder brother being dragged in the street and shot dead by gunmen in 2008.
"After Sameer saw the death of his brother, he changed and became quarrelsome with his friends, even with me," Um Mohammed said, breaking into uncontrollable sobs. "I feel that he has been haunted with fear of himself being kidnapped or killed."
The violence in Iraq's western province of Anbar has forced five-year-old Adnan, and his mother Su'ad, 32, to beg at a marketplace outside a mosque in the western district of Ghazaliyah in Baghdad. Su'ad and her three children fled the battle-hit city of Ramadi after her husband was killed five months ago, and arrived in Ghazaliyah, where they share a shelter in an incomplete building with a few other displaced families.
Their small "home" is made of pieces of cardboard, with open window, dirt floor and a very thin door. "This room is better than nothing, but it was hard to live in during the past freezing weather in winter and would be hard for summer in the coming days," Su'ad said.
"Every night I used this blanket to cover up my children because they did not have enough clothes to wear in winter, and now I will use it to cover the window in the hot summer."
"I never imagined that my children and I would live in such a place. My husband was a teacher at a primary school. We used to have our own house," said Su'ad, recalling her life back in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, which has been captured by the Islamic State (IS) militant group in May.
"I have to protect my children. These poor kids have done nothing to be deprived of a normal live like other children in the world," said Su'ad, tears welling up in her eyes. Su'ad talked about her dreams that she could see her children grow up healthy and educated, but she muttered before she bowed crying again, "they became beggars. They need everything."
The poverty in the violence-shattered Iraq have pushed many children to shoulder the burden of supporting their families. Muna, 13, and Manal, 11, have to work hard every day to help their mother, who lost both legs three years ago in a car bombing at a Baghdad marketplace.
The girls' father was kidnapped by militiamen in 2009 during the sectarian strife between the Sunni and Shiite communities. Muna and Manal work at small shops in Jamia district in western Baghdad, for small salaries. "I have to work to live, there are no time for me and my younger sister to go to school," Muna said.
"We have to help our mother, at least to pay rent of the room that we live in Jamia district and buy some other basic needs." "Why am I living a miserable life?" Muna said she would always ask herself. "If they did not abducted my father, things could be different. Why did they do that to him? Why they blew up a car bomb and disabled my mother?"
"I wonder what kind of human being are those who distribute death blindly," Muna asked."I mean does it have to be this way?" During the long years of bloody conflict in Iraq, most of the militias, including the IS, have long been using children and young adults to carry out attacks.
Najib al-Jubouri, a political analyst, told Xinhua that he is worry about mounting reports about children being recruited by extremist militant groups who conduct deadly attacks under the veil of so-called sacred holy martyrdom. "They are using ignorance and fanaticism that were widely spread among some Iraqi communities," said Jubouri.
"The IS group, for example, is fuelling the existing sectarian and ethnic division in Iraqi society in order to launch deadly attacks," he said. However, Jubouri believes that military operations cannot be the only way to eliminate terrorist elements in Iraq.
"Military action alone is not enough to get rid of such extremist ideology," he said, calling for political stability and true national reconciliation to "save children, young men and women from falling into the nets of extremist religious groups which are trying to make use of their poverty, ignorance and fanaticism."
On March 12, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said in a report that the conflict in Iraq has forced more than 2.8 million children from their homes, and left many trapped in areas controlled by armed groups. "For younger children, this crisis is all they have ever known.
For adolescents entering their formative years, violence and suffering have not only scarred their past; they are shaping their futures," the report said. For his part, Harith al-Sheikhly, a lawyer, told Xinhua that he sees no comprehensive solution to protecting Iraqi children, but the the international community can help meet their most urgent needs and reduce the adverse impacts.
"The primary need for the protection of children is to bring an end to the conflicts in Iraq," he said. "The gathering of families, educational order and social stability are substantial to achieving progress in children's protection, and that cannot be achieved without ending armed conflicts."
by Jamal Hashim
For more background information on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Iraq, Read Iraq Ten Years On: What You Don't Hear by Hussein Al-alak