Inflammation and stories on iraq

Iraq’s Chemical Pollution in the Wake of ISISThree decades of armed conflict in Iraq have decimated the country. Hundreds of thousands of people have died, while countless more have been wounded and displaced. It has damaged Iraq’s vital infrastructure and industrial areas, polluting the country and wiping agricultural lands off the map. The government’s capacity for industrial and environmental oversight has diminished severely and the occupation by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) heightened long-standing concerns over the country’s environmental safety. Iraq’s chemical pollution in the wake of ISIS puts more agriculture, livestock, water and human health at risk, but U.N. organizations and U.S. programs are helping the country to recover.

The ISIS Occupation Consequences

During their occupation of the country, ISIS captured the Alas and Ajeel oil fields in the Hamrin mountains and seized control of Qayyarah oil field and the Baiji oil refinery. Qayyarah oil field produced 30,000 barrels daily and Baiji produced more than one-third of Iraq’s domestic oil production before this occurrence. According to the ISIS’ scorched earth strategy, they ignited oil wells around the Qayyarah, Alas and Ajeel oil fields, and during their retreat of Baiji, they devastated the facility not only by setting fire to wells but to oil tanks and critical infrastructure. When the Iraqi army recaptured the Qayyarah oil field in September 2016, ISIS had set 20 wells on fire as they retreated.

Satellite imagery captured by UNOSAT, the Operational Satellite Applications Program of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, showed that smoke from the fires deposited soot over the town of Qayyarah and its surrounding area. The fires had released immense quantities of toxic residues, while mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) left behind by ISIS complicated efforts by Iraqi firefighters. They managed to extinguish the last fire in March 2017, but by then, all that was left was a blackened and contaminated landscape. When Wim Zwijnenburg, a lead researcher at PAX, a Dutch nonprofit and nongovernmental peace organization, visited the Qayyarah region in 2017, he saw burning oil slicks still flowing from oil wells, lakes filled with solidified crude oil and white sheep black from soot.

Suffering From the Effects of Chemical Warfare

ISIS’ chemical weapons usage was rampant in Iraq and the concealed improvised chemical devices they planted upon their retreats still threaten citizens of Mosul and its surrounding areas. Oil spills from exploded wells, refineries, trucks, tanks and pipelines, as well as mustard gas residue, have infiltrated soil, ground and surface waters. Chemicals found in crude oil, such as Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heavy metals have subsequently influenced drinking water and agricultural land. When released by fires, these dangerous substances can affect natural resources and civilian health in communities far beyond their burning epicenters.

Additionally, as the oil from the spills dried out, hazardous volatile organic compounds have been released into the air and have caused liver and kidney damage and cancer in humans and animals. Damage to Mosul’s electrical grid has resulted in high levels of Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination in the city associated with slower mental development in children and cancer.

Toxic chemicals released by oil fires had impacted the respiratory system of Iraqis and chemical compounds found in these fires can lead to acid rain that destroys soil, all negatively impacting vegetation. Citizens view the agricultural aftermath of Iraq’s chemical pollution as a long-term consequence. It has compromised their livelihoods by killing livestock and destroying cultivated and grazing land, ridding livestock breeders and farmers of their income. ISIS also used university laboratories in Mosul to manufacture chemical bombs. Their lack of safeguards when handling chemical agents and hazardous waste now pose serious contamination risks to the nearby environment.

Medical Treatment and Wash Needs

High levels of radiation and other toxic substances from previous conflicts still flow into the Iraqi environment, but it is Iraq’s chemical pollution in the wake of ISIS that heightens the concerns of Qayyarah’s citizens. Aside from burns, deformations and other disabilities, chemical weapons, burning oil and military remnants can mutate human genes and result in more defects at birth.

In March 2017, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) collaborated with medical authorities and the World Health Organization (WHO) to treat patients suffering from toxic exposure. According to a U.N. report, in September 2018, U.S. Ambassador in Iraq, Douglas A. Silliman, declared a health disaster in Basrah after approximately 80,000 people contracted gastrointestinal illness from contaminated water between August and September. In response, USAID allocated $750,000 to address immediate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) need.

Cleaning Up a Toxic Wasteland

In 2018, the Iraqi government and U.N. Environment Programme partnered to build a cross-ministry team to tackle Iraq’s chemical pollution. The joint initiative’s objective is to prevent future exploitation of toxic substances for chemical warfare through government capabilities enhancement and chemicals control improvement. As a selected participant of the U.N. Environment’s Special Programme, Iraq will receive comprehensive information and training to help it meet its chemicals and waste management program obligations.

Iraq’s Ministry of Environment is capable of assessing contaminated sites but lacks the equipment and skills for cleaning and full documentation. The hope is the initiative will provide strategies and enhance on-site assessment methodologies to expedite the cleanup of Iraq’s Chemical Pollution.

– Julianne Russo

Photo: Pixabay

Girls' EducationA history of conflict has negatively reflected on girls’ educational future in Iraq. Education levels have never returned to their pre-Gulf War levels. Furthermore, conflict with ISIS has erased much of the progress for girls’ education seen through higher enrollment rates in times of relative peace. Therefore, a rough chronology of conflicts is useful when reading the top 10 facts about girls’ education in Iraq, as these events drastically change the quality of education.

Top 10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Iraq

  1. Girls are under-represented in both primary and secondary schools and tend to drop out at a higher rate than boys. In the 2015/2016 school year, five million boys were enrolled in school compared to 4.2 million girls. In addition, at the lower secondary level, 4.7 percent of girls dropped out compared to 3.6 percent of boys.
  2. Rural girls are one of the groups with the lowest access to education in Iraq. For example, the lowest rate of primary school enrollment is among rural girls. The enrollment rate in 2009 was only 68 percent. Furthermore, this enrollment rate drops even further to 15 percent when analyzing the secondary school enrollment among rural girls. A contributing factor to this situation is the decline in the capabilities of teachers.
  3. The illiteracy rate among girls that are 12 and older is more than double the male rate. The illiteracy rate for girls is 28.2 percent, compared to the male rate of 13 percent. According to the U.N., traditional cultural and social factors remain main obstacles in improving the access to education for girls. The discrepancy between literacy rates illustrates how gender-based discrimination in the education system is both a cause and an effect of poverty.
  4. The rate of girls’ education and their access to adequate teaching was slightly better in Northern Iraq than the other regions in 2007. In the southern provinces, there was a decline in female attendance from two girls for every three boys to one girl for every four boys in this same time period.
  5. While this was true in 2007, a 2016 report by a UNICEF consultant found that in Kurdistan, the northern region of Iraq, education environments were a momentous challenge to girls’ education. Mistreatment, beatings and poor quality of teaching was reported, giving parents more reasons to remove their girls from school.
  6. While girls do suffer from underrepresentation in the school system, total girls’ enrollment in Iraq was 4.2 million in 2015-2016, up from 3.8 million in 2013-2014. Although this statistic is initially promising, two problems remain. First, girls still remain at a disadvantage in educational access. Contributing factors to the issue of educational access include a family’s wealth, the child’s age and the choice to work instead of attending school. Second, if the trend toward increased enrollment continues, a strain will be placed on existing educational resources and further funding for public education are needed.
  7. About 355,000 internally displaced children in Iraq don’t attend school, the majority of them being girls. The two main sources of internally displaced persons (IDP) originate from the upheaval caused by the Syrian civil war and the brutality of the Islamic State in neighboring countries. In IDP camps, the most common reason cited for children not attending school was a lack of interest in the classes. Other reasons included the cost of education and the time period for their arrival at the camp.
  8. Cities occupied by the Islamic State struggle to provide education to girls. In 2014, the Islamic State detained up to 7,000 Yazidi women and girls in Northern Iraq, removing them from access to education. Given the testimony of survivors who managed to escape, a report released by Human Rights Watch stated that the crimes against the Yazidis in Northern Iraq might amount to crimes against humanity.
  9. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) first access to an education project in Iraq is in collaboration with teachers from the Al-Rajaa school for girls in Ramadi. When the ICRC team first visited the school it there was danger and destruction around every corner, so the ICRC team began to rebuild it. This school is the only one in Ramadi to offer a science curriculum to girls’ and has been reopened in 2017 after conflict forced it to shut down. The school currently educates approximately 600 children.
  10. The issue of girls’ education in Iraq has received the attention of humanitarian celebrities like Malala Yousafazai who spent her 20th birthday in Iraq meeting with young women who were, and continue to be, victims of ISIS. The meeting was part of the Malala Fund’s Girl Power Trip, an initiative meant to tell the stories of the more than 130 million girls around the world who are out of school.

As it can be seen through these top 10 facts about girls’ education in Iraq, the education system continues to be plagued by conflicts in the country, and girls are disproportionately at higher risk of dropping out or repeating grades if remained in school.

While this is certainly a cause for concern, the risks for girls’ education in Iraq have not gone unnoticed and many strive to change this. The Iraqi education system was once hailed as the best in the Middle East and many nongovernmental organizations, domestic policymakers, politicians, celebrities, and the local populous desire to return it to this position of dominance.

Georgie Giannopoulos

Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid in IraqAfter suffering so much war and conflict that forced many to flee from their country and led to the liberation of Iraq from the Islamic State, millions of displaced citizens are returning home. Out of six million Iraqi refugees in 2014, 3.8 million have returned to this broken country. A large number of individuals in Iraq depend on foreign aid and they still receive large donations and support every year. However, organizations providing aid have reported that donors have started to shift their focus to reconstruction instead of basic needs. Having this in mind, it is no wonder that many are worried about the people who are still unable to survive without humanitarian assistance.

Millions of Iraqi Refugees in Need

The U.N. estimates that 8.7 million people needed help from foreign aid in Iraq in 2018. This number is significantly lower than 11 million in need in 2017 but still means that there are many people in crisis. Due to the decrease in need, the U.N. requested $416 million less for emergency response aid in 2018. The U.N. still needs $569 million to make this one of the best-funded programs, but humanitarians and agencies are still concerned about donor fatigue.

As mentioned above, nearly four million refugees and internally displaced people (IDP) have returned to Iraq in the past four years. The U.N. and Iraqi government believed that more refugees would return after the Islamic State was ousted from Iraq. Their prediction was that most people would come home by the end of 2018.

However, people are returning at a far slower pace than expected meaning more Iraqis will need help for a longer period than organizations and donors are prepared for. Some refugees have even come back to camps after they realized that there were none to little opportunities for them in their hometowns. Camps in some areas such as Mosul, that had over 820,000 people displaced, are seeing higher rates of new arrivals than rates of people that are leaving.

From Emergency Aid to Reconstruction

Donors have not completely lost interest in providing foreign aid to Iraq but the focus has changed from humanitarian assistance and emergency aid to reconstruction. Instead of supporting individuals and their needs, aid is being used to rebuild the country and help it recover with infrastructure.

In February 2018, the U.N. began the two-year, Iraq Recovery and Resilience Program, the program that aims at bettering people’s lives by providing reconstruction and infrastructure reforms. The idea is that the country will become more stable and peaceful if communities are rebuilt and provided with bridges, roads, schools and hospitals. The government also has high hopes for this program as well and believes that it will make Iraqis more confident and trustful of their abilities.

Realistic Needs of People

This sounds great but the underlying reason why people are coming back to the country so slowly and often return to camps is the lack of job opportunities and places to live. Basic needs need to be met before great results can be seen from infrastructure programs and emergency aid such as food is still vitally important.

Humanitarians are concerned as many refugees have stated that they will no be able to survive without the food, shelter and support that they have received from aid organizations in the past.

As fighting in Iraq has dwindled, the country has received less and fewer media coverage. It is important that the global aid community does not forget the millions of Iraqis still in need and that donors continue to provide emergency foreign aid in Iraq directed to providing basic human needs.

Alexandra Eppenauer

Photo: Flickr

Girls Finishing Primary School
The importance of education in lifting a country out of extreme poverty has been well established. Specifically, girls’ education promotes gender equality, raises wages and results in smaller, healthier families. There is an unprecedented increase in girls finishing primary school, allowing them to get educated alongside their male peers.

Income Levels and How they Affect Girls Finishing Primary School

The percentage of girls who can afford to attend (and finish) primary school is directly tied to their country’s income level. Level 1 is extreme poverty; the family can barely afford to eat and must get water from wells. Level 2 is lower-middle income; the family can afford decent food and shoes. Level 3 is upper-middle income; the family can afford running water and basic appliances. Level 4 is high income; the family can afford a nice house and cars.

Level 4: Oman

One hundred percent of girls in Oman finish primary school. Primary school starts at age 6 and continues until age 18, and girls can go to one of 1,045 schools as of 2011. However, back in 1973, when Oman was a Level 1 country, there were only three primary schools with no girls attending them at all. Oman has experienced phenomenal advances in both poverty reduction and girls’ education.

Sultan Qaboos bin Said ascended the throne in 1970 and did not like what he saw. He vowed to improve life for the Omani people. This included, among many other things, opening more schools and allowing girls to attend them. Additionally, he made public school free, allowed private schools to exist and created a comprehensive kindergarten curriculum. With the availability of free education for girls, 100 percent of girls attend and complete primary school.

Level 3: Iraq

In Iraq, 58.8 percent of the nation’s girls finish primary school. This is down from 68 percent in 2004, but it is higher than the 0.722 percent that it was in 1974. At present, girls make up 44.8 percent of students in primary schools.

The Iraqi school system is far from ideal. Uneducated girls, when asked why they do not attend school, cite abusive teachers, poverty, the presence of boys and concerns about domestic and national safety. Those who do go to school endure dirty bathrooms, a lack of clean drinking water and the aforementioned abusive teachers. Despite this, there are enough girls finishing primary school in Iraq to keep the country out of extreme poverty in the next generation.

Level 2: Morocco

In Morocco, 94.7 percent of girls finish primary school. This is a stark increase from 22.9 percent in 1972. After King Mohammed the Sixth ascended the throne on July 30, 1999, he began placing more focus on the education of his people. His efforts have impacted girls more than boys, as shown by the fact that only 9 percent of girls have to repeat any grades in primary school, which is less than the 13 percent of boys who have to do so. Although this has done little to improve women’s reputations as workers thus far, it is still a victory for the country.

Level 1: Myanmar

In Myanmar, 89.3 percent of girls finish primary school. This number was only 30.8 percent in 1971 for a simple reason: extreme poverty. While schooling itself is technically free, parents still need to pay for uniforms and supplies, and boys are favored over girls in terms of whom parents will spend money on. Sometimes, girls as young as 4 years old are sent to schools in Buddhist monasteries, which means being separated from their families.

However, help is being provided by the international community. Educational Empowerment is an American organization dedicated to promoting educational equality in Southeast Asia. It develops and supports schools in Myanmar, publishes books, and gives microloans to mothers to help get their daughters into school. This has helped girls catch up to their male peers and finish primary school.

For girls, getting an education has historically not been an easy task. Between the cost of school attendance, the existence of extreme poverty and general gender inequality, girls often fall behind their male peers when it comes to receiving an education. However, thanks to new government rulings and help from nonprofit organizations, there are now more girls finishing primary school than ever before, and the number is set to rise even higher. In the near future, girls’ education will be on par with that of their male counterparts. This is important because educating girls leads to educated women, and educated women can help lift a country out of extreme poverty.

– Cassie Parvaz
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Education in IraqConflict and totalitarianism have plagued Iraq for decades. This has had a negative impact upon the Iraqi education system in many ways.

Here are the Top 10 Facts about Education in Iraq

  1. UNICEF has helped massively. To start on a positive note, although education in Iraq is dreary, help has not been avoided by international players in the arena of helping the impoverished. UNICEF has been instrumental in Iraq for various improvements, such as building schools, fixing water/sanitation systems in already existing schools, helping train over 50,000 teachers in child-friendly manners and supplying millions of Iraqi children with vital school materials, among many other positive upward aiming changes. In 2016, UNICEF helped an estimated 682,000 children access education in Iraq.
  2. The ongoing conflict has diminished education attendance. Since the end of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Iraq has been in constant conflict. What emerged following that war was a civil war between Sunnis and Shias and a burst of jihadist insurgencies. This has ultimately interfered with education in Iraq. Attendance is low with 3.5 Iraqi children either not attending school regularly or not at all.
  3. ISIS’ presence in Iraq has damaged the Iraqi education system. Prior to being pushed out of its last Iraqi stronghold in Mosul, ISIS ran rampant in Iraq and created several consequences. On top of terrorizing Iraqi citizens, ISIS negatively influenced the Iraqi education system greatly. When ISIS had control in Iraq, they either closed schools and used them as safe houses or they took schools over completely and began teaching a curriculum of radicalization. Parents were forced to send children to these schools under the threat of death. This resulted in one out of every five schools being out of use.
  4. The expulsion of ISIS from Iraq has left work to be done. There is a lot of work to be done following the expulsion of ISIS from Iraq. The closure of many schools due to ISIS’ presence left many children out of school for two years, thus creating a need for these children to catch up educationally. UNICEF has helped in this regard by attending to the effort of rebuilding schools in the wake of their destruction.
  5. The Iraqi government has a low education expenditure. Following Iraq’s liberation from ISIS, more than three hundred thousand children have returned to school with a high level of enthusiasm. Despite this, the Iraqi government is not doing its part in regards to making education more attainable for more people. In the 2015-16 school year, only 5.7 percent of Iraq’s government expenditure went to education. This has led to half of Iraq’s displaced children being out of school, thus creating a $1 billion loss in potential wages.
  6. Military spending has historically detracted from educational spending. The Iraqi government allocates little of its resources towards education. This was not always the case and is largely accounted for in allocating more resources towards the military to combat ongoing conflicts. For example, following The Gulf War, 90 percent of educational spending dropped in Iraq. Attendance at school has always been high in Iraq as primary education was compulsory until the U.S. invasion in 2003. After the conflict in 2003, only one in six children had textbooks, school facilities were in poor condition, there was a shortage of supplies and equipment and the quality of education was in serious decline.
  7. An over-emphasis on religious teaching is causing conflict within the population. In 2008, a new education system was established in Iraq that instilled a philosophy of education centered on Islamic education. “The main objectives are: enhancing the pupils’ faith in God and His divine messages and their feeling of need for the religious faith; inform the pupils of the pillars of Islam and faith among other objectives.” In the Iraqi public educational system, there is not an equal distribution of religious education, in that, Islamic education is emphasized and religious minorities are not permitted to learn their own religions. This causes religious minorities to feel educationally inferior, as they are not permitted to be educated on their own faith. Prior to the 2003 invasion and the toppling of the Ba’ath regime, such educational religious intolerance was non-existent.
  8. Education for girls in Iraq is far from adequate. Culturally, female education is frowned upon; instead, females are seen as a means to an end, the end being marriage (often arranged). Girls have an illiteracy rate that is twice as high as boys in Iraq. The majority of the over 355,000 children not attending school are girls.
  9. External efforts are being made to improve the situation. Aside from the aforementioned help that UNICEF has contributed, other organizations have contributed massively to the effort of bringing quality education into Iraq. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has contributed to the Education For All (EFA) policy in Iraq. This entails the promotion of the modernization and social improvement of schools to help Iraqi schools to have a positive long-term impact on Iraq’s development.
  10. What more can be done? There are various organizations dedicated to improving education in Iraq. The Iraqi Children’s Relief Fund is a highly certified organization dedicated to ensuring a higher quality of life for Iraqi children, which includes promoting better quality education. Donating to organizations such as The Borgen Project will ensure informative articles will continue to be published to spread awareness of the problems of global issues, like that of education in Iraq.

Education in Iraq has not always been problematic. Respective conflicts and moments of peace have created a void that had left the education system demolished by conflict. With organizations like UNICEF and UNESCO on the ground, the goal is to return Iraq to where it was during The Islamic Golden Age when Baghdad was the epicenter of global intellectualism. Much work is to be done to bring education back to its former glory.

– Daniel Lehewych
Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in IraqIn the wake of the Iraq war and the ISIS occupation of much of Iraq’s territory, human rights in Iraq appear to have been placed on the backburner. Human rights violations are not only limited to ISIS’s inhumane treatment and extermination of Shia Muslim; they also include the Iraqi forces’ abhorrent treatment of possible ISIS members and surrounding communities.

Nine Facts about Human Rights in Iraq

  1. Serious human rights violations have been prevalent in Iraq since 2014. The violations fall primarily into the categories of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Iraq has witnessed everything from terror attacks to sexual abuse, leaving millions of civilians without a home and forced to flee.
  2. ISIS is responsible for thousands of civilians deaths, punishing crimes deemed immoral and illegal under ISIS law. These atrocities and human rights violations include stoning people accused of crimes like adultery and stripping women and girls of human rights deemed basic in the United States. These attacks have been committed against civilians refusing to join the ranks of ISIS, putting them forth as an example to other resilient civilians.
  3. Human rights in Iraq have also been violated by government-led forces. Captured ISIS members, including those forced against their will, have been detained without any access to lawyers or aid. Kept in overcrowded prisons and denied communication with their families, access to the outside world and the ability to defend their actions, these prisoners are in a helpless situation.
  4. Iraq is one of the top three countries in the world for how many prisoners it executes. Hundreds of prisoners are kept on death row. At least 169 prisoners were executed in 2013; this figure has been on the rise ever since.
  5. Prisoners have reported that it is normal for confessions to be forced by the use of torture. This leaves room for wrongful convictions, as prisoners often give in to accusations simply to end the torture.
  6. With the aim of ending the reign of terror of ISIS, Iraqi forces have been given few limits on their methods used to fight against ISIS. Human rights violations by Iraqi forces are often masked under the label of fighting terror and helping the nation.
  7. Freedom of expression and association have been stripped by the Iraqi government, leaving little room for the growth of democracy. The Iraqi government used arms and violence to disperse peaceful protests in and around Baghdad during the recent provincial elections.
  8. Domestic violence is widely accepted in Iraq. The law deems sexual violence illegal; however, there is a large loophole. If the man accused of sexual assault marries the girl in question, it is no longer considered sexual assault. A 2012 study showed that 68 percent of women in Iraq have experienced some form of abuse from their husbands.
  9. Civilian casualties have been steadily decreasing since the overthrow of the ISIS regime. Compared to the peak of monthly deaths in October 2016, the number has significantly decreased. The figures dropped from 1,120 casualties in October 2016 to 76 in June 2018. This highlights the impact of the fight against ISIS in Iraq.

The country of Iraq has witnessed a myriad of internally and externally caused turmoil. However, since the takeback of Mosul and other ISIS-occupied territories, human rights may finally be respected and upheld by the Iraqi government. As the genocide committed by ISIS is recognized, it may pave the way for a safer life in Iraq where human rights are both respected and implemented.

– Trelawny Robinson
Photo: Flickr

Child Soldiers in IraqWith the war against ISIS in Iraq officially declared over by the Iraqi government in December, efforts on the ground have now begun to focus on rebuilding the lives of the Iraqi people. Of particular concern is the rehabilitation and reintegration of child soldiers in Iraq, the young “cubs of the caliphate” trained by ISIS and indoctrinated with its ultraviolent ideology.

What Has Happened to Child Soldiers in Iraq?

It is estimated that over the past four years, at least 2,000 minors underwent military training in ISIS camps, learning to use light and medium weaponry and function as effective cogs in the ISIS machine. Yet what may be most distressing is not the technical training these children received, but rather the ideological indoctrination.

The indoctrination that took place in ISIS sponsored schools and training camps instilled these children with extremist beliefs and sought to normalize acts of violence and killing. The result, ISIS hoped, would be the creation of the jihadists of the future, a group of fighters steeped in the ultraviolent ideology of ISIS and capable of waging a holy war for generations.

It is this deeply seated indoctrination into extremism, experts fear, that may pose a grave threat to the future stability of Iraq. With the end of the war and a return to normal life, many foresee the violent indoctrination of ISIS preventing these children from reintegrating into society and leading normal lives. With an intentionally violent and radical worldview, it is possible that many child soldiers will return to their towns highly radicalized, facing the discomfort of a worldview which does not match reality.

Besides being radicalized, many of these former child soldiers in Iraq also suffer from psychological trauma derived from a childhood of violence and warfare. For many, it is all they know and it is this mindset geared toward violence that has no place in normal life that could isolate them from their friends, families and peers. The resulting isolation caused by their inability to properly reintegrate may then make them more vulnerable to crime or further acts of extremism.

Why is Reintegration So Difficult?

Now that the process toward normalization has begun for many Iraqis, the question facing towns, families and NGOs is how to welcome back the former child soldiers in Iraq. There is no doubt that the task is monumental, as in many places there are no jobs available and professionals needed for psychological rehabilitation remain few and far between.

The complexity of the situation in Iraq remains a hazard to successful reintegration as well. In some territories which were held previously by ISIS, families who were sympathetic to the Caliphate gave their children up willingly and the child may continue to be indoctrinated when he or she returns home. It is also no secret that many Iraqis hold a grudge against former ISIS members and would deny them treatment and reconciliation.

What is Being Done?

Yet with peace becoming a reality, there is real promise for a brighter future for these former child soldiers in Iraq. Programs demobilizing and reintegrating child soldiers have been successful in countries such as Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. Such programs began by clearing the environment of weapons, then identifying former child soldiers who needed special care. Next, focus was placed on empowering these children with a feeling of belonging and re-establishing societal and familial links to reintegrate them.

Local citizens are also taking matters into their own hands to re-educate former child soldiers in Iraq. In Mosul, for instance, a group of Muslim law sages has begun preaching a moderate brand of Islam with the intent to promote peace and reconciliation.

What remains clear is that reintegrating child soldiers in formerly held ISIS territory will be a difficult, long term process, one which needs attention from the highest authorities inside and outside Iraq. If Iraq is ever to be war free and at peace, this challenge must be addressed and reconciliation and reintegration of child soldiers must be made a priority to end the cycle of violence.

– Taylor Pace
Photo: Flickr

Iraq War Facts
The Iraq War began in 2003 under the Bush administration. A common misconception among the Iraq War facts is that the war was a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks; however, there was no evidence of Iraq’s connection with the attack. The United States intended to abolish Saddam Hussein’s regime and confiscate any weapons of mass destruction.

The war went on for eight years until President Obama officially announced that he would be withdrawing troops from Iraq in 2011. However, when ISIL began taking control of Iraqi land in 2014, U.S. military advisors returned to the country to combat the spread of the Islamic State. To understand the return and current presence of the United States in Iraq, it is important to know the following Iraq War facts.

Purpose

When the U.S. began the war with Iraq in 2003, the purpose was to take down Saddam Hussein from the Iraqi government; however, the United States’ current presence in Iraq is largely due to the permanent threat of terrorism in the Middle East caused by terrorist groups such as ISIL.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is a terrorist organization that follows radical Sunni Islam. It first gained global attention in 2014 with its presence in Iraq and Syria but also spread around the world to countries like Afghanistan, Egypt, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

ISIL initiatives were largely funded by oil revenue made on the black market. The group took control of oil fields in both Syria and Iraq and would sell this oil to fund their activities. Since then, they have lost much of their control of these oil fields to the Iraqi army and their revenue has decreased.

Troops

Although troops were withdrawn from Iraq in 2014, there are still over 5,000 American soldiers in Iraq due to the ongoing “war on terror” in the Middle East. Interestingly, though, it was found that these numbers were not exactly accurate. Pentagon officials acknowledged only over half of the troops are actually present in Iraq — one of the most shocking Iraq war facts as a report found that the actual amount was 8,892.

This number is more than 75 percent more than originally stated. While these figures could seem high, they are relatively small when compared to the number of troops present under the Bush administration. A decade ago, the combined troop total approached 200,000.

The War

Since their return in August 2014, the U.S.-led coalition has conducted more than 13,300 airstrikes against ISIL targets in the area. Through the years, these airstrikes have led to the Iraqi military regaining much of its land from ISIL. Iraq’s government announced the end of the war against the Islamic State in December 2017, over three years after they first began taking control of Iraqi land.

The Islamic State has now lost most of the territory they once took control of. In a statement, the military said it “fully liberated” all of Iraq’s territory and retook full control of the border. According to the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, 98 percent of territory once claimed by the jihadist group has been reclaimed.

Moving Forward

Since the victory over the Islamic State, the U.S. has announced that it will reduce the number of troops in Iraq. That being said, the United States will not fully leave Iraq despite the fact that ISIL no longer controls Iraqi land.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued a statement saying, “Despite these successes, our fight is not over. Even without a physical caliphate, ISIS remains a threat to stability in the recently liberated areas, as well as in our homelands.” This belief is largely due to the terror that has been created through attacks around the world. Today, the goal is to fight the Islamic State from spreading its influence.

– Luz Solano-Flórez
Photo: Flickr

Economic Development In Iraq Contributes To Fight Poverty
According to the World Bank, after the complete eradication of ISIS in all of its territory, economic development in Iraq will most likely be deployed and bear fruitful results.

ISIS and Iraq

More specifically, the increase of oil prices and the promising rise of investments towards reconstruction are presumably fueled by a set of government actions. These decisions are set to facilitate and accelerate the process of economic and social recovery in the wake of ISIS which, as of December 2017, is no longer a major threat for Iraq.

Since 2014, the ISIS war and prolonged decrease of oil prices heavily contributed to the contraction of a non-oil economy by 21.6 percent. Therefore, a safer economic and social environment will bring nothing but economic and social relief.

Indeed, the most treasured tool for economic development in Iraq is certainly oil extraction, which accounts for 55 percent of the GDP. The remaining part of this number is divided between the services sector (33 percent), manufacturing, construction, water and electricity production (8 percent) and agriculture (4 percent).

Iraq’s Economic Growth

Oil prices and restored security, then, have been the main factors for Iraq’s solid economic growth in 2016, which amounted to 10 percent. However, fiscal responsibility and curbing corruption should go hand-in-hand with such economic development in Iraq.

To maintain a steady trend in economic growth and the road of improvement, the Iraqi government should take a serious look at how tax revenue as a percentage of GDP is barely detectable because of quite high levels of evasion and poor enforcement. Moreover, in terms of public spending, the government has been spending an amount close to to 42.7 percent of the (GDP) over the past three years, and budget deficits have averaged 8.6 percent of GDP. Public debt, as a consequence, is equivalent to 63.7 percent of GDP.

Poverty Eradication

Actions, however, have been taken towards the greater goal of poverty eradication in Iraq. In terms of analysis and planning, the government has, in fact, determined an official poverty line based on the 2006/07 IHSES (Household socio-economic survey), which also formed the basis for Iraq’s National Strategy for Poverty Reduction 2009.

Assessment reports measuring causes of poverty paired with high frequency, advanced impute expenditure surveys are top methods used to estimate poverty.

Road to Improvement

The Iraqian economy is largely state-run and oil extraction represents some 90 percent of government revenues. Meanwhile, 3.9 percent of people in Iraq are living in extreme poverty (2012). In fact, 18.9 percent live below the national poverty line (2012), with greater rural poverty than urban poverty; 11.6 percent of people in Iraq are multidimensionally poor (2011).

In recent years, economic improvement has been proven effective due to major social internal accomplishments — liberating ISIS territory is certainly on top of the list. Government and state presence can certainly encourage investments and economic development in Iraq, as they have done sporadically in previous occasions. However, it would be quite beneficial towards goals of poverty reduction if a larger portion of the economy could be left to the private sector.

– Luca Di Fabio
Photo: Flickr

girls' education in IraqOnce regarded as having one of the best education systems in the region, Iraq has had a difficult history with its education. From 1970 to 1984, Iraq had achieved multiple accomplishments, such as lowering the rate of illiteracy in children ages six to 12 to less than 10 percent and having an equal inclusion of genders in the classroom. Since then, girls’ education in Iraq has faced significant setbacks. 

How Education in Iraq Fell

The war with Iran in 1980, the Gulf War in the 1990s and the 2003 Invasion of Iraq have greatly damaged the once inspiring education system. With one in five schools destroyed and unusable, teachers having to work double shifts for smaller pay and nearly 3.5 million children irregularly attending, Iraq’s education has hit a low point. Unfortunately, girls’ education in Iraq seems to have been affected the most.

Pushback Against Girls’ Education in Iraq

Many Iraqi families see education as a dangerous thing for their daughters. Through learning critical thinking skills and how to read and write, many families worry that their daughters will fall into an unhappy marriage. With 30 percent of Iraqi girls in rural areas never even attending primary school and illiteracy rates twice as high with women than with men, it is clear that girls’ education in Iraq is of high necessity.

One girl relayed on an Iraqi radio show what her father had told her. “If a girl studies too much, it will just make people get divorced,” she claims he said. “If my daughter goes to university, she will become very stubborn. Her husband won’t like this, and will eventually divorce her.”

Potential for the Future of Education

However, with the battle over the city of Mosul finally coming to an end, education for Iraqi children, especially girls, might finally be improving. UNICEF has been supplying desks, chairs and other necessary supplies to schools where the teachers have long been the ones supplying these needs, even when those teachers have not been paid in three years.

One school receiving help is Saint Abdul Ahed School for Girls. Even though the school has no electricity or running water and only 17 teachers on staff, it manages more than 1,100 girls. Each and every one of the girls is eager and ready to come back to school, though.

Rawan, 11, explained just how important being able to come back to the classroom was for her. “We have to learn to develop our thinking so we can build our future, and our country,” she says.

One teacher at the school shared with UNICEF how enthusiastic her students are. “The kids are overjoyed to come back,” she says. “Education heals.” Saint Abdul Ahed is only one of many schools within Mosul that has been able to reopen thanks to UNICEF. 100 other schools have also been reopened, serving 75,000 children.

While many of these schools deal with overcrowding, lack of electricity and water and overworked teachers with little pay, the dedication to improve girls’ education in Iraq is inspirational. With continued work, young women will soon be able to receive the same rights to education as their male counterparts.

– Marissa Wandzel
Photo: Flickr