'NYT' Reporters Blog About Life in Baghdad -- With Children a Key Concern

By: E&P Staff Reporters for The New York Times at the paper's Baghdad bureau have been answering questions from readers at www.nytimes.com the past three days. Surprisingly, one of the most popular questions relates to the state of Iraqi children.

Here is one revealing exchange, with Damien Cave introducing an Iraqi staffer for the Times.

CAVE: We have received more than 500 questions so far and a surprising number have focused on the state of Iraqi children. People are curious about what life is like for them, the state of education and how the children cope with the violence.

As western reporters, exploring the issue can be difficult. I?ve tried repeatedly to get access to schools, but my requests have been denied by the Ministry of Education. Parents and teachers also hesitate to grant interviews on the subject of children because they fear the consequences of interacting with Americans, particularly with children who may not understand the need for discretion.

So, as we often do, I have turned to one of our Iraq staffers who lives in Baghdad with two young children. Here is his response:

My name is Ahmad Fadam, I?m a father of two, Mohammed, he is almost 8 years old, and Mais, and she is almost 7.

Mohammed, my son, has just finished his first year at school and I can say that the past 8 months was difficult for him as it was for me. His school is just 3 blocks away from where we live. It seems so close, but still I can not send him alone. I have to walk or drive him to school every day because I can not guarantee what might happen. He can get kidnapped or shot. These are the things that we, the parents, worry about. The possibility that our kids might get run by a car or get lost became unimportant to us. What is important is the daily violence in the city.

And even at school, the daily violence became the biggest concern. Teachers sometimes cannot come to school and the same for the students. Sometimes the headmaster sends the kids home earlier than usual because of violence around the school.

Fear became part of our kids? lives. They are afraid when they go to school, when they play, when they eat and sleep, and even when they go out with their parents. I remember that my daughter Mais was with me one day while I was heading to the market. We saw this car on the side of the road and the driver was dead, he was shot in the head, and my kid saw that.

She said to me, ?Dad, this man is dead, right? Who killed him?? Imagine that I have to answer such questions to my kid, so I asked her ?how do you know that he is dead?? and she said, ?there is blood on his head, he was shot?. Death became something that even small kids know about. They even know what killing is and imitate that when they play. They insist that we buy them toy guns to play their game. Of course there is no more police and robbers game, there is Americans and terrorists now, and someone has to act dead at the end of the game.

That is why we are afraid for our children. First we don?t want them to get hurt, and second, we don?t want them to see such things. We stopped taking them anywhere, no amusement parks, no swimming pools, and even if they want to go out and play in the street, we have to keep watching them until they finish. There was a mortar attack against my neighborhood once, and I had to carry both my kids and run like crazy away from the explosions. God knows what might have happened to my children on that day if I wasn?t there ? just because they were playing in the street.


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