Iraqi widows caught in escalating violence under conflict

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Iraq widow and children
Seniya, with her four daughters and her youngest son, holding a picture of their late father in the living room in their house in Neda, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Kirkuk, Iraq. Since 2009, after losing the family breadwinner, they have lived in extreme poverty. Image: Pawel Krzysiek/ICRC

(WNN) Baghdad, IRAQ, WESTERN ASIA: Following the recent and escalating violence in Fallujah , only 36 miles due west from Baghdad, Iraq women and children have been placed in ever increasing danger as forces inside the region continue to juggle for power. Armed conflict and strife is not new to women in the region. It has haunted widows of the conflict ridden region for decades as they have worked to survive under extending hardships. Nine years ago U.S. troops took the city of Fallujah away from the control of militant forces who have been linked strongly to Al Qaeda. Now once again a new assault of violence has pushed the shift of militant power back into place as Sunni Arab tribal leaders nervously cooperate with insurgent forces fighting the Iraq government.

With increased movement the militant group ISIS – Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham insurgent rebel operatives are one of the groups who have been crossing the borders of Syria to join the fighting there. They are also coming back across the border and into Iraq.

The struggle between the Iraqi government, Al Qaeda and rebel based groups is based strongly on political alliances where choices are not always evident or easy to track. It is also based on loyalties and betrayals where lines are drawn in a changing and shifting demographic region. But where are the women in this crisis? And how are they learning to survive? Numerous women are caught between battles of factions and militant groups as women are caught in the crossfires.

“There are currently over a million Iraqi women in Iraq who bear the responsibility of supporting their families because their husbands were killed, arrested, disabled by war injuries, or went missing. The women are among those hardest hit by years of armed conflict. With violence against civilians on the increase, their needs are set to grow,” says the ICRC – International Committee of the Red Cross who has been working on-the-ground in Iraq and has recently stepped up relief efforts in the region.

But regardless of the state of a woman’s affairs or her level in society, women throughout Iraq are likely to experience vastly more obstructions to financial help or opportunity than their male counterparts. With heightened conflict in the region, many women and their children who lack opportunity are becoming displaced with limits to their personal safety, along with limits on their ability to receive education beyond a primary school level.

“Ten years after the war, internal displacement remains a big issue. The impact of war and forced migration on women has been devastating, and education has been a casualty of war. Education is being the biggest casualty,” outlines 24-year-old Iraqi Ms. Shahd Majeed, who is a writing member of WorldPulse online digital community.

According to the latest UNHCR – United Nations Refugee Agency figures 1,591,690 people who now live inside Iraq became displaced inside and outside the country within the last year of 2013 alone.

Currently in Fallujah conditions are becoming increasingly difficult, says Pawel Krzysiek, spokesperson for the ICRC in Baghdad. As conflict in the region continues, food aid and necessities cannot reach those who it the most, the agency outlines. Displaced widows or women who have husbands who are missing or presumed dead are part of those in crisis ridden cities in Iraq, including Fallujah and Ramadi, where people continue to become trapped and displaced due to the violence.

Children are exceptionally vulnerable to suffering under conditions of war and conflict.

“Due to war and occupation in addition to the sanctions starting in 1990, Iraq has turned into one of the worst places for children in the Middle East and North Africa. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF)1 around 3.5 million children are living in poverty, 1.5 million under the age of five are undernourished and 100 infants die every day,” said a formal report given to the Human Rights Council at the UN in February 2013.

Food, fuel and medical supplies are now running short in the Fallujah region, conveyed Krzysiek in a recent interview with IRIN news.

“Widows in Iraq are often ill-equipped to overcome the significant challenges they face all by themselves,” continues Patrick Youssef in his statement for the ICRC, that works to bring relief programs to Iraq where the ICRC has had a field office in Baghdad since 1980.


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