With the declaration of an end to the nine year war, the last US combat troops pulled out of Iraq on Sunday, weeks ahead of the December 31st deadline. Less than a week later, a series of bomb blasts hit Baghdad killing over 63 and leaving many more injured.
Throughout the past nine years, almost 4,500 US soldiers have been killed, with Iraqi civilian death estimated at between 104,284 and 113,938. The withdrawal of US troops does not represent an end to the violence that has engulfed the nation and the loss of life continues. Riddled with sectarian divisions, unexploded bombs and plummeting health standards, the battle for Iraq is far from over. As with any war, conflict or political upheaval, the most imperative period for rebuilding a sustainable society is the post conflict period. Recent clashes across Egypt exemplify this well. It has almost been a year since the fall of the Mubarak regime, yet the streets of Cairo are still consumed with violence. Clashes in the past week alone have killed at least 14 people.
As US troops eagerly wait to be reunited with their families, the same fate is not ensued upon the lives of Iraqis. The nation has been left with approximately 4.5million orphaned children, with no mother or father to love them, who will never know the stability of a family. 500,000 of these children are in the most extreme danger, living on the streets, vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
That is 4.5 million children out of a population of 32 million. That means almost 15 % of the population have to grow up parentless, subsequently permeating trauma into the psyche of the nation. Granted not all orphans in Iraq have lost their parents as a direct result of war, the impact of three wars, sanctions and sectarian violence has been immense.
Furthermore, Iraq is a land plagued with landmines and unexploded ordnances (UXOs), there have been an estimated 48, 000 - 68,000 amputations in the past decade. According to the Iraqi Environment Ministry, the country is riddled with an estimated 25 million landmines, and more than 25 million UXO pieces including cluster bombs. The worst affected area exists along the Iran-Iraq border, with 24% of its victims being children. A study published by the Inter-Agency Analysis Unit (IAU) in 2009 stated:
"Many children lose their limbs, sight, or hearing resulting in lifelong disability. Child victims are often perceived as a burden to their families and are discriminated against by society, facing limited or no future prospects for education".
This however is not the only way the future generation is marred with the existence of land mines. Children are also affected when adults are the victims. Up to 80% of landmine victims in Iraq were young men aged between 15 and 29 years. In a country where men are often the sole bread winners, parents are unable to support, feed or simply look after their children.
Then there is the long term effect of chemical warfare to consider. The apparent use of depleted uranium during the first Gulf war has had a devastating impact on the health of Iraqis. Hampered by sanctions and thus an inability to clear away dioxins ,there has been a shocking rise and persistence of birth defects as well as cancer cases, most significantly in Fallujah, Najaf and Basra. In a study conducted by Iraq's Environment, Health and Science ministries, researchers concluded that these areas have seen the largest increase in cancer and birth defect rates in recent years. In addition, a study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that in May 2010, 15% of 547 babies were born with defects in Fallujah, 14% of mothers suffered from spontaneous abortions, whilst 11% were born at less than 30 weeks.
The IAU believe that there are more than 40 sites throughout Iraq are contaminated with high levels of radiation and dioxins. Agricultural grounds in the South of the country have been found to have dangerously high levels of dioxins, with local doctors linking it with the general decline of health amongst the population.
Almost 40 years ago Agent Orange was used in Vietnam, the effects of the chemical are still apparent today. Unexploded bombs and landmines continue to maim, kill and destroy lives in Cambodia and Laos generations after their conflicts ended. Without a concentrated effort to remove chemicals, landmines and UXOs, Iraq could suffer the same fate. Health and educational standards have seen an absolute reversal in the past nine years, the rebuilding of which plays an imperative role in the development of the post war nation. As the news reports coming out of Iraq will eventually begin to dwindle, with a new focus on Iran, Pakistan and Syria, it is important to remember the battle for Iraq has only just started. Iraq now, more than ever must remain a priority and is not to be forgotten