The daily struggle of Iraq's widows of war

Women breadwinners the face of oil-rich Iraq’s growing humanitarian crisis
Thousands of Iraq men have been killed in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion
By Reuters
Tue 15 Nov 2011 03:06 PM

Halima Dakhil lost her husband in the sectarian slaughter
that engulfed Iraq after the US invasion in 2003 and now spends her days
tearful and scared, knowing her $250 monthly wage won't pay the rent and feed
five children.

One of an estimated 2 million women who are primary
breadwinners in Iraq, Dakhil is but one face of the humanitarian crisis left
behind as US forces withdraw from Iraq nearly nine years after toppling
dictator Saddam Hussein.

Rent takes $210 of her monthly earning as a cleaner in a
medical clinic. She depends mainly on the kindness of neighbours and other
donors to feed her family.

"When my husband was killed in 2006, my youngest child,
Ridha, was only a toddler," said Dakhil, wiping away her tears with her
abaya, as Ridha stood by her side.

"I took on the role of both mother and father. I
support them and pay the rent. The rent is destroying me."

Dakhil said militants beheaded her husband, along with his
brother and nephew, as they traveled to sell a car and buy another in Diyala
province, a centre of ethnic and sectarian strife east of Baghdad.

In a cruel irony, Dakhil's spouse, a Sunni, was killed by
Sunni militants who thought he was a Shi'ite because his ID badge was issued in
the Shi'ite slum of Sadr City, she said.

Dakhil, herself a Shi'ite, she was displaced shortly after
her husband's death from their Sunni area in northern Baghdad to Sadr City,
with no money, no furniture and no family support.

As Iraq emerges from nearly nine years of what many here
think of as an occupation by US forces, and the decades of Saddam's reign
before, it faces an uphill battle to help the poor, the wounded, the widowed
and others scarred by war.

"I wish the war never happened and my husband was still
alive. What is his fault? What is the fault of the innocent people?" said
Dakhil, who is raising four boys and a girl.

Tens of thousands of men - soldiers, police, insurgent
fighters and civilians - have died in bombings, tit-for-tat sectarian slaughter
and other violence during a war that has killed more than 100,000 Iraqis, by
some estimates.

Minister of Women's Affairs Ibtihal Gasid al-Zaidi estimates
there may be 2 million women breadwinners in Iraq, most of them widows of the
2003 US-led invasion and the sectarian conflict that followed, the first Gulf
war or the 1980s Iran-Iraq war.

The humanitarian group Relief International estimates there
may be 1.5 million widows, nearly 10 percent of the female population. The
International Committee of the Red Cross said there are more than 1 million
women leading households in Iraq.

"The ICRC sees women-headed households as among the
most vulnerable in Iraq today," the group said.

Zaidi said 23 percent of oil-rich Iraq's estimated 30
million people, around 7 million, live under the poverty line and more than
half are women.

Many widows struggle with the realities of their new lives;
raising children alone, with little money or family support.

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"The woman's suffering is huge in these difficult
circumstances because she is the father, the mother, the care-giver and the
breadwinner," Zaidi said. "She is taking huge responsibility, inside
and outside the home. We are trying to help her as much as we can."

During Saddam's reign, widows were paid a monthly benefit
and were given land and a car, which helped to placate many. He also rewarded
members of the military who married widows.

Those benefits stopped when he was toppled.

In 2009, a new law was passed to help victims of war and
their relatives, and a state-run compensation committee to help those hurt by
militant attacks began its work in July.

Standard compensation includes 5 million Iraqi dinars
($4,275) for a government worker who is killed and 3.75 mln dinars ($3,200) for
non-government worker, along with land and a monthly pension, in addition to
social security benefits.

So far the committee has given out 55 billion dinars ($47m).
Land has been distributed in some provinces but not in Baghdad yet, said Hazem
al-Haidari, the head of the committee.

A widow's monthly social security is 100,000 Iraqi
dinar($85). Each child receives 15,000 ID ($13).

"I agree it is little. But there is a real plan to
increase these benefits," Zaidi said.

Iraqi women say registering for government pensions is a
bureaucratic nightmare due to corrupt workers who demand money to complete the
paperwork.

One divorcee said she spent almost a year registering and
when she was about to finish the process the pension office told her that her
file had been lost. She gave up.

The government has allocated $1.2bn a year to a plan to
reduce the poverty level to 16 percent by 2014, said Hassan al-Zubaidi, a
professor at Kufa University in Najaf and one of the plan's authors.

The plan sets the poverty line at 77,000 ID ($66) a month; a
line to which too many Iraqis are dangerously close.

"Most of [the people] are close to the 77,000 ID, which
means with any security and economic crisis, many people will be under the
poverty line," Zubaidi said.

The 75-square-metre home where Dakhil is raising her five
children has no glass in the windows. A broken air cooler sits in the front
yard.

"My children went to bed without dinner the other
night," she said. "I want compensation from the government. I want
them to build us a house."

In a camp near the Iraqi capital's Sadr City slum, the
plight of widows is slightly better than Dakhil's. The Baghdad Provincial
Council distributed 150 caravans to displaced families rent-free.

Ibn Sina, a non-governmental organisation, helps widows find
jobs. The group bought one a sewing machine and another a refrigerator and food
supplies so they could earning a living.

Kadhmiya Mohammed, 35, a mother of five, sells used
household goods at the camp, but barely meets the needs of her family. Her
husband disappeared in 2005 and despite searching hospitals and prisons she was
unable to find any trace of him.

He was declared dead by a court two years ago.

"My husband went [missing] but I have children. Who
should raise them?" she said. "Our conditions are tragic. For how
long shall we stay like this?"

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