After Nearly 9 Years of War, Too Many Widows
Finding a good man in
Some widows ask their brothers to bring friends by the camp, one of two packed trailer camps for widows in
The problem is that widows do not make appealing brides, say the women themselves and nongovernmental organizations that assist them.
“Maybe a young woman with only one or two kids can marry again,” Ms. Khalaf said with a sigh; she has six children.
Widows are not a new social problem in
And the numbers of widows in
The Iraqi Ministry of Planning estimates that about 9 percent of the country’s women, or about 900,000, are widows. A separate government agency, the Ministry of Women, issued a statement in June putting the figure at one million.
Other groups also have estimated the number of women widowed during the nearly nine-year war, which is drawing to an official close with the last American soldiers scheduled to leave in December.
A United Nations report estimated that at the peak of the sectarian violence in 2006, nearly 100 women were widowed each day. The Ministry of Social Affairs pays widow’s benefits to 86,000 women, most of whom, it says, lost their husbands in the latest war.
This figure corresponds with conservative estimates of 103,000 to 113,000 Iraqi deaths in the war, according to a nonprofit group that tallies casualties, Iraq Body Count. The count includes the estimated 10,000 Iraqi soldiers who died in the initial American-led invasion and 10,125 police officers and soldiers who died afterward in fighting with insurgents, along with those killed in sectarian violence.
In possibly one of the last such episodes of the war, last weekend, the Iraqi police said American troops shot and killed two civilians after a roadside bomb exploded near a convoy. The American military denied that soldiers had fired on civilians.
Confronted with so many widows, the Iraqi government is providing only minimal assistance, equivalent to about $80 a month to those widowed in the recent conflict.
“We expected we would get a lot of help from all sides, the Americans, the Iraqi government,” Ms. Khalaf, who lost her husband in 2007, said in an interview in her trailer. “But the fact is, nobody really cares about us.”
The rusting trailer camp, across from a car lot, represents a social challenge that is not easily remedied — not least because the gender imbalance makes it exceedingly unlikely most widows will remarry.
Some American-financed projects have sought to help widows become self-sufficient economically, with some success, according to program reports. A United States Agency for International Development program offers small grants to female heads of households, for example. They can use the money to open small businesses like beauty salons or catering services. Program administrators say many recipients not only have improved their lives materially, but have overcome depression.
The program noted ailments among widows, some of whom had witnessed the killings of their husbands, like difficulty concentrating, numbness and heart palpitations. But after the widows started a small business, the program administrators said, they noticed signs of improvement — “more colorful clothing, smiley faces and for some, louder voices as they speak.”
At the trailer camp, American soldiers used to drive by occasionally in their Humvees, to throw candy and soccer balls to the children, a meager help.
At times, war widows became symbols for opponents of the American military presence in
In the meantime, Raja Hashim, 32, said she would focus on her children, all sons. “I don’t need a man because I have three men already,” she said.
Yasir Ghazi contributed reporting.
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs