‘This is my sacrifice’: Thousands maimed in Iraq demonstrations

Iraqi protesters carry away an injured comrade amid clashes with riot police in Baghdad.
Updated 21 November 2019

‘This is my sacrifice’: Thousands maimed in Iraq demonstrations

  • The staggering number is the latest burden for a country already struggling with one of the highest disability rates in the world

BAGHDAD: A fractured spine, paralyzed leg, hole in the back: Hamza took to the streets of Iraq’s capital to demand a better life but now he has even less than ever.

“This is my sacrifice for Iraq,” said the 16-year-old, his strained voice barely audible over the phone in Baghdad.

“If I could walk, I would be back in the protests now.”

Hamza is one of at least 3,000 people who have been maimed in Baghdad and southern Iraq since anti-government protests erupted on Oct. 1, according to the NGO Iraqi Alliance for Disabilities Organization (IADO).

The staggering number is the latest burden for a country already struggling with one of the highest disability rates in the world, according to the UN.

After decades of back-to-back conflicts, Iraq is in the thick of its largest and deadliest grassroots protest movement, with more than 300 people dead and 15,000 wounded.

To disperse protesters, security forces have used tear gas, rubber bullets, flash bangs, live rounds and even machine-gun fire — all of which can seriously maim or even kill, as Hamza learned.

On Nov. 4, the teenager was among around 20 protesters wounded by live fire in Baghdad.

A bullet pierced Hamza’s stomach and exited through his back, leaving a gaping hole.

Two others hit his legs.

By the time he arrived at a nearby hospital, he had lost liters of blood and his heart was failing, said his father, Abu Layth.

Doctors revived the boy with a defibrillator, injected him with four units of blood and rushed him into surgery.

“He was basically dead. The doctors brought him back to life,” he said.

CT scans and medical reports shared by Hamza’s family revealed multiple fractures to his lower spine, leading to paralysis in his right leg.

After more than a week in hospital, the teenager has gone back home and is on steady doses of analgesics.

“Sometimes he screams from pain at night,” his father said.

Iraq has a long history of bloody conflict, from the 1980-1988 war with its neighbor Iran to the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein and the fight against Daesh.

Each war has killed tens of thousands and left even more Iraqis impaired for life.

The government’s Central Statistical Organization says that in the wake of decades of conflict, more than 2 million of Iraq’s 40-million population are disabled people entitled to state support.

But IADO and other rights groups say the real number sits at more than 3 million — and counting.

“The number of disabled people continues to grow ... We exit
one crisis and enter another,”
said IADO head Muwafaq Al-Khafaji.

He told AFP his group’s estimate of 3,000 maimed since Oct. 1 is an approximation, as the government is either not documenting or not releasing precise figures.

To fill the gap, IADO
members have been contacting hospitals and reaching out to families in Baghdad and
southern cities.

Although Iraq is party to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, disabled people suffer from poor health services, lack of job opportunities and social exclusion.

They have organized their own rallies in Baghdad as part of the larger protest movement, demanding more support from the government.

“Infrastructure in Iraq is not even equipped to meet the needs of the non-disabled,” said Khafaji. “We need more than just ink on paper.”

Iraq suffers from an extremely dilapidated health care system, with hospitals severely under-equipped and doctors threatened on the basis of political or tribal disputes.

In the protests, rights groups have documented the abduction of volunteer medics as well as arrests of protesters from medical facilities.

The additional strain on both patients and doctors means wounded demonstrators do not get quality care quickly enough, leading to severe wound infections.

Medics have even had to sever limbs to save protesters’ lives, said Farah, a 19-year-old medical student volunteering in Baghdad’s main protest camp of Tahrir (Liberation) Square.

Tahrir is full of makeshift clinics treating protesters, including 30-year-old Ali, who wears a bandage where his right eye should be.

On the night of Oct. 24, the father of four was on a nearby bridge when he heard shots ring out and saw hundreds of protesters scrambling away in panic.

Before he could do the same, a flash bang exploded at his feet and he collapsed, regaining consciousness an hour later in a nearby hospital.

But Ali could only open his left eye, as his other had been lost to a piece of shrapnel.

“They want to deter protesters, but we’re becoming even more determined,” he said, as crowds of bandaged men walked around him.

“The Iraqi people have endured everything. We were born to die.”


Turkey considering quitting treaty on violence against women

Updated 06 August 2020

Turkey considering quitting treaty on violence against women

  • The AKP will decide in the next week whether to initiate legal steps to pull out of the accord

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party is considering whether to pull Turkey out of an international accord designed to protect women, party officials said, alarming campaigners who see the pact as key to combating rising domestic violence.

The officials said the AKP is set to decide by next week whether to withdraw from the deal, just weeks after the vicious murder of a woman by an ex-boyfriend reignited a row over how to curb violence against women.

Despite signing the Council of Europe accord in 2011, pledging to prevent, prosecute and eliminate domestic violence and promote equality, Turkey saw 474 femicides last year, double the number seen in 2011, according to a group which monitors murders of women.

Many conservatives in Turkey say the pact, ironically forged in Istanbul, encourages violence by undermining family structures. Their opponents argue that the deal, and legislation approved in its wake, need to be implemented more stringently. The row reaches not just within Erdogan’s AKP but even his own family, with two of his children involved in groups on either side of the debate about the Istanbul Convention.

The AKP will decide in the next week whether to initiate legal steps to pull out of the accord, a senior party official told Reuters.

“There is a small majority (in the party) who argue it is right to withdraw,” said the official, who argued however that abandoning the agreement when violence against women was on the rise would send the wrong signals.

Another AKP official argued on the contrary that the way to reduce the violence was to withdraw, adding that a decision would be reached next week. The argument crystallized last month around the brutal killing of Pinar Gultekin, 27, a student in the southwestern province of Mugla, who was strangled, burned and dumped in a barrel — the latest in a growing number of women killed by men in Turkey.

Opponents of the accord say it is part of the problem because it undermines traditional values which protect society.

“It is our religion which determines our fundamental values, our view of the family,” said the Turkish Youth Foundation, whose advisory board includes the president’s son Bilal Erdogan. It called for Turkey to withdraw from the accord.

“This would really break Turkey away from the civilized world and the consequences may be very severe,” Gamze Tascier, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party, told Reuters.

The Women and Democracy Association (KADEM), of which Erdogan’s daughter Sumeyye is deputy chairwoman, rejects that argument. “We can no longer talk about ‘family’... in a relationship where one side is oppressed and subject to violence,” KADEM said.

Many conservatives are also hostile to the principle of gender equality in the Istanbul Convention and see it as promoting homosexuality, given its principle of non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

Critics of the bid to withdraw from the pact say it would put Turkey further out of step with the values of the EU, which it has sought to join for decades.

“This would really break Turkey away from the civilized world and the consequences may be very severe,” Gamze Tascier, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party, told Reuters.

Turkey would not be the first country to move toward ditching the accord. Poland’s highest court is to scrutinize the pact after a Cabinet member said Warsaw should quit the treaty which the nationalist government considers too liberal.

Turkish women’s groups were set to protest on Wednesday to demand better implementation of the accord, taking to the streets after an online campaign in the wake of Gultekin’s killing where they shared black-and-white selfies on Instagram.

Turkey does not keep official statistics on femicide. World Health Organization data has shown 38 percent of women in Turkey are subject to violence from a partner in their lifetime, compared to about 25 percent in Europe.

The government has taken measures such as tagging individuals known to resort to violence and creating a smartphone app for women to alert police, which has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times.