In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

Zedan, a patient suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, is in medical consultation at the mental health center, 430 km from Baghdad. (AFP)
Zedan, a patient suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, is in medical consultation at the mental health center, 430 km from Baghdad. (AFP)
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Updated 04 December 2020

In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

BAJET KANDALA CAMP, Iraq: For half a decade, Zedan suffered recurring nightmares about militants overrunning his hometown in northern Iraq. The 21-year-old Yazidi was just starting to recover when COVID-19 revived his trauma.
Zedan had lost several relatives when Daesh stormed into Sinjar, the rugged heartland of the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq’s northwest.
The militants killed Yazidi men, took the boys as child soldiers and forced the women into sexual slavery.
Zedan and the surviving members of his family fled, finding refuge in the Bajet Kandala camp near the Syrian border where they still live today.
“We used to be farmers living a good life. Then IS (Daesh) came,” he said, wringing his hands.
In a pre-fabricated building hosting the camp’s mental health clinic, Zedan shared his traumas with Bayda Othman, a psychologist for international NGO Premiere Urgence. Zedan refers to the violence of 2014 vaguely as “the events.”
The UN says they may constitute something much more serious: Genocide.
“I started having nightmares every night. I would see men in black coming to kill us,” Zedan said, telling Othman that he had attempted suicide several times. He has been seeing her for years, learning how to cope with his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through breathing exercises that she taught him.
Earlier this year, his nightly panic attacks stopped. Finally, he could sleep again. But only for a few months.
In March, Iraq declared a nationwide lockdown to try to contain the spread of Covid-19. Zedan broke down.
“I fear that my family could catch the virus or give it to me,” he said. “It obsesses me.”
As lockdown dragged on, Zedan’s brother lost his job at a stationery shop on the edge of the camp.
“There’s no more money coming into the family now. Just thinking about it gives me a panic attack,” he said.
“The nightmares returned, and so did my desire to die.”
Out of Iraq’s 40 million citizens, one in four is mentally vulnerable, the World Health Organization says.
But the country is in dire shortage of mental health specialists, with only three per 1 million people.

HIGHLIGHT

The Daesh extremists killed Yazidi men, took the boys as child soldiers and forced the women into sexual slavery.

Speaking about trauma or psychological problems is widely considered taboo, and patients who spoke to AFP agreed to do so on the condition that only their first names would be used.
In camps across Iraq, which still host some 200,000 people displaced by violence, the pandemic has pushed many people with psychological problems into remission, Othman said.
“We noticed a resurgence of PTSD cases, suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts,” she told AFP.
In October, there were three attempted suicides in Bajet Kandala alone by displaced people, who said their movements outside the camp were restricted by the lockdown, or whose economic situation had deteriorated even further.
A tissue factory who fired people en masse, a potato farm that shut down, a haberdashery in growing debt: Unemployment is a common thread among Othman’s patients.
“It leads to financial problems, but also a loss of self-confidence, which rekindles trauma,” she said.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), about a quarter of Iraqis who were employed prior to lockdown have been permanently laid off.
Youth were particularly hard hit: 36 percent of 18-24 years old who had been employed were dismissed, the ILO said.
A new patient in her forties walked toward the clinic, her hair covered in a sky-blue veil.
Once settled in a faux-leather chair, Jamila revealed that she, too, feels destabilized by the pandemic.
The Yazidi survivor lives in a one-room tent with her son and four daughters. But she doesn’t feel at home.
“I have totally abandoned my children. I feel all alone even though they’re always at home. I hit them during my panic attacks — I didn’t know what else to do,” she said.
Othman tried to soothe Jamila, telling her: “Hatred is the result of untreated sadness. We take it out on relatives, especially when we feel devalued — men prey on women, and women on children.”
But the trauma is not just an issue for the displaced, specialists warn.
“With the isolation and lack of access to care, children who have lived a genocide develop difficulties as they become adults,” said Lina Villa, the head of the mental health unit at a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in northern Iraq.
“We fear suicide rates will go up in the years to come.”


Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation

Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation
A military vehicle is stationed on the tarmac of Yemen’s Aden airport. Yemen says the Stockholm Agreement has failed to bring peace to the country. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 January 2021

Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation

Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation
  • International community urged not to surrender to ‘blackmailing and intimidation’ 
  • Stockholm Agreement has failed to bring peace, Yemen PM said

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s prime minister has vowed to address any impact on humanitarian assistance or the remittances of citizens abroad following the US move to designate the Iran-backed Houthis as a terrorist organization.

Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed also urged the international community not to surrender to “Houthi blackmailing” and intimidation.
Saeed defended his government’s strong support of the designation during a virtual interview with foreign journalists sponsored by the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies.
He said that his government had formed a committee to handle any effects on the delivery of humanitarian assistance inside Houthi-controlled areas and the remittances of Yemenis abroad.
“We are determined to prevent any impact of the decision on the Yemenis. We have formed a committee to mitigate effects of the decision,” he said.
When the US announced its intention to designate the Houthi movement as a terrorist organization last week, Yemen’s government quickly urged the US administration to put the decision in place, predicting it would stop Houthi crimes and their looting of humanitarian assistance, and would smoothe the way for peace.
Referring to the impact of the US designation on peace talks between the Yemeni government and the Houthis, Saeed said that the decision would not undermine peace efforts. He said that the Houthis would be accepted as part of the Yemeni political and social spectrum when they abandoned hard-line ideologies and embraced equality and justice.

The Yemeni government agreed to go to Stockholm for reaching a solution to stop fighting and saving the city. This model has failed.

Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed, Yemen’s prime minister

“This is an important pressure card on them and a real definition of them,” he said, adding that the Yemenis would not allow the Houthi movement to rule them.
“Yemen would not be ruled by a racist and terrorist group,” he said.
Formed under the Riyadh Agreement, Yemen’s new government’s ministers narrowly escaped death on Dec. 30 when three precision-guided missiles ripped through Aden airport shortly after their plane touched down.
The government accused the Houthis of staging the attack, saying that missile fragments collected from the airport showed that they were similar to missiles that targeted Marib city in the past.
The prime minister said that the Yemeni government had offered many concessions to reach an agreement to end the war. It had agreed to engage in direct talks with the Houthis in Stockholm in 2018 despite the fact that the Yemeni government forces were about to seize control of the Red Sea city of Hodeidah. However, the Stockholm Agreement had failed to bring peace to Yemen, he said.
“The government forces were about to capture the city within five days maximum. The Yemeni government agreed to go to Stockholm for reaching a solution to stop fighting and saving the city. This model has failed,” Saeed said.
In Riyadh, Yemen’s president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi on Friday appointed Ahmed Obeid bin Daghar, a former prime minister and a senior adviser to the president, as president of the Shoura Council.
Hadi also appointed Ahmed Ahmed Al-Mousai as the country’s new attorney general.
Fighting continues
Heavy fighting between Yemeni government forces and the Houthis broke out on Sunday for the third consecutive day in contested areas in the districts of Hays and Durihimi in the western province of Hodeidah. Official media said that dozens of Houthi rebels and several government troops were killed in the fighting and loyalists pushed back three assaults by Houthis in Durihimi district.
In neighboring Hays, the Joint Forces media said on Sunday that the Houthis hit government forces with heavy weapons before launching a ground attack in an attempt to seize control of new areas in the district.
The Houthis failed to make any gains and lost dozens of fighters along with several military vehicles that were burnt in the fighting, the same media outlets said. Heavy artillery shelling and land mines planted by the Houthis have killed more than 500 civilians since late 2018, local rights groups said.