Traumatic Memories Mar Baghdad Neighborhoods

Violence and terrorism have left many Iraqis with post-traumatic stress associated with specific areas of Baghdad they continue to associate with a violent event.

al-monitor A youth stands at the site of a car bomb attack in Baghdad, a day after the bombing, Aug. 29, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Ahmed Malik.

Topics covered

sectarian, iraq, baghdad

Sep 9, 2013

Official figures and those published by other concerned organizations indicate that the number of victims of violence in Iraq has spiked over the past months, making it comparable to what it was during the years of the sectarian war that raged from 2005 to 2008.

The term “death zones” nowadays easily describes many areas of Baghdad, while in the past it only applied to specific areas.

Baghdad’s inhabitants now expect to fall victim to car bombs, even while traveling in alleyways. Bassem Hussein, 31, recounted to Al-Monitor the details of an explosion that struck the al-Qahira neighborhood of Baghdad over a week ago, when he lost his right eye and his brother was killed.

After his release from hospital, Bassem said, “We did not expect these bombings to target residential areas at such a pace. We now fear that they might kill us in our own homes.”

He added, “Even during years of sectarian war, fear of death was not this intense. At the time, we only avoided going to specific places, but now all areas have become death zones.”

He stated that, after the explosion, his only wish was to remain away from his neighborhood, and he now even contemplates leaving the area altogether because it is now associated with the death of his 27-year-old brother, Kassem.

On Aug. 23, a double bombing — involving an explosive device and a suicide vest — targeted a public park in the al-Qahira neighborhood, killing 31 people and wounding 48, according to the latest statistics.

Some studies suggest that most survivors of armed attacks in Iraq now require psychiatric treatment, and despite the lack of accurate statistics about the number of victims of violence in Iraq since 2003, relevant nongovernmental agencies affirm that their numbers are increasing as a result of the ineffectiveness of the Iraqi government’s security measures to put an end to these breaches.

Ador, 39, told Al-Monitor that he has yet to forget the explosion that occurred on Nov. 20, 2004, which left him on the verge of death for two whole years.

Ador, an employee at the Ministry of Industry and Minerals, abhors going to the area that connects Abu Nuwas with Liberation Square (in the center of Baghdad), because that is where a car bomb explosion killed his friend and injured him so badly that his leg had to be amputated. He did not rule out such a tragedy occurring again as a result of the large number of explosions that regularly rock the country.

He added, “I hate passing through the intersection that links Abu Nuwas with Liberation Square, because it reminds me of the calamity that led to my friend’s death and the amputation of my right leg. But the situation today has grown even more dangerous, and all areas are now threatened with similar explosions.”

On the other hand, Aziz Ahmed, 25, resigned from his job in Baghdad’s Bab al-Sharqi region (in the center of Baghdad) one day after the March 3, 2008, explosion there that killed his father.

In an interview with Al-Monitor, Ahmed said, “I have avoided even mentioning the Bab al-Sharqi region for over two years, specifically al-Khayam Street. This is because, to me, it represents a death zone. But what can I do now? Can I erase the memory of all of Baghdad’s neighborhoods from my mind, now that most of them have become threatened?”

According to statistics published by the competent authorities, the number of victims of violence in Iraq during the past months is rapidly approaching the level it was during the years of the sectarian war, in terms of the numbers of killed and wounded.

The intensification of bombing attacks has led to an increase in psychiatric disorders, particularly among survivors of violence

Psychiatrist Kassem al-Awadi told Al-Monitor, “The avoidance of whole areas is common for people all over Iraq and especially in Baghdad, where the rate of children who fear going to a particular area exceeds 60%, while it varies between 30% and 40% among adults.”

Awadi affirmed, “Such cases are classified as syndromes related to post-traumatic stress disorders, which are particularly prevalent among those who have witnessed armed conflict or nearby explosions.”

Rabih Nader is an Iraqi journalist working in print journalism and television since 2006. He worked as an editor, reporter and editor-in-chief in a variety of Iraqi press organizations, in both written and audiovisual media.

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