Iraq takes action to reduce suicide rate in the country

Iraq's Interior Ministry wants to build fences around bridges to prevent suicide attempts.

al-monitor A view of a bridge over the Tigris River in Baghdad, Iraq, Sept. 1, 2010.  Photo by REUTERS/Mohammed Ameen.

May 6, 2019

The Iraqi Interior Ministry wants to build fences around the bridges of the capital city of Baghdad in order to reduce the increasing number of suicide attempts. The ministry submitted a proposal in this regard on April 15 with the support of Baghdad Provincial Council president Riyad al-Adadh, who described the project as “a viable and feasible idea.”

The proposal recognizes the increasing suicide rate in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities at a time when the news of suicide makes headlines on an almost daily basis.

A security source reported April 29 on the condition of anonymity that a river rescue force rescued a young woman who tried to throw herself from al-Jadriyah Bridge in central Baghdad. A 46-year-old woman immolated herself April 29 in Nasiriyah in the center of Dhi Qar province. A day before, a man had tried to commit suicide by throwing himself from al-Joumhuriya Bridge in central Baghdad. Also on April 28, a young man committed suicide by hanging himself in his tent in a refugee camp east of Kirkuk. A Kurdish judge in the Kurdistan Region, Subhi Abdellay, shot himself live on Facebook.

Ali al-Bayati, spokesman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Baghdad, revealed to Al-Monitor official statistics that his office obtained from government agencies and field surveys.

According to these statistics, “The first three months of the year 2019 witnessed 135 cases of suicide in different provinces, except for Baghdad, whose statistics they have not obtained yet. Kirkuk [in the north] topped the list of cities that witnessed suicide attempts, followed by the province of Basra [in the south].”

“In 2017, 840 people committed suicide. With 350 cases, Baghdad topped the list of cities that witnessed suicide operations, followed by Kirkuk. These statistics did not include the Kurdistan Region, where the suicide rate is also remarkable,” he added.

Bayati said the year 2018 "witnessed about 460 cases, excluding some provinces that were either reluctant to reveal statistics or did not have any.”

"In 2017 and 2018, the suicide rate in females was remarkably higher than in males,” he added.

Despite these huge figures, the ministry’s intended security fence was widely criticized by social networking activists, social experts, and concerned officials and citizens.

Saad al-Matlabi, a member of Baghdad’s provincial council, told Al-Monitor, “The construction of a fence will not limit the number of suicide attempts. The concerned parties should understand the real reasons that are leading individuals to commit suicide.”

In addition, this phenomenon requires a comprehensive vision and a variety of solutions, not just a fence. The government does not seem to have a vision in this regard.

Ahmad al-Thahabi, a researcher in psychology at the University of Baghdad, told Al-Monitor that the real reasons are “the social and economic pressures and the violent environment that resulted from the wars and the security chaos that lasted for many years in Iraq. There is also a clear shortage in the necessities of a comfortable life, namely water and electricity. This causes individuals to lose control and commit suicide.”

Thahabi said that “substance abuse creates a state of despair and depression and ultimately leads to suicide. Most of those who attempt suicide are either unemployed, unable to scratch out a living, or have social problems related to honor and tribal revenge.”

He added, "Social research at the University of Baghdad suggests that suicide is rampant among women, especially girls, as Iraqi society is a patriarchal society where women do not enjoy the same rights as men. They are insulted and beaten at the first mistake or whenever someone is angry at them.”

“There are mothers who commit suicide because they have no breadwinner and cannot provide for their children, let alone themselves. Poverty drives women either to commit suicide or to disappear,” Thahabi said.

Khulood al-Shammari, a social researcher and member of the civil organization the Tigris and Euphrates Sons Gathering, said, “This is only a provisional solution. But there are civil and human rights organizations and social institutions that are working to establish effective and continuous means to treat and prevent this problem.”

She said there is “an advanced step in this direction that was carried out by the Integrity Commission in coordination with civil society organizations, including her organization, and with support of the United Nations Development Programme, in order to train and prepare researchers and psychologists and develop health programs aimed at treating the phenomenon of suicide.”

Former judge and legal expert Ali al-Tamimi told Al-Monitor, “Article 408 of the Penal Code punishes any person who incites a person to commit suicide by a term of imprisonment not exceeding seven years. If the person who commits suicide is under 18 years of age, it is considered an aggravating circumstance.”

“There is no penalty for attempted suicide,” he added.

Tamimi attributed the main cause of suicide to “economic factors and poverty” and proposed “parliamentary legislation that allocates a share of the oil [revenues] to citizens and increases the items included in the ration card.”

Parliament member Yusra Rajab, who is a member of the Human Rights Parliamentary Commission, told Al-Monitor that “the suicide rate has reached serious levels" and measures needed to address the problem. “[There is a need] for research that determines the real causes of suicide. Also, [there is a need] for projects to be established with the Ministries of Health, Interior and Labor, civil society organizations and religious institutions.”

“Fighting this phenomenon has become a priority,” Rajab added.

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