Posted on Aug 7, 2021 at 6:00 am
TEXTS AND PHOTOS: Adil Boukind Special collaboration *
(Mosul) Strolling the streets of Old Mosul with Othman al-Maadhidi, 22, is like strolling through an open air cemetery.
In the neighborhood, senior US Army officers have described it as the most intense urban war since World War II. For the young Moussouliote, the liberation was painful and walking through the streets, where the destruction is still visible, preserves painful memories.
The latter lost several relatives, including his mother, in clashes between the Islamic State armed group and the Iraqi armed forces and their allies. Some of these losses were caused by coalition bombing.
At a bend in the road stands the rubble of a building that has not yet been cleared for the old house of his friends.
“It’s hard to live here, the destruction isn’t just material,” explains Othman, looking at the building. “Many people died during the liberation. ”
Despite the grief, it was unthinkable for the young man and his family to return to anything other than the rebuilt family home after a year and a $ 10,000 investment.
They destroyed everything and forgot us.
Difficult healing for women
In the southern part of the city, where the traces of war are less present but the poverty is clearly visible, the NGO Médecins sans frontières (MSF) has opened a specialized center that treats only mental illnesses.
In this center, the patients are disproportionately female. “Men who find work and for whom a social life is more accessible find it easier to return to normal life,” explains Kithman Ahmead, one of the psychologists at MSF.
Women are often locked in their own four walls, have few career prospects and are often dependent on their families.
This was the case with Hanan, who decided to keep his last name a secret for security reasons. Obviously still traumatized, she tells her story with fleeing glances and uncontrolled tremors.
“There is nothing that can give us hope,” complains the 25-year-old young woman, who lost her husband while fleeing the clashes.
The psychological support sessions that began in December 2020 have been lifesaving for those who until recently had thoughts of suicide.
All genders combined, MSF has offered nearly 32,000 consultations since September 2019. However, the COVID-19 crisis has doubled the rate of depression in its patients from 10% to 20%.
The work of NGOs is therefore a lifeline in this country where the health system has very few mental health professionals. There are only 138 psychiatrists and 60 social workers for a population of more than 38 million, the World Health Organization reported in 2020, and data provided by the Iraqi Ministry of Health. In addition, there is a certain reluctance of the population towards advice.
There is still a stigma against mental health, although it is less and less present.
Kithman Ahmead, psychologist at Doctors Without Borders
In some cases, psychosocial support is provided through physiotherapeutic care. Handicap International (HI) has chosen this approach. In addition to treating war wounded, the NGO offers all relatives of the victims psychosocial support. “We have seen how many former beneficiaries have come back to us since the health crisis to receive psychosocial care,” says Abduljabbar Munther, deputy project manager at Handicap International.
“People with disabilities have often lost hope for the future,” he adds.
Among these patients is Ali Raad Adil, 24, who was injured by a missile residue that left him paraplegic. The youth had to spend more than two years in his apartment for lack of a wheelchair after the fighting ended.
His mental health was at an all-time low during this time when his only social interactions were with his friends visiting him at his house.
“In the beginning I was very isolated, but today I’ve become much more social again,” he says with a smile. Although his means of transport is no longer perfectly tailored to his needs, the young man has regained his independence and even wants to start his mobile phone repair business.
While Ali’s case is encouraging, there is still a lot to be done, says Munther.
“The health system still needs support in terms of rehabilitation and mental health. Much support can be given to help the government build the capacity of health workers and provide mental health care to all hospitals. ”
* This report was produced thanks to the Quebec International Journalism Fund.
Three years of terror
The Islamic State (IS) armed group is a terrorist group that comes from the most extreme branch of Al-Qaeda. ISIS, often referred to by its Arabic acronym Daesh, aims to establish a caliphate in the Middle East (Iraq, Syria, Lebanon). This terror group took advantage of the political and regional instability and invaded eastern Syria and north-western Iraq. In 2014 IS invaded Mosul and the city was not to be captured until three years later, in 2017. Although no official death toll has been released, the conflict in Iraq has resulted in the displacement of 2 million people in camps.