Millions of Widows And Fatherless Children Are Unseen Casualties of War

iraqi_widows.jpgNearly three decades of war, brutal totalitarianism, invasion, occupation and insurgency in Iraq have left behind at least a million widows - and several million children without fathers.

That was the conservative estimate earlier in 2009 by Iraq's acting minister for women's affairs, Narmeen Othman. She believes there may even be two million widows.

Under Saddam Hussein, despite the brutality of his regime towards so many of Iraq's people, war widows were looked after by the state. Now, they are mostly hidden and vulnerable.

It's been called Iraq's cultural time bomb.

Close to the surface of the new normality here, there are painful memories, and a yearning for lost loved ones. And - there's anxiety about looking after the children when the breadwinner has gone.

Umm Fatima, for example, worries about her children. Their father Ahmad was shot dead nearly three years ago by men wearing military uniforms. He'd simply been refuelling his taxi cab when they killed him.

Umm Fatima has lost a husband and the family income. She believes it's very important for her and for the children that she re-marries. "A father for them would make us all more secure," she told me - financially, and emotionally.

"They miss their dad," she went on. "And when they meet men sometimes, they want them to give them a hug."

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By Hugh Sykes
BBC News, Baghdad