“If the situation progresses, we will be just like India...They are busy building public fountains when we don’t have water in the sink.”
- Abdulalah F. Alafar, director of the Maryam Establishment for Children charity in Baghdad.
The American invasion of Iraq has left quite a legacy. We've lost billions of dollars in cash meant for Iraq's reconstruction, while the women left widows by our bombing sell themselves for enough money to survive:
Among Iraqi women aged 15 to 80, 1 in 11 are estimated to be widows, though officials admit that figure is hardly more than a guess, given the continuing violence and the displacement of millions of people. A United Nations report estimated that during the height of sectarian violence here in 2006, 90 to 100 women were widowed each day.
In large cities like Baghdad, the presence of war widows is difficult to ignore. Cloaked in black abayas, they wade through columns of cars idling at security checkpoints, asking for money or food. They wait in line outside mosques for free blankets, or sift through mounds of garbage piled along the street. Some live with their children in public parks or inside gas station restrooms.
Officials at social service agencies tell of widows coerced into “temporary marriages” — relationships sanctioned by Shiite tradition, often based on sex, which can last from an hour to years — to get financial help from government, religious or tribal leaders.
Other war widows have become prostitutes, and some have joined the insurgency in exchange for steady pay. The Iraqi military estimates that the number of widows who have become suicide bombers may be in the dozens.
In the past several weeks, even as the government has formed commissions to study the problem, it has begun a campaign to arrest beggars and the homeless, including war widows.
[...] Efforts to increase the government stipend for widows — currently about $50 a month and an additional $12 per child — have stalled. By comparison, the price of a five-liter container of gasoline, used for cars as well as home generators, is about $4.
Still, only about 120,000 widows — roughly one in six — receive any state aid, according to government figures. Widows and their advocates say that to receive benefits they must either have political connections or agree to temporary marriages with the powerful men who control the distribution of government funds.
“It is blackmail,” said Samira al-Mosawi, chairwoman of the women’s affairs committee in Parliament. “We have no law to treat this point. Widows don’t need temporary support, but a permanent solution.”
The latest plan, proposed by Mazin al-Shihan, director of the Baghdad Displacement Committee, a city agency, is to pay men to marry widows. “There is no serious effort by the national government to fix this problem, so I presented my own program,” he said.
When asked why the money should not go directly to the women, Mr. Shihan laughed.
“If we give the money to the widows, they will spend it unwisely because they are uneducated and they don’t know about budgeting,” he said. “But if we find her a husband, there will be a person in charge of her and her children for the rest of their lives. This is according to our tradition and our laws.”
Yeah, because it would be too difficult to just educate them. And besides, then they get ideas - and we can't have that.