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Iraq's forgotten citizens

14-03-2011 News Footage Ref. V F CR-F-0173-A

More than thirty years of war and internal conflict in Iraq has left a legacy of despair. Millions of men and women are unable to care for themselves or their families because they have been severely disabled or have lost their main means of support.

Footage available from the ICRC Video Newsroom (www.icrcvideonewsroom.org), Monday 14 March, together with accompanying press release and dopesheet. Easy to preview and download.

For more information, please contact Didier Revol, ICRC, Geneva, tel: + 41 79 217 32 82, or e-mail

See also:

News release: ICRC to expand initiative to alleviate hardship and restore dignity in Iraq

More than thirty years of war and internal conflict in Iraq has left a legacy of despair. Millions of men and women are unable to care for themselves or their families because they have been severely disabled or have lost their main means of support.  Despite the efforts of the government to provide social welfare programmes, many of these people do not get the support required to stay afloat.  

In Iraq today, the ICRC estimates that about one million women are left to take care of their families because their husbands have been killed, gone missing or have been arrested. Additionally, tens of thousands of men and women around the country are disabled to the point they are not able to support themselves or their families.

Basic services struggle in the country and really only take root in large population centres, but there is often little funding or services available to help people feed and clothe their families.   Rural areas and regions of the country that remain unsecured are worse off, generally seeing no services from the government.

A number of organizations are working in Iraq to bolster the assistance from the government and try to give as many people as possible a chance for a better life.   The ICRC tries to empower the most vulnerable bread-winners in regaining their ability to support themselves and their families, allowing some of the most needy to start their own small business and so generate a little income through what it calls the Micro-Economic Initiatives (MEI) programme.

There are some success stories, people rising from the ashes of lives that, at one point, seemed hopeless because of the realities of what 30 years of war has done to them and to the country.

But not everybody who is in desperate need can be helped. The local and national governments try to do what they can with the budget that is available, but it simply does not reach the vast majority of those in need. As Iraq remains a volatile nation, many of these people and their family members will continue to suffer and go without.

“The people feel that they are a burden to their family because they do not generate any income. So, we think it is better to provide some sort of MEI support, income-generating support to them, so they can generate some money for their livelihood," says Bal Bhujel, ICRC delegate for Micro Economic Initiatives in Iraq.

"They can have some money so they can buy food, they can send their children to school … and they feel like they are a part of society. They feel a part of their family instead of a burden,” Bhujel said.

Story line

In desperate need

In southern Iraq near the town of Amara, Iman Jasim lost her husband four years ago after he was kidnapped.  The family has not heard any news about him, and Iman assumes he was killed by his captors.

His disappearance left her alone with eight children including one severely mentally handicapped.  She was forced to take her oldest sons out of school and put them to work at the local market moving produce.  

“I let my three sons leave school to work, it is only a little they give me now, about five to ten thousand dinars (3 to 7 USD) a week. They don’t earn very much,” according to Iman.

She is unable to work because she says she has too many young children and a disabled son to take care of and is not able to find a job.  After Iman moved from her old neighbourhood, the generosity of the neighbours dried up.  While she has been enrolled by the local government to receive welfare, she has not seen any money from the system yet and does not know why.

Iman remains one of Iraq's most desperate.

A tiny grant that makes all the difference

In a remote area of southern Iraq near the town of Amara, Zahra Fathil lost her husband and one of her sons when they struck a landmine while farming their land.  Pregnant with twins and with eight other children to take care of, Zahra relied for a while on what little her brother-in-law could provide.

Because that was not nearly enough, Zahra came up with the idea of running a small food and drink stand near her home.  With a micro-economic grant from the ICRC she was able to stock the shelves and buy the equipment to run the store.

With the help of her young son, who does the book-keeping, Zahra says she is making more money than she expected and is able to provide breakfast for her children, something they had not been getting for some time.

Far from well off, Zahra is one of the few who have been able to pull herself and her family back from the threat of destitution.

'Enough money for the family'

In Erbil, northern Iraq, 59 year old Hassan Majid Rasul is once again selling produce and supporting his family.  But after he lost the use of his legs in 1986 when military forces attacked his car by mistake, he was no longer able to support his family.  His sons were forced to leave school and work in the local market to pay for food.

Confined to a wheel chair and unable to move without the help of family members, he often just sat with his children or waited by the gate of his home still unable to financially support his family. Eventually, doctors convinced Hassan to amputate his legs so he could get prostheses and learn to walk again.  It was a tough decision but Hassan regained mobility and was able to walk with his sons who were still working in the market.

In 2008 a grant from the ICRC gave Hassan a motor-cart he could operate with his artificial legs.  He started a business selling chickens, melons and other produce from the back of the cart and began seeing the desperately needed money coming in.

“After I got this motor bike, my financial situation improved. I earn between 40,000 and 50,000 Iraqi dinar ($42 USD) per week. There is enough money for the family.”

“The change is that I can now go out and sell things by myself, not like before when I just had to sit with my children. I can sell chickens and afterwards take my grand children out on the bike for a ride, just for fun."


Amara, Iraq

00:00 Pan up from puddle of sewage to dusty street scene
00:09 MS four workers moving bricks and building wall
00:12 WS of street with same workers and a man walking down the street
00:15 MS of pile of dirt and trash in foreground and woman and children entering house in background
00:21 Shot of outside of home of Iman Jasim as some of her children run up to meet her at door.
00:31 MS of Iman Jasim sitting in her home with three of her children as she looks at a photo of her husband.
00:35 CU of iman's hand
00:39 CU of one of the faces of Iman's three children sitting with her.
00:42 CU of photo of Iman's husband as he sells produce at a market
SOT Iman Jasim, Widow(Arabic) "If they knew he (Iman's husband) had eight kids.  Why would they take him, what would the do to him?  What will they say to Allah when they face him."
00:46 MS of Iman holding photo as she sits with some of her children
00:56 CU of two of Iman's sons as they sit with her
01:00 MS of Iman holding photo of her husband
01:05 Kids faces
01:12 CU of Iman's hand holding Iraqi dinars
01:16 MS of Iman sitting on floor holding money she gives to her children as she sends them out to buy tomatoes at the market.
01:24 SOT Iman Jasim, Widow (Arabic), "Four years ago the government officials from Amara sent a letter to me.  A commission came down here to arrange for my pension.  I waited for four or five months to hear how much pension I should receive, but I still have not heard anything."  
01:35 MS of children returning from the market and bringing food into house and Iman taking small bags and putting them on the counter.
01:49 Iman bringing into a room a large platter with food to serve her children sitting in a circle on the floor and they all begin to eat.
02:21 MS looking out of dirty window at a woman wearing traditional black wear standing with children as car drives by.
02:25 Push-in through window on same woman standing with children.
02:30 Iman walking through metal gate of her home, she is greeted by another woman.
02:35 CU of Iman's face as she speaks to the other woman.
02:43 MS Iman walking down street and passing by the camera and she continues to walk.

Near Amara, Iraq

02:57 WS of very dusty dirt road with mud-brick buildings.
03:01 MS dog walking
03:09 MS of Zahra Fathil walking in dusty area and walks into her home
03:23 SOT Zahra Fathil, Widow, (Arabic) "We had some farmland where he was ploughing and planting wheat.  When the explosion went off it killed my husband and one of my sons. They were there to irrigate the field when the explosion happened."
03:48 Tilt down from ceiling fan to Zahra and her children playing in room.  Her brother-in-law sits against the wall also playing with children.
04:00 MS photo of Zahra's husband
04:04 CU of photo of Zahra's husband
04:08 WS of Zahra and her children playing in room.  Her brother-in-law sits against the wall also playing with children.
04:12 SOT: Zahra Fathil, Widow, (Arabic)" Nobody can help us. All of my family is in Amara and I cannot afford to move there.  He (Zahra's brother-in-law) gave us this room, I rely on him because he gave me this room.  But he does not have the means to help us, because he does not have a job."
04:48 MS Zahra feeding her twin babies on the floor.
04:52 Various shots of Zahra and brother-in-law playing with children.
05:22 Various shots outside exterior of Zarah's shop with single window and surrounding area
05:31 MS of the inside of Zahra's shop showing cooler and some stocked shelves
05:35 MS of Zahra's son checking drinks in cooler.
05:47 MS of interior of shop showing some items for sale.
05:50 MS of Zahra's son selling drinks to children from the store window

  • Copyright: ICRC Access All
  • Release year: November 2010
  • Production locations: Iraq
  • Running time: 9'55min
  • Languages available: (Sound) English, Arabic, Kurdish
  • Reference: V F CR-F-0173-A

Format: 16:9