Caught in Crossfire: The war-torn generation of Iraq

Iraqi children taking shelter under a truck during the war in Iraq. Reuters

“Fearing for the safety of their civilians, coalition forces went to kill Iraqi civilians.”

By Hariz Aftab | Muslim Mirror 


The United States led invasion of Iraq according to Congressional Research Service (CRS Reports) commenced on 19th of March 2003. The combined troops of United States (Operation Iraqi Freedom), United Kingdom (Operation Telic), Poland, and Australia launched the invasion on the grounds that Iraq possessed “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMD) and “Saddam-al-Qaeda conspiracy theory.” However, former U.S. weapon inspector and head of Iraq Survey Group (ISG) David Kay in 2004 told Congress that United States was “almost all wrong” about the Weapons of Mass Destruction and other pre-war judgments contradicting his own previous statements. The search for WMDs was subsequently aborted. “Iraq Intelligence Commission” a panel signed by George W. Bush in 2005 inferred similar conclusions. In “Doubts Cast on Efforts to Link Saddam, al-Qaida,” journalists Warren P. Strobel, Jonathan S. Landay, and John Walcott quote a senior U.S. official saying, “We could find no provable connection between Saddam and al-Qaida.” Later, the former U.S. president George W. Bush and former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair, both, expressed remorse for the invasion based on flawed intelligence yet George Bush told The Sky News that “ousting Saddam was the right thing” to do. This statement, however, contradicts the prime motivation for the invasion.

Rationale and Inquiries
Rationale for the invasion of Iraq articulated in a 2002 document “Iraq Resolution” included search for weapons of mass destruction, combating terrorism, human rights, democracy to Middle East, freedom of Iraqi people, divine inspiration (BBC reported George W. Bush saying “God inspired me to hit al-Qaeda and Saddam) and Oil (a report by BBC journalist Gregory Palast and a statement by George Bush’s ex-treasury secretary Paul O’Neill). O’Neill revealed that George Bush planned the invasion before deadly 9/11 attacks as he was handed over briefing materials entitled “Plan for post-Saddam Iraq.” Regardless of multifarious objectives, the thorough achievement of any individual objective appears elusive despite a two-decade long period. The academic writings justifying the invasion also fail to enlist its merits. The United States failed to convince its own citizens (62%) and veterans (64%) into believing that the Iraq war was worth fighting for as per Pew Research Center, 2019. The findings of an inquiry “The Chilcot Report” 2016 announced in 2009 by former UK Prime Minister James Gordon Brown put the whole set of rationale and the idea of the invasion to test. It concluded that the invasion was carried out by intentional exaggeration of threat, in unsatisfactory circumstances and way before the peaceful options were consumed. There was no post war planning/strategy and the production of flawed information by the intelligence. More importantly, there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussain.


The invasion and occupation led to widespread death and destruction in Iraq. Combined data of the most cited “The Iraq War Logs” by Wikileaks and “Iraq Body count” (IBC) (2003-2011) provides a total figure of 1,62,000 (approx.) deaths in which 79% were civilians. However, there are other surveys like “Iraqiyun” (2006), “IFHS” (2008) and “Iraq Health Ministry” (2006) that report 1,50,000 deaths (approx.) from 2003 to 2006 only. Surveys like “Opinion Research Business” (2007,2008) estimate the number of 1.21 million deaths. “PLOS Medicine” survey in 2013 estimated the deaths to be 4,61,000. As per IBC, from 2003-2011, 64,746 civilians were killed by small arms gunfire, 39,287 were killed by IEDs, ariel bombardment and suicide attacks, and 5,839 were killed by airstrikes, cannon fires, bombs, and missiles. United States is reported to have killed more civilians compared to other members of the coalition forces. From 2005-2007, an average of three civilian killings have occurred due to US-led coalition per day shows IBC data. In an interview to The Washington Post, a US soldier Steven Green confessed that he went to Iraq to kill people and it was “as easy as getting a Pizza.”

Besides physical consequences, the psychological issues affecting the Iraqi population were on board but, unfortunately, left behind. An entire generation grew up in a war zone. According to a study conducted by World Health Organization (WHO) in 2007, mental health disorders were the fourth leading cause of ill health in Iraqis over the age of 5 years. The war pushed the people of Iraq into poverty, hunger and disease inducing a surge in mortality rate. One in every six citizens in Iraq is an orphan according to Humanium. The torture, physical and sexual abuse, rape and killing of prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison claimed as isolated incidents by George Bush is another aftermath of the invasion. The “isolated incidents” claim is however disputed as part of the policy by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations due to leakage of the document “Torture Memos” in June 2004 which discussed enhanced interrogation techniques like sleep deprivation, waterboarding and bondage in stress positions. “The Road to Abu Gharib” a report by Human Rights Watch examines how the Bush administration deliberately permitted the use of illegal interrogation techniques.


The Mahmudiyah rape and killings were a war crime by United Sates army soldiers involving the gangrape of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, the murders of her 6-year-old sister Hadeel Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, her 34-year-old mother Fakhriyah Taha Muhasen and her 45-year-old father Qassim Hamza Raheem on March 12, 2006, in their village to the west of the town of Al-Mahmudiyah, Iraq. Survivors included Abeer’s 9-year-old brother Amed and 11-year-old brother Mohammed as they were at school during the massacre. The petrifying details of the case by itself demonstrate the condition of children in Iraq post invasion.

The data obtained by Iraq Body Count (IBC) concerning the age of 45,779 out of 64,746 civilians confirms that 3,911 (8.54%) of those killed were children under the age of 18. The Iraqiyun survey of 2006 estimated the death toll to be 1,28,000 between 2003 and 2005 out of which 55% were women and children. According to Moroccan Organization of human rights more than 174 children were killed and 773 injured in 2010 alone. War pushed Iraqi children to poverty, malnutrition, deteriorated physical and mental health, discrimination, abuse, child labor, and deprived them of education. The children were orphaned and exploited as child soldiers. Child trafficking and kidnapping became common. Quoting Humanium, “31 children were kidnapped for ransom” in 2010. As reported by the United Nations Development Program, since 1991, more than 01 million children have become victims of bombs and anti-personal mines.

Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in 2006 approximated one-third of all the children in Baghdad, Mosul, and Dohuk demonstrating symptoms of moderate to severe mental illness. Another study conducted by Razoki and his team in 2006 estimated that 14% of children living in Baghdad and 30% in Mosul had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In 2007, a study by Al-Jawadi and Abdul-Rhman concluded that 37% of children who were patients in a primary health facility in Mosul demonstrated mental disorders. AbdulKareen AlObaidi in his research paper in 2011 cited a clinical study conducted in 2005 that reported anxiety disorder diagnosed in 22% of children and behavioral problems in 18% children in Baghdad. Another study (2006) cited in the same research paper reports Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in 15% of school children in the city of Nasiriyah. There are only a few surveys like the aforementioned ones in comparison to the impact of the invasion. The chaotic atmosphere was highly likely to hinder the research and survey pertaining to children.

The killing of children, however, never ceased in Iraq. Sanctions on Iraq killed the children before invasion, forces, insurgents, poverty, and disease killed them during war and unexploded landmines continue killing them at present. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and United Nations Mine Action service (UNMAS) in a joint statement in 2022 made public that nearly 519 children have been killed by unexploded bombs/ordnance (UXBs/UXO) over the last five years. According to Humanity and Inclusion formerly known as Handicap International, Iraq still has more than 3,225 square kilometers of land contaminated with unexploded bombs/ordnance.


Invasion of Iraq is more than a chapter in the books of history. It is a horrifying tale of abuse, physical and mental agony, gross violation of human rights, bloodshed, cruelty, death, and destruction unleashed upon children and adult citizens alike. Young generations have grown up amid conflict and suffered exceedingly. People have paid an enormous price for a two-decade long conflict. They stand at the receiving end of the boundless injustice. Peace is obliterated from their daily life. Scars of the invasion are an inseparable part of their life. Moreover, the crimes committed against them have largely been forgotten and persistent conflict has made it unfeasible to do something for their progress on a large scale.

Hariz Aftab is a Doctoral Researcher and can be contacted at



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