Children of al-Qaeda in Iraq pay for sins of their fathers

Suspected al-Qaeda militants killed five Iraqi soldiers in a brazen dawn attack Tuesday at a western Baghdad checkpoint and planted the terror group's black banner before fleeing the scene.
By Leila Fadel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 21, 2010; 3:24 AM

IN BAQUBAH, IRAQ Zahraa is a rambunctious toddler. She still sucks on a pacifier, and her mother dresses her in pink. But according to the government, she does not exist.

The daughter of an al-Qaeda in Iraq militant who forced her mother into marriage and motherhood, then disappeared, Zahraa is one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of children whose births amid the anarchy and insurgent violence of Iraq were never legally recorded.

Without the paperwork to prove that she is the child of an Iraqi man and that her parents were joined in a legitimate marriage before her birth, Zahraa and others like her have no rights as Iraqi citizens, legal experts say. They do not have birth certificates, passports or national identification cards and will be unable to go to school or hold a government job.

These children, a little-noticed legacy of more than seven years of war, are paying for the sins of their fathers.

"It's dangerous because in the future they might hurt the society that hurt them," said Ahmed Jassim, director of the Nour Foundation, a nongovernmental organization working to improve the lives of the militants' offspring in the northeastern Iraqi province of Diyala.

The children are products of a time when al-Qaeda in Iraq controlled large swaths of the nation after the U.S.-led invasion. The legal system broke down, institutions stopped functioning and an insurgency raged. Some Sunni Muslim communities gave sanctuary to the men, Iraqi and foreign Arabs, believing they would help rid them of a foreign army. But al-Qaeda in Iraq quickly grew brutal, overpowered other Iraqi insurgent groups, declared an Islamic state and enforced a severe form of Islamic law.

Communities slowly turned on the group, and the men of al-Qaeda in Iraq were jailed or killed, or are lurking in the shadows. The undocumented children they left behind are now between 1 and 4 years old.

Jassim has identified at least 125 families in Diyala province alone with children from forced al-Qaeda in Iraq marriages. Many of the women don't know the real identities of their absent husbands and fear that if they fight for the rights of their children, they and the men of their families will be scorned or jailed for a connection to the outlawed organization.

The country's political void has not helped. More than six months after the national parliamentary elections, a government has yet to be formed. Many of the women are Sunni Arabs and worry that a Shiite-led government would lack sympathy and consider them accomplices in the crimes of their missing husbands.

Officials in the Interior Ministry tasked with assisting victims of the Iraq war said the women are not considered victims of rape and, although the situation is unfortunate, there is nothing they can do.

"Helping them could encourage al-Qaeda in Iraq," said Fadhil al-Shweilli, a ministry official who deals with victims of war.

Legal experts said the easiest solution would be to give the children to orphanages or forge their birth certificates with the name of a fake father.

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