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Iraq's 'Al-Qaeda Widows' Seek Help, Rehabilitation

BAGHDAD -- Scores of Iraqi women forced into marriages with Al-Qaeda fighters following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 are seeking government help to rebuild their lives and provide for their children, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

Iman Abbas, head of a nongovernmental organization in the Diyala Province northwest of Baghdad that provides legal aid to women victims of violence, told RFI on September 29 that dozens of women have turned to her center for help after their foreign husbands were either killed or fled Iraq.

Abbas said the children of such marriages are regarded as illegitimate and are thus deprived of all rights. She estimated that there are 50-60 children from such forced marriages who will not be able to receive education or state medical care. Abbas said there is also a social stigma associated with the circumstances of kids' conception.

She said the mothers of these children are appealing to the government to grant their children citizenship rights under the 2006 citizenship law that provides for such rights if the mother is an Iraqi citizen.

Diyala police spokesman Ghalid Attia told RFI that a program has been launched involving sociologists, psychologists, the Red Crescent, and other humanitarian organizations to rehabilitate members of this outcast group.

Attia said these children are vulnerable to all kinds of risks, including delinquency and joining the insurgency as a reaction to being rejected by society.

He underlined that the first step is to clarify the number of victims of these forced marriages and review their living conditions to determine precisely what help they need.

Deputy Interior Minister Ahmad al-Khafaji told RFI that the government does not hold those children or their mothers responsible for the misdeeds of their fathers. He added that while there is no central plan to help them, the government is committed to ensuring their basic human rights.

Dr. Qassim Hussein, chairman of the Iraqi Psychological Association, told RFI that due to unforgiving social attitudes, a bleak future awaits these women and their offspring.

Hussein stressed the need for tolerance and understanding, saying that innocent children should not have to suffer due to wrongdoing by their fathers.