The Effect of U.S. Troop Presence on Iraqi Families

Photo essay: Lunchtime in Iraq
Video: David MacDougall from Baghdad
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A single fan in the corner of the room hardly stirs the air. Newspaper over one window, covers a crack in the glass. Four toothbrushes — one for each child — are lined up on top of the old green refrigerator. A row of shoes waits by the door. This is the Khoder family home in central Baghdad. All of them live in just one room. This is where the family prepares meals, eats and sleeps. This is where the children play.

We’ve come to have lunch with the Khoders, to hear firsthand what their lives are like, and how their situation may have changed during the past six months — while the Baghdad security plan and U.S. troop surge have been underway.

Jamil is the head of household. At 58, he’s the same age as my dad, but has lived a very different life. He spent 26 years in the Iraqi army, and proudly tells me that he’s a qualified motorbike mechanic. Although he never saw any combat, Jamil served during the Iran-Iraq war and the first Gulf War, playing his part to keep the Iraqi military on the road.

For wife Faraj, this is her second marriage. She has four children — two with Jamil — and two from her first husband, who died. A typical Iraqi housewife, Faraj would normally spend her mornings seeing the kids off to school and going to the market. But she tells me the current security restrictions and violence across the city means she almost never leaves home.

Click over to view a photo essay: Lunchtime in Iraq
Video: David MacDougall from Baghdad

There are also four children in the Khoder family: Saba, ‘Hammed, Ali and Fatima, but none of them go to school. The family was driven from their home in East Baghdad — a Shiite neighborhood — because Jamil and Faraj are Sunnis. They tell me that despite the troop surge of the past six months, it’s still not safe for them to return home, and so the children can’t enroll in school.

The Khoder family’s story is not unique. They are just some of the tens of thousands of Iraqis who’s been forced to leave their homes by sectarian violence, becoming refugees in their own country. These are the people Gen. Petraeus’s troop surge and security plan are supposed to help. But a recent survey conducted by ABC/BBC found that overwhelmingly, Iraqis think the surge has not been a success.

The answers I get from Jamil about the troop surge are mixed. At first, he says the U.S. government is genuinely trying to help solve Iraq’s problems. However, he’s soon telling me that increased security around Baghdad has negatively impacted his life.

Jamil doesn’t make much money. He earns just $100 each month working as a caretaker. He used to try and make some extra cash by trinkets, bought from wholesale merchants, at the market. Since the surge began, that income has dried up, with extra security checkpoints across Baghdad making it extremely difficult for ordinary citizens to move around freely.

Like all parents, Faraj has aspirations and expectations for her children. It’s hoped that Saba and ‘Hammed will become doctors. Ali — the troublemaker according to his mother – will become an engineer. Little Fatima — just four years old and born in a time of war — could become a lawyer.

The Khoder family doesn’t have much in the way of possessions or money. Still, they graciously opened their home to me and my crew — sharing some of that famous Arab hospitality. Right now, it doesn’t seem like they have a very bright future. Continued sectarian violence and security restrictions continue to make Baghdad a divided city. But there is always hope —especially for the next generation.

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David Mac Dougall is a freelance reporter for FOX News in Baghdad.