Foreign Policy Blogs

Mentally disabled and homeless people…the new battleground between AQ and coalition forces.

Iraqi security officials have been ordered to round up homeless people, beggars, and vagrants in effort at preventive counter terrorism. This is a result of the suicide bombings several weeks ago which were supposedly carried out by two women with Down's Syndrome, but recent statements made by US and Iraqi forces indicate that this was probably not the case. According to the New York Times piece published yesterday, the psychiatric records of the women were parsed, and no information on Down's Syndrome was ever mentioned in the paperwork found. However, they were noted to have suffered depression and schizophrenia. The fear is that Al-Qaeda will target these vulnerable people and recruit them to the insurgency, using them as suicide bombers (as was allegedly done in the case of the two female bombers).

In this vein, Major General Abdul-Karim Khalaf says that beggars and homeless people would be taken to state-run shelters, while the mentally disabled would be hospitalized. This is a wonderful idea and it shows that the Iraq government is taking preemptive steps to crack down on the militancy. However, the hospitals in general are overloaded with patients already with very serious physical injuries from the almost daily attacks in Iraq. These hospitals are understaffed, underfunded, and ill-equipped. I have difficulty believing that this is a long term solution to a problem that runs far deeper than simply getting vulnerable people off the streets. If there is no proper hospital or shelter to take care of these people, then what's the point? If the conditions in the shelters or hospitals are bad, there is no stopping them from going back out onto the streets. In the end, this could lead to a waste of time and energy of the security forces and may well breed more resentment against them by the local populace.

An article written by the Associated Press is very clear in its description of the decrepit state of the Iraqi medical system today, with doctors being caught up in the sectarian violence, and IV's and basic medical supplies being in short demand. The black market for legitimate drugs and medication is thriving, while the pharmacy shelves and the hospitals are empty. My point is, if the basic necessities for violent physical injuries is lacking, how can Iraqi hospitals expect to spare staff, facilities, and equipment for large amounts of mentally disabled people? If the government can't fund these hospitals, how are they going to find spare funding for psychiatric hospitals? Although this promise by the Iraqi government to step up their efforts is promising, it seems to be short-sighted and it is not backed up by any credible institutions to sustain the attempt.