Birth rate soars in Iraq since war

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By James Palmer

BAGH­DAD — In the face of re­lent­less vi­o­lence, po­lit­i­cal chaos, eco­nomic un­cer­tainty and nightly cur­fews, Iraq’s ma­ter­nity wards are ex­pe­ri­encin­ga­nun­likely­baby­boom.

De­spiteth­eob­sta­cles,the­birthrate in Iraq ac­tu­ally has in­creased since the U.S.-led in­va­sion 43 months ago, ac­cord­ing to the coun­try’s Health Min­istry. The rate of births in the coun­try has jumped from 29 births per 1,000 peo­ple in 2003 to 37 per 1,000 last year, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment fig­ures.

In neigh­bor­ing Iran, the birthrate ishalfthat—21per1,000pop­u­la­tion, while the av­er­age birthrate in the Mid­dle East is 25, ac­cord­ing to the World Bank. The birthrate in the United States is about 14 births per 1,000peo­ple,ac­cord­ing­tothefed­eral Cen­ters­forDiseaseCon­trolandPreven­tion.ThanaaAl­lad­inMo­hammed, a doc­tor who helped com­pile the sta­tis­tics,saidtheIraqi­tra­di­tionoflarge fam­i­lies is pri­mar­ily re­spon­si­ble for the birthrate. “Peo­ple want to have chil­dren, re­gard­less of the vi­o­lence,” she said.

Haithem Ram­dam, a 34-year-old en­gi­neer and first-time par­ent, agreed.

“I’m more con­cerned about the money needed to take care of my fam­i­lythanIam­about­these­cu­ri­tysi­t­u­a­tion,” said Mr. Ram­dam, whose child, a girl named Ja­mani, was born Oct.2.“Thi­sis­partofthe­cy­cle­oflife, and you can’t stop it.”

That cy­cle, Iraqis say, also drives many par­ents whose chil­dren have beenkilled­by­war-re­lat­ed­vi­o­lenceto pro­duce more. Fourat Hameed, 29, watched his 3-year-old son, Yous­eff, die af­ter the taxi they were rid­ing in struck a road­side bomb near Baqouba,40milesnorthofBagh­dad, in Septem­ber 2003. The fol­low­ing year,Mr.Hameed’swife,Du­nai,gave birth to a girl, and in April, they had an­other son, also named Yous­eff.

“That boy is a gift from God,” said Mr. Hameed, who noted the im­por­tance­manyIraqis­placeon­bearinga son­toleadthe­fam­ilyand­car­ry­onits name. “Of course, we can never re­placethechild­welost,butwe­wanted a son.”

Iraqi women seek­ing to give birth in a hospi­tal but un­able to af­ford the $200 fee charged by most private fa­cil­i­ties in Bagh­dad must turn to gov­ern­ment-run hos­pi­tals. Th­ese hos­pi­tals, Iraqis say, of­ten lack staff, equip­ment and medicine.

Sabrya Fa­hed, whose daugh­ter Kamel de­liv­ered her first child at the Al-WiyahHospi­talin­east­Bagh­dadon Oct. 4, said giv­ing birth in a Bagh­dad hospi­tal is more ar­du­ous now.

“Igave­birth­forthe­last­timeinthis same­hos­pi­tal11yearsago,an­de­v­ery­thing was much bet­ter then,” said the 43-year-old Mrs. Fa­hed, who has five chil­dren. “Now ev­ery­thing is worse, from the treat­ment of the staff to the con­di­tion of the build­ing.”

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