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Iraqis traumatized, trapped in deadly violence

The violence plaguing the country has disrupted Iraqis' lives in myriad ways, and many now rely on psychiatric medication to cope.

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(ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images)

The Iraqi dentist never got over being kidnapped, chained to a bed and abused. Today, like millions of his countrymen running the gauntlet of daily violence, he lives in fear.

"He's changed completely. He's always nervous, even hostile. He never feels safe," says Dr. Nesif al-Hemiary, a 50-year-old psychiatrist, speaking of his friend, whose identity he will not reveal.

Iraq is still plagued by violence more than 10 years after US-led forces toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, with more than 3,000 people killed since January 1.

On Monday, after a wave of violence killed dozens of people, the interior ministry warned of civil war.

Iraq is faced with "open war waged by the forces of bloody sectarianism aiming to plunge the country into chaos and reproduce civil war," a statement said.

The dentist was kidnapped from his practice in 2007, one of scores of such abductions that marked the height of Iraq's bloody sectarian conflict.

He was freed a few days later after a ransom was paid.

Many Iraqis have experienced similar traumas, which have scarred them for life.

"They kept him chained to a bed, blindfolded. They hit him, they insulted him," and had sex with a woman in front of him, Hemiary says of his friend's ordeal.

"They called his family and threatened to kill him if they didn't pay up. They forced him to plead for his life.

"After several days, the family paid up and he was dumped on a street in a terrible state."

Hemiary said his friend wanted to flee Iraq but his diplomas were not recognized abroad, so he just sent his two children to the United States.

Meanwhile, he became "obsessive-compulsive. He fears contamination. Dirt. He's always afraid. He always takes a different way home."

The dentist refused counseling because "people here don't want to be stigmatized as being mad or possessed," says Hemiary, who teaches at Baghdad University and runs a private practice.

People in Iraq are "anxious, frustrated, tired, depressed, and have no hope in the future," he says, hoping his own children will emigrate.

Iraqis, he says, are like rats in a cage.

"When you put a rat in a cage with different compartments and give it an electroshock, it escapes to the next compartment. But if you keep doing that, it ends up not moving because it has learned there's no escape.

"It's the same thing for Iraqis. Those with the means to leave the country have already done so. The others know there's no way out."

The violence plaguing the country has disrupted Iraqis' lives in many ways, including a marked increase in divorce and domestic violence, says Hemiary.

Some Iraqis, he says, are "just permanently stressed" and will jump at the honk of a car horn or get into arguments at the drop of a hat.

"It's really hard. I'm always on edge, always tired," says Qaisar, a 26-year-old traffic policeman, standing in the midday heat on a busy Baghdad thoroughfare.

"When I get home in the evening, I don't even have the energy to talk to my wife or children. I go straight to bed."

Qaisar, who declined to give his surname, admitted he was constantly afraid of being killed and thought of quitting the force.

Tahisir Khaled, a 28-year-old pharmacist, says many customers want to buy sedatives, "even without prescription."

This is true of young men especially, "because they are on the front line, while women mostly stay at home," she adds.

Khulud, a 45-year-old woman who did not want to give her full name, suffers from high blood pressure.

"I lost my husband in 2006 when I was three months pregnant. He was kidnapped and killed. Since then, I'm always sick and everyone says it's stress-related.

"You get very nervous when you hear explosions, even if you're used to it. Every time that happens, I call my family to check that everyone is okay."

Her seven-year-old daughter, Wadaq, often asks to see a picture of her father and said one day that she wanted to take a taxi "to go and fetch daddy in paradise."

Other than drugs, two things help make Iraqis resilient, Hemiary believes.

"They see themselves as victims. They feel that everything is beyond their control," so there is no feeling of guilt attached to what is going on.

And for Muslims, he adds, it is easier to accept one's fate because "everything is in the hands of God."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130730/iraqis-traumatised-trapped-deadly-violence