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Iraq’s disabled fight for war compensation

Baghdad — Milad Jassim hobbles into the family sitting room, her legs dragging behind her and her slumped shoulders propped up by the arms of her sister and father, who sets out the young woman’s predicament.

"These documents prove the wounds my daughter suffered," Jassim Mohammed Jassim says with a sigh, thumbing through a dossier of police, hospital and doctors’ reports, "but I do not think it will result in anything being done."

Milad was at home in the family’s Baghdad apartment when a massive suicide truck bomb exploded 200 metres away at the foreign ministry, killing dozens on August 19.

Flat out on the floor, and barely able to move, she instantly joined the ranks of the estimated 130,000 Iraqis left at least partially disabled from violence in the six-and-a-half years since the US-led invasion.

With her father displaying pictures that show his daughter’s bandaged-up head and bloodied ears in the aftermath of the explosion, the attractive but despondent dark-haired 27-year-old tries to explain her hapless state of mind.

"No-one can understand what the human being feels like," Milad says, as pain in her back and neck leaves her struggling to sit comfortably on a sofa.

"No-one cares that I wish to walk, to travel and find a solution to my problem. I want someone to help me but my life is about to be over and I get nothing."

The Jassim family, and thousands more Iraqis whose relatives have been crippled in unrest, are seeking a central government compensation scheme to safeguard the rights of the wounded and deliver sufficient money to fund care in their remaining lives.

Iraq’s civilian casualty figures remain controversial, but an estimate by the British website Iraq Body Count puts the death toll at between 93,148 and 101,650.

However the legacy of disablement, rather than death, is now swinging into focus, as many families struggle to care for relatives who survived murderous attacks but were left with debilitating, and often life-long injuries.

A law passed by the toppled regime of now executed dictator Saddam Hussein provides compensation for state employees killed or wounded in violence.

But private citizens, such as Milad, have no official recourse and are reliant on discretionary and often patchy, ad-hoc payments from local authorities.

The Medical Council Department, a health ministry office in Baghdad that assesses disabled people’s injuries, sees about 100 Iraqis on each of the four days a week it is open.

"The degree of disability determines the amount of compensation," says Dr Rahim Dawood, noting that the number of wounded visitors is as high now as at any time since 2003.

Kamal Hamza, an adviser at the human rights ministry, says more than 127,000 people were wounded between 2004 and November 2008 because of violence in Iraq and that large sums have been paid out for death and injuries.

An AFP tally based on health, interior and defence ministry data shows the wounded figure has since risen to above 133,000, a figure which does not include many thousands whose injuries have gone unreported.

"The compensation for martyrs is about 2,750,000 Iraqi dinars (2,390 dollars) while the wounded receive between 420 dollars and 1,280 dollars," says Hamza, explaining that local authorities make payments which are later recouped from the central government.

But the paper-heavy scheme is slow, lacks transparency and is wrapped up in red tape that results in more losers than winners, say those who have tried to use it.

"I lost my eyes and became deaf due to an attack that targeted my bus in Baghdad last year," Fadel Makki, a man in his fifties, told AFP as he waited in the hallway at Medical Council for yet another assessment.

"I had all the papers and I got nothing. There must be a law guaranteeing a decent life for people with disabilities, especially those wounded in the explosions," he says.

Hamza, from the human rights ministry, says parliament is working on legislation to deliver such protection. A draft law was approved in 2008 but then thrown out by Iraq’s presidential council amid funding concerns.

First mooted in 2004 by the then Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, the five years that have since elapsed reflects the slow pace of passing legislation in Iraq.

Until such a law receives presidential assent, "families of the martyrs and the wounded must make requests to the councils of their provinces," explains Hamza.

The impasse, however, continues to hurt the tens of thousands who have no choice but to manage the best they can.

"I wish there was a law," says Abdullah Mohammed, a one-legged 28-year-old who earns 12 dollars a day manning a central Baghdad car park on crutches, after an explosion took his limb in 2007.

"People who have been wounded need some form of financial protection."