The true toll of the Iraq war is one that won't be tallied for years. The effects of missing fathers and mothers, here and there, the cost of a society shattered into fragments only clumsily coming together, like badly healed bones.
Leila Fadhil of the Washington Post, one of the best people covering Iraq at the moment, has the story today of one of those edges. The fate of the children of Al Qaeda.
In 2006-2008 Al Qaeda fighters poured into the country to fight Americans. One side effect, forced marriages that seem little better than rape. Fadhil tells the story of one woman, now called Umm Zahraa, and what happened when six Al Qaeda fighters burst into her home in Baquba.
The women relented and the marriages were performed by one of the armed men, though no marriage contract was signed. Abu Zahraa then forced the teenager to have sex, and for the next three months, he and the others would arrive late at night, the women said. They always left before sunrise. Umm Zahraa's husband never gave his real name, the family said. Umm Zahraa says she never saw the face of the man who stole her virginity.
Umm Zahraa is called that because of the daughter of that "marriage" is Zahraa. Now 18 months old. But that daughter, and scores other like her, don't officially exist in Iraq. They won't be able to attend school, or get government jobs.
Officials in the Interior Ministry tasked with assisting victims of the Iraq war said the women are not considered victims of rape and, although the situation is unfortunate, there is nothing they can do.
"Helping them could encourage al-Qaeda in Iraq," said Fadhil al-Shweilli, a ministry official who deals with victims of war.
And Zahraa's generation will grow up in a society that sees them as foreign, as the children of monsters.
[Copyright 2010 National Public Radio]