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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Iraq's children are very much affected by the war there. They've been the victims of kidnapping, torture, and rape. Last year, more than 650 children were killed according to the website Iraq Body Count. In this one of two reports on helping Iraq's youngest victims of war, NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro visits a Baghdad hospital that will soon house a new clinic. The first of its kind, it will help children suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dr. HAIDER MALIKI (Psychologist): (Foreign language spoken)

Mr. DHIYA MOUSSA: (Foreign language spoken)

Dr MALIKI: (Foreign language spoken)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Eleven-year old Dhiya Moussa cautiously answers the psychologist's questions.

Dr. MALIKI: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dr. Haider Maliki asks Dhiya if he still has bad memories about the kidnapping. Dhiya, a stocky child with shaggy brown hair, confesses he still can't fall asleep at night.

Mr. MOUSSA: (Through Translator) I am afraid of darkness. After I was released, I was afraid to stay alone in the dark. I don't know why. When I enter into a dark room I get frightened. I immediately switch on the light and run away.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As he's talking he keeps looking to his father for reassurance. Pharmacist Moussa Hussein Hassan says his son was kidnapped in 2004, but he still crawls into bed every night with him and his wife.

Mr. MOUSSA HUSSEIN HASSAN (Father): (Through Translator) My son was held for seven days before they released him. They locked him in a shed all by himself with rats in the darkness. Before he was kidnapped, he was never afraid. But after that he became terrified of the dark. He goes to bed very late at night and he can only sleep after exhausting himself. He insists on burying his head under my arm to feel safe when he sleeps.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dhiya also developed memory loss and wouldn't mingle with other children. That's what prompted his father to bring Dia to Dr. Maliki. Maliki, a psychiatrist, has treated hundreds of children at the Central Pediatric Teaching Hospital in Baghdad where he works. Their stories, he says, are heartbreaking.

Dr. MALIKI: Of course we have many children. I have a female, she's 13 years old. She exposed to kidnapped. They raped her and made sexual intercourse with her for about four days daily.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The result is that many developed post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Dr. Maliki says children who suffer from PTSD may turn to drugs or alcohol, stop studying or become violent. Based on his own research, he estimates that at least 50% of Iraq's children display some symptoms of the condition. And getting their families to come forward is a challenge.

Dr. MALIKI: Especially in children, especially in the females, any psychological problem, they say it is a stigma. They deny the disease, but when we examine the child, we discover many, many problems.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's not only the families that have trouble recognizing the problem. Iraq's Ministry of Health is notoriously inept and corrupt. It has provided little help up until now, Maliki says. He is the only child psychiatrist in the whole country who works at a government hospital. Private care is beyond the means of most Iraqis. The conditions here - the premier pediatric facility in Iraq - are dire. As Maliki talks, sewage from a leaking toilet spreads across the room. No one bothers to come and clean it up.

Dr. MALIKI: I think the government, just they have concern about the security and the other - of course we have a bigger problem in our children and the problem is increasing every day.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Maliki himself is not even a trained child psychiatrist. He took up the position, he says, after seeing that there was no one taking care of the mental health of Iraq's children. What he needs for this job he's taught himself, he says.

Dr. MALIKI: I have nothing. I didn't see any child psychiatry center outside Iraq. We told the ministry, we told the government. They say we have no money for training.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Still, this month the hospital is going to open a new clinic. The government has finally agreed to fund it and Maliki will head the ward that will exclusively treat children with psychological problems, including PTSD. Social worker Amna Ali Hussein who works here says it is sorely needed.

Ms. AMNA ALI HUSSEIN (Social worker): (Through Translator) We still don't have enough time to see all the cases admitted to this hospital. Therefore, we really need to open a whole ward. We will open special classrooms for children with psychological disorders at schools, and there will be intensive programs.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's no doubt the treatment has helped young Dhiya, says his father Moussa.

Mr. HASSAN: (Through Translator) Thank God, after those sessions there has been some improvement in his condition.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: His son is able to laugh again.

(Soundbite of giggle)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: His face lights up, the night terrors Dhiya still feels temporarily held at bay.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Baghdad.

MONTAGNE: And tomorrow, we'll visit a school that tries to help young war victims through art and drama.

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