"Anna, I can't cope. Look at this!"
It is doctor Anna who is shouting in despair, showing me another of those children. A lump at the back of the throat, eyes glistening with tears at the sight of the badly deformed girl on the cot.
"I'm beginning to hate [the Iraqis]. How can they do this to their children? They know that marriage between cousins..." She stops herself here and has to leave the room; she needs to go and give vent to her anger.
I am familiar with such moments. I glance down at the creature on the cot. I can barely bring myself to look. I can't describe her. My eyes meet hers and it's almost as if she's pleading for help. She understands. She is not going to survive in that body. I wish she didn't understand and she didn't know that there is no hope for her. Her loving father tries to comfort here. Maybe he should have thought earlier. Now it's too late; the damage is done and it's irreversible. Yet even the father, a middle-aged man, is also a victim.
"I have five children," he tells me. "Two of them are fine, but the other three..." I can see in his eyes what he's going to say. He continues. "She is the youngest. Her two brothers are dead."
"This is Allah's will," he tells me.
What if Allah needed to be helped out a little?
"And soon this one is going to die too. And she knows it," he concludes.
I would like to ask him how many more children he wants to bring into this world before he stops. But I don't. He is a victim of a custom that is very much entrenched in Iraq. This is a country where inter-family marriage is quite common, where marrying a relative is perfectly acceptable. The key word is clan. The importance of belonging to one clan rather than another is almost inconceivable for a Western mind. And this man, who will not stop producing children even when faced with such horror, is the best representative.
"But I feel safe like this," a young woman married to her cousin once tried to explain to me. "I know that no one in this family will do me harm."
A debatable opinion.
"Should I marry a stranger instead? Marry someone from work who assures me that I can trust him?"
There are few opportunities in Iraq for women to meet men outside of their own family. There are still fewer opportunities for a woman to date a man and get to know him. Working women have slightly better chances, but only within the working day. Rarely can they meet men outside working hours; that would be considered inappropriate. Consequently, a woman chooses a blood relative who is a regular guest at her family's home. This explains why deformities. . .constitute a gaping wound in the Iraqi people's health."
--From Two Birthdays in Baghdad Finding the heart of Iraq by Anna Prouse