Iraq: Helping Victims of Violence Overcome Trauma


Eleven years ago, Abdelillah lost his leg in an insurgent attack on his home village. In 2014, when the Islamic State seized control of the region, Abdelillah fled with his family to Iraqi Kurdistan. Handicap International, which works in Iraqi Kurdistan to help Iraqis displaced by the Islamic State, found Abdelillah, and has been providing him with psychological support and physical therapy since the beginning of this year.

Handicap International’s psychosocial team has been helping  Abdelillah to overcome the severe depression he has experienced since losing his leg in 2005.  “One day, as I was walking in the street, a car bomb exploded, which was immediately followed by heavy gunfire,” Abdelillah says, recalling the day his life changed forever. “A bullet hit my leg and I passed out. A few hours later I woke up in hospital and I realized that my leg had been amputated. I couldn’t help thinking that I hadn’t done anything to deserve this, and that there was no point in living any more.”

Shwan, a psychosocial worker for Handicap International, listens patiently to Abdelillah as he continues his story. “I had nightmares every night for months after the operation. I felt that I didn’t belong in the world anymore. People with disabilities don’t have much of a role to play in our society. In 2014, things got even worse. We had to flee our town, with my family, to escape the Islamic State, which was advancing into our region. We stayed in Baghdad for a few months, but life was too hard. So we decided to come here to Kirkuk.”

Handicap International arrived in Kirkuk in 2015 to support the hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced people living there. In addition to providing, psychosocial support, physical therapy, and the protection, the organization educates people about the risks of landmines and other explosive remnants of war that pose a risk to civilians. In early 2016, a mine risk education team knocked on Abdelillah’s door during one of its daily rounds. They immediately realized that something was wrong with Abdelillah and suggested he take part in psychosocial support group sessions.

“To start with, I didn’t even know what psychosocial support was,” says Abdelillah. “I just went along to see what it was all about. I never dreamt the sessions would change my life. But from the first session, I understood that how I felt had a lot to do with my attitude towards life. I realized that people were taking an interest in me and that my disability didn’t prevent them from caring about me. I also met other people were in the same situation as me.” 

“It’s amazing how much progress Abdelillah has made in so little time,” says Shwan. “He’s a lot more outgoing now, and more positive. You can really feel the impact the sessions have had on him.” With Handicap International’s support, Abdelillah has hope again and he’s now thinking about the future. He’s planning to open his own phone shop soon, and to go back to his home village when peace returns. “If I had to give one piece of advice forother amputees,” says Abdelillah, “it would be: don’t look back, turn to the future. That’s the secret of survival.”