The Iraqi government, the United Nations and NGOs have condemned an attack against a girls’ school in Baghdad that left five students dead and more than 20 injured on Sunday. Parents, students and teachers were left horror-struck after the incident.
Kholoud Secondary School in the mainly Sunni Adel neighbourhood of western Baghdad witnessed one of the most horrific attacks against Iraq’s education system since the US-led occupation of the country began in 2003.
“We were terrified by what happened. They were young girls trying to build their future. It is unacceptable and I hope it will be an example to the government to show that something urgent must be done to stop such terrorism in Iraq,” said Nawal Muhammad, a teacher at the school and a member of the Teacher’s Union of Iraq.
|When I saw those girls dead on the ground I couldn’t believe that I was inside a school; I thought I was in a war zone.|
“When I saw those girls dead on the ground I couldn’t believe that I was inside a school; I thought I was in a war zone,” Nawal added. “We are revolted with this situation. Schools should be safest place in the world.”
Several projectiles exploded in the courtyard of the school, shattering windows in the classrooms and spraying pupils with glass.
Four girls died instantly and another at hospital, local police said.
In Ramadi, some 125km west of the capital, a truck bomb exploded near a primary school, leaving two children dead.
On Sunday, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) issued a joint statement condemning the deadly attack, expressing outrage at such a needless waste of children’s lives.
“This is yet another tragic reminder of the risks facing Iraq’s schoolchildren every day as they struggle amid the insecurity to receive their right to education. The apparently deliberate targeting of children in this incident is an unforgivable crime,” said Roger Wright, UNICEF representative for Iraq, and Mohamed Djelid, UNESCO country director, in the statement.
UNICEF and UNESCO called upon all parties in Iraq “to exercise their responsibility and duty to ensure that schools remain safe havens for children to attend, learn and play. Finding appropriate strategy to bring education to children in environments where normal schooling has become impossible is now an imperative.”
Families, especially those who had their girls studying in the school, have been shocked by the incident and have kept their children at home indefinitely.
“Unfortunately, I will have to keep my daughter at home. I will never agree that she goes back to school to be the next victim of this violence. I want her to learn but not in crossfire. She was in another classroom during the attack and if she had been outside, I might now be burying her somewhere,” said Majida Obaid, 34, mother of a student who was in class at Kholoud Secondary School during the incident.
Obaid’s daughter, Hala Ahmed, 13, said the pupils of the school could not understand why they were targeted: “We are innocent girls. We are not fighting. Why are they attacking us? We just want to study.”
|We are innocent girls. We are not fighting. Why are they attacking us? We just want to study.|
The Ministry of Education in Iraq has also condemned the attack and urged the Ministries of Defence and Interior to increase security at schools and universities in Baghdad.
“The education system in Iraq has been the most affected since the US-invasion. Teachers and students are being targeted on a daily basis and incidents like this one clearly show the chaos that our country is in,” Muhammad Jabbri, a spokesman at the Ministry of Education, said.
The Ministry of Interior was not able to identify who fired the mortars at the Baghdad school but said the area had been the scene of reprisal attacks between Sunni extremists and Shi’ite militias.
Read one boy's testimony on what school life in Iraq is like today.