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Wars' Fallout Continues for Civilians


It is Friday, so we do like to pencil in time on the BPP to take a good look at the events that has shaped the conflict in Iraq over the past seven days. It's the Week in Iraq.

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Today, at least 64 people were killed by reportedly two female suicide bombers who detonated their explosives at two separate pet markets in Baghdad. Iraqi police say it's the deadliest bombing to strike the capital since 30,000 additional U.S. troops were positioned there last spring. Yesterday, British troops were attacked by insurgent rockets in Southern Iraq, the Basra area. Two soldiers were slightly wounded.

STEWART: Now earlier in the week, U.S. soldiers were not as lucky. Five were killed after being caught in a bomb and bullets ambush in Mosul.

WOLFF: And as the tale of the war in Iraq concludes its 254th week, what to do next was fiercely debated by the presidential hopefuls, prompting Democrat Barack Obama to blame Iraq for increasing problems in Afghanistan at last night's debate.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): This has undermined our security. In the meantime, Afghanistan has slid into more chaos than existed before we went into Iraq.


STEWART: Now earlier that day, the former NATO commander James Jones appeared before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Jones co-authored a study about Afghanistan, which found there's insufficient military presence and lack of aid from the United States.

Mr. JAMES JONES (Former Commander, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)): I worry about loss of momentum. I worry about the fact that the safe havens for the insurgents are more numerous now than they were one or two or three years ago.

STEWART: So just as in Iraq, it's the people of Afghanistan who are living with the consequences.

WOLFF: The United Nations and other groups estimate that conflict in poverty forced tens of thousands of children out on the streets every day. They beg for food or sell it. They sell other odds and ends, usually making less than $2 a day and with those meager earnings they often support their families, which means they're forced out on the streets even now during Afghanistan's bitter winter.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from the streets of Kabul.

Unidentified Child #1: (Speaking in foreign language)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: This waif of a salesman in faded pink boots is 10 years old. His name is Jamal(ph) and he is hawking gum in Kabul's trendy (unintelligible) neighborhood.

JAMAL: (Speaking in foreign language)

NELSON: That's about 20 cents. He's determined to score a sale no matter what. He chases after pedestrians and darts in and out of snarl traffic.

JAMAL: (Through Translator) I'm a little scared of the cars. One hit me coming the wrong way down the street but I wasn't hurt too bad.

NELSON: Jamal says he has worked this corner for four years. He is one of an estimated 60,000 children in Afghanistan who worked the streets, says Mohammad Yusuf(ph), who heads ASCIANA, a non-profit group that helps street kids.

Mr. MOHAMMAD YUSUF (Director, ASCIANA): Majority of them they are not going to the school because they are working full time early in the morning, they're starting - they are working. Until evening they are working to have piece of bread or something for their family.

NELSON: Yusuf says Afghanistan's street kids are the legacy of a quarter-century of war that's stripped their country of safety nets like school and social services. Growing unemployment and living costs are swelling their numbers. He and others say the Afghan government has done little to help street children, giving other burning issues like the ongoing war against the Taliban.

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NELSON: Many of the street kids take their plight in stride. They help each other, too, for good luck, they say, like giving a few Afghanis to a boy or girl who fails to sell anything. But a few admit they hate being out here, like 11-year-old Rozaidin(ph), a pale boy with weathered skin and a faded wool cap.

He hounds passers-by with a soft monotonous plea for 10 cents while waving a town of burning incense to ward off the evil eye.

ROZAIDIN: (Speaking in foreign language)

NELSON: It's like being a beggar, he says. Next year, he hopes to do something more rewarding, such as working in a hotel or store like his older brother. ASCIANA director Mohammad Yusuf says that's not good enough. He fears kids like Rosaidin will become another generation of under-educated, under-employed adults who send their children to work on the streets.

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NELSON: ASCIANA offers classes to thousands of street kids, like this one in Kabul, teaching them to play traditional Afghan musical instruments. To try and break the cycle, they also teach the children to read and write. The idea, Yusuf says, is to boost their skills and ambition. The kids attend class for only a few hours each day so they can still earn money for their families.

Fourteen-year-old Ahmed Zia(ph) learn to play the accordion like harmonica and wants to become a famous musician but he has no plans to give up his day job.

Mr. AHMED ZIA: (Through Translator) Why should I be upset about having to work the streets? I have no choice. My father is old, my mother is weak, and only I can make the household run. So I need to sell plastic bags.

NELSON: Afghan singer and activist Farhad Darya says that's unacceptable. He believes education, not work, should be the priority for these children and that Afghans themselves need to do more to address the needs of street kids.

Mr. FARHAD DARYA (Singer, Activist): We're sure that there's not the people from outside who guarantee our future. This is - these children who are left behind out there so we must do something for our future.

Mr. NICHOLS: Darya, who lives with his family in Virginia, started a program called Kuche(ph) or street to provide for Afghan street kids. He says he's opened bank accounts for 2,000 widows, who receive $50 a month provided they send at least one of their children to school.

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WOLFF: That was NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reporting from Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.