Thursday, August 6, 2009

Grim times for the elderly in Iraq

Aging Iraqis traditionally lived with relatives, but as conditions in the nation have worsened, a new phenomenon has popped up: the old folks' home.

They are old men and women who have lived through the monarchy, Saddam Hussein, the U.S.-led invasion and religion-fueled civil warfare.

Now, they putter about in a house on the Tigris River, passing the time on cots with pink sheets, in whitewashed rooms, with the faint smell of sweat mixing with the odor of sewage from the waters outside their windows.

The guests of the Mercy Home for the Elderly, a residence for indigent senior citizens, come from across Iraq and include Sunnis, Shiites and Christians.

Funded by prominent Shiite cleric Ayatollah Hussein Sadr, the two-story stone building, opened in November 2006, houses 43 men and women who have nowhere else to go.

The elderly in Iraq traditionally lived with relatives, but as conditions worsened in recent years, some families abandoned their parents, a brother or sister. Some were sent to Mercy by their kin; others were brought here by a hospital or the police after they showed up penniless on the doorstep of a mosque.

Manager Hadi Hamid Taie says his guests are mostly victims of the violence and economic hard times that followed the American-led invasion six years ago. He believes their families would never have sent them to Mercy before the war.

"This phenomenon is new," Taie says. "According to our religion, it is not permitted to abandon your parents. On the contrary, Islam requires that you take special care of them."