Six million Iraqi students were officially supposed to start school today, but many families are waiting for the Muslim New Year at the end of Ramadan in mid-October before bundling their children off to class.
Already, though, the ordeal of preparations has begun. In spite of the U.S. troop surge, which has helped make some Baghdad neighborhoods safer for the moment, what ought to be a routine shopping trip to buy pens, books and uniforms is still a stomach-churning gamble. Car bombers don't go out of their way to spare school-supply stores.
And that's just the beginning.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi parents know the price of getting their children educated is chronic nightmares and constant anxiety. The list of threats to their children day after day is long and savage: mortars landing in the schoolyard, sectarian bullying, kidnappers and stray bullets. And that's just for starters.
Today, I asked one of my Iraqi colleagues to write me a background note on the preparations Iraqi families were making for school.
He responded with the following email, both sad and eloquent. I have edited it lightly to make it a smoother read, but otherwise it appears as he wrote it.
The message as it appeared in my Inbox was titled "Rainbow."
Every year all Iraqi students wait for the end of the summer to welcome the coming of winter and the coming of the school ... They buy a new bags and clothes and get a new stationery, and get ready for the New Year - hoping it will be filled with fun and successes.
But now the days are not like in the past, and the summer not like the last. Roads are planted with fear and the death smile everywhere. Pupils are easy target for the snipers in some areas and the schools are afraid from an idiotic suicidal. All the year the kidnapping accidents happen because the law in the street is like the law in the forest. You will find the parent leave their jobs and wait at the school gate to protect their dears. They wait for them to finish a day from a long year filled with fear. All of the Iraqi students hope to see a rainbow after this dark storm.
Pray for us and for all Iraqi students and share with me a hope that the storm will end soon and we will see the rainbow again.