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Based in Iraq

CHILDREN OF WAR

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    A group of orphaned children, Nayef, Salih, Saif, and Ihsan swim in the pool at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 3, 2015.
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    Mustafa Mohammed, 13, swims in the pool at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 3, 2015. In 2012 he was taken in to the orphanage by his aunt, after losing both his parents in a fatal car accident. He is now in the fifth grade, and does swimming and soccer.
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    Nayef Nawaf, 11, swims at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity, an orphanage in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 3, 2015. Nawaf's father and mother were killed in an ISIS invasion of his hometown of Fallujah. His other relatives joined ISIS, but Nawaf escaped and lived homeless until moving into the orphanage in 2015.
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    Abdullah Mahdi Kazim, 13, watches a film with the other boys at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 3, 2015. In 2007 Kazim fled from his abusive father after his mother passed away. He was caught by police and sent by US forces to Baghdad where he moved into the orphanage. He currently is in the sixth grade.
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    Nayef Nawaf, 11, plays in the water at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity, an orphanage in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 3, 2015. Nawaf's father and mother were killed in an ISIS invasion of his hometown of Fallujah. His other relatives joined ISIS, but Nawaf escaped and lived homeless until moving into the orphanage in 2015.
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    Hussein, 7, poses for a portrait at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 8, 2015. In 2008, Hussein and two of his brothers joined the orphanage. Hussein and two of his brothers have been in the orphanage since 2008. They became homeless and lived on the streets when their mother remarried. She comes to visit them in the orphanage once a week.
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    Hussein, 7, poses for a portrait at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 8, 2015. In 2008, Hussein and two of his brothers joined the orphanage. Hussein and two of his brothers have been in the orphanage since 2008. They became homeless and lived on the streets when their mother remarried. She comes to visit them in the orphanage once a week.
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    Ali Kadhim Mohammed, 17, exercises at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 17, 2015. He has been living at the orphanage since 2006. In 2007, he entered a swimming course and won several awards from the Iraqi national team. He is a student at the Institute of Computer Science.
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    Abdullah Mahdi Kazim, 13, plays on the bunk beds at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 17, 2015. In 2007 Kazim fled from his abusive father after his mother passed away. He was caught by police and sent by US forces to Baghdad where he moved into the orphanage. He currently is in the sixth grade.
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    Abdullah Mahdi Kazim, 13, plays on the bunk beds at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 17, 2015. In 2007 Kazim fled from his abusive father after his mother passed away. He was caught by police and sent by US forces to Baghdad where he moved into the orphanage. He currently is in the sixth grade.
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    Abdullah Mohanad Khalaf, 8, watches a film with the other boys at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 17, 2015. He has been living at the orphanage since 2014, due to poor living conditions with his family. He is now in third grade.
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    The boys watch a film and talk together before bed with one of the leaders at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 17, 2015.
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    Khaled Ahmed, 11, recovers from a scuffle with other children in the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 30, 2015. Khaled was orphaned after his mother died in a car bombing and his father died after entering ISIS. He was illegally sent away from an orphanage in the norther Iraqi province of Dohuk because he could not speak the Kurdish language. He is now in the first grade primary.
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    Tariq, 23, poses for a portrait at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 30, 2015. Tariq has been living in this orphanage for 9 years, and their adopter plans to get him married soon.
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    Ahmed Nasir, 16, who is ill, rests at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 30, 2015. His mother brought him to the orphanage because she is unable to afford his living wages.
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    Ahmed Nasir, 16, who is ill, rests at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 30, 2015. His mother brought him to the orphanage because she is unable to afford his living wages.
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    The children Nayef Nawaf and Tho Alfiqar pray at sunset time at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 30, 2015.
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    Children pray at sunset time in an orphanage on Palestine street, in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 30, 2015.
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    Hussein, 12, exercises at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 30, 2015. Hussein and two of his brothers have been in the orphanage since 2008. They became homeless and lived on the streets when their mother remarried. She comes to visit them in the orphanage once a week.
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    Essa, 10, sleeps at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 30, 2015. Essa and two of his brothers have been in the orphanage since 2008. They became homeless and lived on the streets when their mother remarried. She comes to visit them in the orphanage once a week.
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    Essa, 10, hangs out at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 31, 2015. Essa and two of his brothers have been in the orphanage since 2008. They became homeless and lived on the streets when their mother remarried. She comes to visit them in the orphanage once a week.
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    Salam hangs out on his bed at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 31, 2015. He is new to the orphanage, and misses his mother. He later escaped from the orphanage.
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    Salah Abbas, 14, showers at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 31, 2015. Abbas joined the orphanage in 2007 after his father was murdered in front of him in a raid by US troops, and his mother later passed away. He now suffers from Parkinson's disease.
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    Abdullah Mahdi Kazim, 13, showers at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 31, 2015. In 2007 Kazim fled from his abusive father after his mother passed away. He was caught by police and sent by US forces to Baghdad where he moved into the orphanage. He currently is in the sixth grade.
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    Ali Anwar, 12, showers with other boys at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity orphanage in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 31, 2015. When Ali was 3 years old his parents split up and left their home in Tikrit. Ali was taken by his father into Northern Iraq, while his brother remained with their mother. Later, his father was sent to the prison, causing Ali to be placed in the orphanage in the province of Dohuk. Because Ali was not able to learn the Kurdish language, and his lack of integration with other children, Ali was illegally sent away to Baghdad where he settled into the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity. He is now taught in the fourth grade.
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    Ahmed showers at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Aug. 31, 2015. Ahmed and his three siblings were living with their father in a Taxi. His father would hit him frequently, leaving marks like the one on his cheek, all over his face and body.
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    Essa, plays with his brother Hussein, and Saif before bed at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Sept. 15, 2015.
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    The boys talk with one of the leaders in the orphanage before bed in Baghdad, Iraq on Sept. 15, 2015.
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    Ahmed Abdel-Hadi, 16, attentively watches a film at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Sept. 15, 2015. He has been living with his three of his brothers at this orphanage since 2007. He has seven other brothers and a mother who live elsewhere. One of the seven brothers had taken over all of the property, and kicked out Ahmed and his three other brothers at the orphanage, because they refused to accept his actions. Ahmed is a pianist, and the director of the orphanage radio station.
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    Azraq cries in the corner at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Sept. 21, 2015. He lives at the orphanage with his two brothers, because their mother can't afford their living wages. Azraq is crying because his mother took his little brother to stay with her for the weekend and left him behind.
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    Ali Anwar, 12, meets his mother for the first time, after 9 years of research, at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Dec. 15, 2015. Ali's uncle found his photo and name on the social media of a publication, which led his mother to find him. When Ali was 3 years old his parents split up and left their home in Tikrit. Ali was taken by his father into Northern Iraq, while his brother remained with their mother. Later, his father was sent to the prison, causing Ali to be placed in the orphanage in the province of Dohuk. Because Ali was not able to learn the Kurdish language, and his lack of integration with other children, Ali was illegally sent away to Baghdad where he settled into the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity. He is now taught in the fourth grade.
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    Children play and watch TV in the afternoon period at the Iraq Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Feb. 19, 2016.
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    Sharaf al-Din Abdul Hadi, 17, who has been in the orphanage for 8 years, watches TV and comforts a young newcomer, Ahmed at the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity in Baghdad, Iraq on Feb. 19, 2016. He has been living with his three of his brothers at this orphanage since 2007. He has seven other brothers and a mother who live elsewhere. One of the seven brothers had taken over all of the property, and kicked out Sharaf and his three other brothers at the orphanage, because they refused to accept his actions. Sharaf is the barber of house, and sings and plays football.
Children of War

When I first entered the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity, an orphanage that shelters 33 orphans and displaced youth, I was compelled to document the stories of those taking refuge there. Two days later, I left with 33 stories that demonstrate the gravity of the situation in Iraq and its direct and indirect impact on thousands of children. I bore witness to their lives and the listened to the stories of the many crises they have been through.

Iraq has been in varying states of chaos for the past two decades. It started with international sanctions in the 1990s that hit the most vulnerable members of society the hardest. Much of Iraq’s vital infrastructure was destroyed during the 2003 invasion, alongside the infrastructure of government. Violence is commonplace. Ethnic and religious tensions are soaring. There is the constant threat of terrorism from al-Qaida and the Daesh (ISIS). People live in fear and there is very little trust in the government’s ability to successfully cope with all of these issues. Suffice to say it is a very dangerous place to be a child.

Al-Qaida, who were not a problem in Iraq before 2003, recruit at-risk children because they are easy targets. There are hundreds of thousands of children in Iraq who do not have access to education and many more who are living in dire poverty. The Iraqi Safe House for Creativity, directed by Hisham Al-Thahabi, aims to provide shelter to some of these children. This is a story about some of Iraq’s orphan survivors: about those who have nowhere else to go because they are the children of war.

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