Bombs and slaughter...just another day

IT was a fairly normal day in Baghdad - just a couple of small bombs, not many killed.Most folk here and in the States, even those who like to follow the news, probably never gave Iraq a moment's thought that day or the next.

IT was a fairly normal day in Baghdad - just a couple of small bombs, not many killed.

Most folk here and in the States, even those who like to follow the news, probably never gave Iraq a moment's thought that day or the next.

If they happened to spot a headline mentioning the suicide bombing of a suburban street, it was all pretty low-key, mundane stuff. Routine. Uninteresting. Just another few clicks on the statistical count of the dead.

But, of course, it meant rather more than that to the people who live in that street - and not just the victims and their families.

One of those who lives there is a 12-year-old girl, eager, bright, active, doing well at school. At least, she was. The eagerness is gone now, the school success less apparent.

Not that she was hurt by the bomb, not physically anyway.

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It went off outside her house. Among those killed was her best friend, who she had just said goodbye to and closed the door on.

Another of the victims was a man she didn't know. But she heard him calling in her garden, and went out to see.

He was lying outside her back door, missing his legs and with one of his eyes hanging out. The blast had lifted him right over a high garden wall. He died as she tried to comfort him, ending up covered in his blood.

What sort of experience is that for a 12-year-old to have to deal with - or, indeed, anyone?

The violence and horrors that have disfigured Iraq since the US and British invasion of 2003, and continue to do so, must have left many thousands of young people traumatised in such a way.

The psychological effects, both short-term and long-term, are incalculable.

But who is there to help them?

There are few trained counsellors or psychiatrists in Iraq. Many of those there were are believed to have left.

The conventional medical services are overstretched, already dealing with the more obviously injured, the physical victims of violence and disease.

Whatever George W Bush claimed nearly four years ago, the war in Iraq is not over. Far from it.

When finally it is, what mental scars will remain?

That one little girl could not talk to her family about the horror she witnessed. She became withdrawn, uncommunicative. Remarkably, a family friend who was a journalist cajoled her into telling her tale in the presence of a film crew.

Her matter-of-fact recounting of finding the dying man at her door made highly emotional television.

It was reality TV of an altogether more honest and more vital kind than anything you will see in an average week's viewing.

The reporting was fair, honest and avoided the easy option of laying blame at any particular door.

The programme was not aired by the BBC, ITV or Channel 4. It was an episode of the excellent daily series Witness, introduced by former BBC reporter Rageh Omar on Al-Jazeera's English-language channel.

That's right. One of the fairest, finest and most thought-provoking pieces of reporting I've seen in a very long time went out on the channel the Americans tried to bomb out of existence.

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WHEN Labour came to power almost a decade ago, I expected the long overdue reform of the House of Lords to be one of the first priorities.

So the proposals put forward by Jack Straw this week are hardly before time.

Straw, the leader of the Commons, is right when he says “the status quo is no longer an option”.

His preference, shared apparently by Tony Blair, is for a half-elected, half-appointed Lords.

The huge question is who makes the appointments, and on what basis?

The worst fear was allayed when Straw said the prime minister's right to make appointments - cause of some difficulty to the present government - would be ended.

It can, in any case, hardly be worse than the current “system”, which is a mix of luck-of-birth and political favour (paid-for or otherwise).

Interestingly, the way Straw wants MPs to vote on the proposals is in itself a highly contentious issue.

In fact, it's as big a shift in Parliamentary custom as the Lords reform itself.

He's offering a single transferable vote, with six options ranging from all-elected to all-appointed. If no proposal gets more than half the vote, second-choice votes will be considered, then third choice and so on until a clear winner emerges.

Such a voting system has never been used at Westminster before, and it could revolutionise the way future decisions are taken.

As long as MPs retain the opportunity to reject every version of a proposal - and they will get a simple Aye or Nay vote on reform first - it could be an important improvement to our democracy.