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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 June, 2004, 20:59 GMT 21:59 UK
New hope for mutilated Iraqis

By Caroline Hawley
BBC, Baghdad

Iraq's new government, which takes power at the end of the month, is now preparing its plans for the future.

But as it does so, the country is still dealing with the legacy of a brutal past.

Close-up of mutilated ear
Around 3,500 deserters are thought to have had their ears cut off
One of the most shocking of many abuses committed by Saddam Hussein's regime was a campaign in 1994 to punish army deserters by amputating their ears.

But there is now new hope for the victims.

In a busy hospital clinic, Noful Daoud has his blood pressure checked.

It is a very different treatment from the last time he saw a doctor, a decade ago, when a surgeon sliced off both his ears as his punishment for deserting from Saddam Hussein's army.

It happened, he says, the day Saddam's order was given out.

"I was taken to Basra Hospital and blindfolded," he said. "They cut off my left ear by mistake and so they chopped off the right one as well. Without my ears, I haven't been able to get a job or get married."

Return to normal

This Baghdad hospital specialises in reconstructive surgery. Its corridors are crammed with the victims of bombs and bullets.

It is very complicated, very intricate, and there are complications, of course
Ahmad Jawad
Doctor
But look carefully through the crowds and you'll see one very distinct kind of patient - men like Noful, who are here to get their ears rebuilt.

There are no exact statistics of how many army deserters were mutilated by having one or both ears amputated, but doctors estimate that there are around 3,500 of them, and Iraq's ministry of health has just begun offering them free surgery.

"It is very complicated, very intricate, and there are complications, of course," says Ahmad Jawad, the doctor behind the programme.

Shunned

"The results may not be 100% but we try to get them physically normal so that if they wish and have determination they could go back to their community, find jobs, get married and get on with their lives."

Patient undergoing ear reconstruction
Patients hope the surgery will help them overcome pariah status
Noful, lying on a stretcher, ready for his operation, discusses his feelings about Saddam Hussein with doctors and nurses.

He was 19 when Saddam's decree was implemented. Since then, he has worn a traditional Arab head-dress to hide what he still sees as the shame of his mutilation.

Men like Noful were shunned by many Iraqis, who under Saddam were too afraid to associate with them.

So, as the nurses make the final preparations for his surgery, Noful is smiling.

Undoing damage

Under general anaesthetic, they slice into the skin behind where his ears should be.

It is a great thing that I can do now for my people, especially when they are victims of the previous regime of Saddam
Ridha Ali
Surgeon
Some patients will have cartilege taken from their ribs for the reconstruction, but Noful is having artificial silicon ears. In two months' time he'll need to come back for more surgery to graft new skin onto them.

Noful's surgeon, Ridha Ali, is delighted to be able to undo the damage done by fellow doctors, who were forced to amputate ears on pain, he says, of having the same done to them if they refused.

"It is a great thing that I can do now for my people, especially when they are victims of the previous regime of Saddam," he says.

"It's a great chance for me and for others to help these people, of course. We feel very happy to do this job."

Noful still has to recover from the physical trauma of his surgery, but the deep emotional pain of being a pariah is being taken away here in the operating theatre, and Noful hopes it will pave the way for him to find first a job, and then a wife.



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