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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 December 2004, 16:49 GMT
UK lifeline for boy victim of Iraq blast
By Neil Arun
BBC News

Weapons abandoned on the battlefields of Iraq pose a great threat to civilians, aid agencies have said, leading to calls for armies to clean up after combat. The BBC News website interviews an Iraqi boy severely injured by unexploded ordnance.

Anmar Faez Obaid
Anmar has had more than five operations since the explosion
Walking home on a summer afternoon last year, Iraqi schoolboy Anmar Faez Obaid caught sight of the gleaming metal object that would tear his world apart.

He says he reached down and picked it up. His last memory, before passing out, is of a blinding flash of white light.

Eighteen months later, Anmar lives in a small flat in London, cared for by his mother, who accompanied him from Iraq and has applied for asylum in the UK.

The British doctors that have been treating Anmar say he will never see out of his right eye again.

Nor will he ever use his right arm. It was blown off in the explosion, along with three fingers from his left hand.

The 16-year-old's face and chest are heavily scarred by burns and shrapnel, the last shards of which were removed from his body only recently.

He also lost three front teeth in the explosion - though surgery has restored a hesitant smile to his face.

Unexploded weapons

Anmar believes his injuries were caused by an unexploded bomblet from a cluster weapon left behind in Mahmudiya, his hometown south of Baghdad. The town has seen heavy clashes between US-led forces and insurgent fighters.

However, an expert with Handicap International, a charity which campaigns against the use of cluster weapons, told the BBC News website Anmar is likelier to have stumbled upon a stun grenade left by US or Iraqi forces.

Anmar with shrapnel
A piece of shrapnel removed from Anmar's nose by British doctors
The charity argues that all fighting forces should take care to clear unexploded weapons after an operation because of the risk they pose to civilians.

A spokesman for the UK's Ministry of Defence said the British military is fully committed to working towards "the clearance of unexploded ordnance, as part of the post-conflict reconstruction of Iraq".

However, he could not provide figures for how much British forces spent on clearing unexploded weapons.

The BBC News website tried to contact the US military for comment, but none was forthcoming.

Bound in bandages

Sitting beside his mother in their rented London accommodation, Anmar describes how the people of his town welcomed US soldiers after the invasion. He says people turned against them as destruction and havoc seemed to follow in the Americans' wake.

He remembers coming to his senses after the blast that summer afternoon, immobile and drenched in blood.

A passer-by stopped to place a sheet on his body, thinking he was dead.

But the man must have seen some signs of life, Anmar says, because he soon found himself in the back of a car, being driven to hospital.

However, the nearest hospital said it was not equipped to treat his injuries, setting Anmar's rescuers off on a tour of medical establishments in the area.

Somayya, Anmar's mother, said the family hunted for their son from hospital to hospital, finally identifying him by his feet - the rest of his body was covered in bandages.

Kindly taxi driver

After a month in Baghdad's Adnan Khairallah facility, Anmar was discharged.

Anmar's injuries
Anmar has become less withdrawn as his treatment has progressed
Somayya told the BBC News website how she was convinced her burnt and scarred boy still needed professional care and began taking him to other hospitals in the capital.

The advice of a kindly taxi driver eventually led Somayya and Anmar to the Sheikh Zaid hospital, a new facility funded by donations from Gulf states.

After a month there, Anmar and his mother were flown to Abu Dhabi and then to London, where their stay and care has been financed by donations from the embassy of the United Arab Emirates.

Uncertain future

Professor Simon Kay, a consultant in plastic reconstructive surgery who has been treating Anmar in Britain, believes the boy is lucky to be alive - the blast could easily have killed him, as could "secondary infections" acquired in Iraq's ill-equipped hospitals.

In the year that he has known him, Mr Kay says Anmar has changed from a withdrawn boy who was "terrified of everything" into a smart kid with a smattering of English.

He says reconstructive surgery on Anmar's remaining left hand has probably helped him most - with only partial vision, hands become vital for survival and self-confidence.

Fearful of returning to Iraq, Somayya and her son face an uncertain future as they wait for news of their asylum application.

In the meantime, Anmar displays his new-found dexterity as he flicks between Arabic satellite channels on his television, pausing only to curse the refereeing in a Gulf Cup football match.

Translations by Huda Jabir of bbcarabic.com


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