The following is an archived copy of a message sent to the CASI Analysis List run by Cambridge Solidarity with Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of Cambridge Solidarity with Iraq (CASI).

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [CASI Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[casi-analysis] The Boy with the Bullet in his Brain

[ This message has been sent to you via the CASI-analysis mailing list ]

[ Presenting plain-text part of multi-format email ]

 Published on Wednesday, February 11, 2004 by
The Boy with the Bullet in his Brain
by Felicity Arbuthnot
It was ten year old Saif who alerted Jo Wilding to the tragedy. Wilding, a
recently qualified barrister from Bristol, UK, was in Iraq before and during
the invasion with Voices in the Wilderness and then returned in November to
document disasters, civil rights abuses and to take part in a traveling
circus - an attempt to bring some laughter and normality in the most
abnormal of situations.
Wilding is a natural clown. Last March, she and this correspondent attempted
to gain entry to the then still deserted British Embassy, empty since the
last British Ambassador, Sir Harold Walker fled down the Jordan road ahead
of the 1991 bombs, in such a hurry that in a near unique diplomatic blunder,
he failed to hand in his credentials to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry. Ever
since, he has graced television studios at every opportunity, from the
safety of several thousand miles distance advocating bombing again.
The deserted Embassy would be sure to provide a story I thought. The
courteous young Iraqi soldiers who had guarded it, tended the gardens and
building for over a decade were in a quandary. Finally their superior was
called. He was very sorry, but no one was allowed in, they had a duty to
keep it safe and were under strict instructions: no visitors. By this time
several dozen children had gathered, strange foreigners always a draw in
isolated Iraq - and then followed us as we explored the street behind the
Embassy with its evocative ancient houses in which they lived.
Suddenly Wilding dropped to her knees, in an instant she became a tiger,
leaping towards them, mock growling, pretending to attempt to catch them,
then a cat, a lion - the repertoire was stunning - and on the eve of war,
destruction, terror, after the isolation and deprivation of an embargo which
had snatched away their very childhood, they laughed, shrieked with delight,
ran towards her, away from her - it was a memorable, spontaneous complete
joy. Finally the soldiers who had followed us, presumably wondering if we
were going to attempt to scale the Embassy wall (it had occurred to us, it
has to be said) from the back, torn between laughter and complete
bemusement, asked us to leave. The children followed us to the battered car,
tugging at Jo, giggling, begging her to do it all again - and she did,
becoming a veritable menagerie of exotic creatures. The soldiers, now
completely drawn in, barely older than children themselves finally
reluctantly called final time up and asked us politely to leave. We drove
off watching the little knot of laughing children in the road, waving us on
our way. Are they all alive now? Which is why Jo went back, to record,
witness and bring some laughter. She witnesses more than most could ever
bear - and then becomes a clown in the circus. By the way, when the British
took over the Embassy again, after last year's invasion, the first thing
they did was to sack the soldiers who had guarded it so faithfully for
thirteen years.
Saif has been working as a fixer, shoe shiner, guide, since he was four.
Iraq's enchanting, often feral little street children who started to appear
about four years into the embargo are a near forgotten tragedy. The
Education Ministry who had previously fined parents whose children did not
attend school, realized the desperation afflicting families and changed the
schooling system to 'shifts', to accommodate their working hours. But many
were simply too tired to attend. Saif never seems tired and never attended,
he simply adopts foreigners. 'Madam, you looking for something? You lost
your way? I help' and a little hand slips in to yours and you were
enchanted. He is a child man, old beyond his years, yet still utterly
vulnerable. It was inevitable he would adopt Jo, the world's wisest clown.
They were meant for each other.
It was Saif's request that she meet his neighbor's who had a problem, that
introduced Jo to the boy with the bullet in his brain. On 26th May last
year, four and a half year old Baqer was waiting with his family for a taxi,
to visit relatives. There was an explosion, US troops started shooting and
Baqer was hit in the head with a nine mm bullet. "He has suffered injuries
to the left cerebrum, his left 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th cranial nerves, causing
partial nerve palsy ... impairing his sight, hearing speech and walking.
When he tries to get off someone's lap, he lists, staggers and falls over',
says Wilding.
The family lives in Sadr City (formerly Saddam City and previously Al
Thawra) - a vast, rambling, largely very poor area of Baghdad. In spite of
their poverty, the family has taken Baqer to doctor after doctor, sold all
they have and now live in a home: 'bare but for rugs on the floor, a single
bulb and a lamp which takes over when the electricity goes out, which seems
to be most of the time ...' Further, they are now unable to fill the
prescriptions they are given, since health care is no longer free. 'If the
bullet migrates it could encroach on his brain stem. In any visible
deterioration the family must take him to Jordan ' - a now very dangerous
journey and always grueling - from ten to twenty hours by road - even for
the fittest.
Baqer's father, Ali, has had to give up his job to take Baqer on the rounds
of hospitals in a looking glass world of prescriptions he cannot afford to
fill and surgeons with the ability, but not the facilities to operate. The
advice to go to Jordan is meaningless, with what will they pay?
'There is no dispute that US soldiers were responsible, that it is a US
bullet in his head. There is also no knowing how many more families and
individuals are going through similar struggles, trying to find money for
medical care, trying to get the forces responsible to give the financial
help they promised,' says Wilding, all barrister now, the clown all together
eclipsed: 'Congressmen and women, MP's must be approached, contact Bush and
Blair and use powers of creative mischief making 'to ensure this happens',
she appeals.
The Coalition Provisional Authority promised to help with Baqer's treatment,
medicines: 'But has given them nothing, no medicines, money, treatment or
assistance with traveling out of Iraq for treatment in Jordan or beyond. We
need to demand compensation and financial support from the forces
responsible, for all civilian victims. At the moment, the military
institution has complete impunity for what its soldiers do and the soldiers
have impunity within the military.' Listening to Wilding I remembered again,
little Ali Abbas, whose arms were blown off in another unfortunate incident
involving the military. Before he left Kuwait for treatment in the UK, the
US military presented him with a US military hat. No doubt in military
mind-set this was an honor. To the uninitiated it was a crassness beyond
Meanwhile there is a four year old with a bullet in his brain who needs a
Felicity Arbuthnot is a journalist in London. She has written and broadcast
widely on Iraq and with Denis Halliday was senior researcher for John
Pilger's Award winning documentary: 'Paying the Price - Killing the Children
of Iraq.'

Sent via the CASI-analysis mailing list
To unsubscribe, visit
All postings are archived on CASI's website at

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]