On the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, we hear about two Iraqi children who suffered near life-threatening injuries in the war: 8 year-old Ahmad Sharif lost his eyesight and right arm after being caught in crossfire and 3 year-old Alaa Khalid Hamdan was seriously injured when a U.S. tank opened fire on her family’s home. Their fathers join them to tell their stories and two activists speak about their efforts to bring the children to the U.S. for medical treatment. [includes rush transcript]
We turn to the war in Iraq. It has now been over three years since President Bush ordered the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. At the time he vowed to make every effort to spare innocent lives and that the U.S. forces would go to Iraq with respect for its citizens, its civilization and the country’s religions.
But three years later Iraq is a devastated country. Tens of thousands–if not hundreds of thousands — of Iraqis have been killed and the violence is only increasing. The actual death toll among Iraqis may never be known. In 2004, the British medical journal Lancet estimated 100,000 Iraqis had died since the war began.
Many of those killed have been children. Today, to mark the beginning of the fourth year of the Iraq war, we are going to hear about two Iraqi children who suffered near life-threatening injuries.
We speak with Ahmad Sharif and his father, Jabbar Sharif. Two and a half years ago Ahmad lost his eyesight and right arm after being caught in crossfire. He first came to the United States last year and received prosthetic eyes and an arm. He was brought to this country by Elissa Montanti, founder of the Global Medical Relief Fund. Ahmad and Jabbar They are translated by Hesham El-Meligy, an advisor to the Global Medical Relief Fund
We also speak with Khalid Hamdan Abd who brought his three-year-old daughter Alaa to the United States for medical treatment. Last May a U.S. tank opened fire on their home in the town of Al Qaim near the Syrian border. Two of Khalid’s sons died as did three of his cousins. The infant Alaa was seriously injured.
Thanks to the organization No More Victims, she recently had surgery in the United States to reconstruct her abdominal wall. She also underwent eye surgery to remove shrapnel and to reattach her retina. According to her surgeon she would have been blinded for life if she had not undergone the surgery. We also speak with Cole Miller a Hollywood screenwriter and founder of NoMoreVictims.org. They are also translated by Hesham El-Meligy, an advisor to the Global Medical Relief Fund.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll turn to Alaa and her father in a few minutes, but we begin with an interview I did on Friday with another Iraqi child seriously wounded in the war.
AMY GOODMAN: Today, we are joined by Ahmad Sharif — he’s eight years old — and his father, Jabbar Sharif. Two-and-a-half years ago, Ahmad lost his eyesight and right arm after being caught in crossfire. He first came to the United States last year, received prosthetic eyes and an arm. He was brought to this country by the group, Global Medical Relief Fund. We are joined by the group’s founder, Elissa Montanti, and the father and Ahmad will be translated by Hesham El-Meligy, who is an advisor to the Global Medical Relief Fund. And we welcome you all to Democracy Now!
HESHAM EL-MELIGY: Thank you, Amy.
ELISSA MONTANTI: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Elissa, tell us about this project, how you are helping people, and particularly, tell us about Ahmad.
ELISSA MONTANTI: Right. It was founded, Global, in 1997, when I started helping Bosnian children, and most recently, 2003, when I went into Iraq to go to the hospitals and visit, you know, the families of these children. I was just overwhelmed with the devastation. I immediately started to compile lists of children that needed help. And the Shriners Children Hospital provided the prosthetics for all the children I bring from these countries. So I started bringing one boy, which took a year later. Long story short, I have helped eight children in the past two years. And Ahmad’s story is just a tragedy. They all are. But his case came to me actually through the military. And it was too late to save his eyes. And Columbia Presbyterian helped and through them we were able to get him prosthetics.
AMY GOODMAN: Hesham, can you describe what happened? And then, if you would translate for Jabbar and Ahmad.
HESHAM EL-MELIGY: Sure. As you said, two-and-a-half years ago Ahmad was coming back from his school, accompanied by another student, his friend, walking to home. They live in Sadr City in Baghdad. In front of their house, there was an exchange of weapons for amnesty: If you give up your weapon, we are not going to charge you with anything. American troops were there. Iraqi troops were there, the new government. And Iyad Allawi was visiting this location to oversee the exchange. So a group of people — I don’t know what, insurgents, terrorists, whatever you want to call them — came and started firing, wanting to assassinate Iyad Allawi. So American troops responded to the fire indiscriminately, just shooting everywhere.
So, Ahmad started running to hide somewhere with his friend, and when the firefight stopped, he started running home, which was close. Unfortunately, all of a sudden, a big boom happened. It turned out to be a tank shell fired from an American tank, hit Ahmad directly in his right arm and blew it off to the extent that some of the bones of this arm were glued to the body of the other child. But Ahmad kind of screened him, so he was fine from that accident. Also, what happened is a grave wound to Ahmad’s face, as you can see, this is much better now, and also led to his being blind, severe detachment to the retinas beyond repair.
AMY GOODMAN: Ahmad, do you remember what happened to you?
AHMAD SHARIF: [translated] He said, all I remember is the big bang, and I woke up in the hospital.
AMY GOODMAN: And Jabbar Sharif, where were you at the time?
JABBAR SHARIF: [translated] It was at that time in Ramadan, and we were preparing the breaking the fast meal. And it was about 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. All of a sudden, we heard this big explosion. And the neighbors knocked on the door, saying that Ahmad got hit, and we’re taking him to the hospital.
AMY GOODMAN: So you got him to the hospital. How did you end up here in the United States?
JABBAR SHARIF: [translated] His older son, Asad, his late son, Asad, who died —- actually what happened is Sad is the one that came last year with Ahmad in last April -—
AMY GOODMAN: How old is he?
HESHAM EL-MELIGY: He was 28. So they stayed here for like two months until Ahmad finished his prosthetics and other stuff. And he’s the one who applied for medical help and assistance. So, he got introduced to Elissa through an Iraqi doctor also, who heard about her activities here with the Iraqi children. So what happened, when they returned back in, I think, in June and then they were preparing to come back here this December, the father was driving the car from Baghdad to Nasiriyah, where they were trying to move. A car accident happened, Asad died. And Ahmad actually lost his spleen in that accident also.
AMY GOODMAN: Ahmad, how are you getting around without your arm?
AHMAD SHARIF: [translated] Without a prosthetic arm or the regular arm, of course, I can’t do anything. But when he was fitted with the prosthetic arm, he was so happy, and he started clapping, actually.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you feel being in the United States?
AHMAD SHARIF: [translated] I am very grateful to Elissa and that she is helping me and giving me a prosthetic arm so I can, you know, search my way around.
AMY GOODMAN: What are the things that make you happy now, Ahmad?
AHMAD SHARIF: [translated] The most — the best time here that I do is staying with Elissa. He loves her; he is in love with Elissa. And she also is very caring of him. She is a magnificent woman.
AMY GOODMAN: And how long are you staying here in the United States, Jabbar Sharif?
JABBAR SHARIF: [translated] As long as it takes for the medication, which is about at least two months.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you have a message, Ahmad, that you would like to share with children in the United States, other kids your age?
AHMAD SHARIF: [translated] He, of course, he would like to meet some of them. But, unfortunately, he cannot see anything. I mean, he just loves to play. He is like a beacon of love.
AMY GOODMAN: Elissa, your trip now, where does Ahmad and his father, Jabbar Sharif, where do they stay and what are the plans?
ELISSA MONTANTI: This is another story. I have had a facility since 2000 under the archdiocese, given to me by Catholic charities, which was once an orphanage, and it was an empty shell. It was an infirmary. And I was in People magazine and went — no — that was Parade back then. And I went to IKEA and Home Depot and asked if they could refurbish, and they did, which is wonderful. But now, I’m being asked to leave, because they want a local program in there. And quite frankly, it is very upsetting, because there’s issues with the daycare, mothers who do not like my program. I have brought 52 children — 51. And you know, it’s just — the resistance because of where they come from — Bosnia, Africa, the tsunami, Indonesia, and now Iraq. So I need to leave, and I’m in search of a new home actually for the children. However, I am confident I will find something.
AMY GOODMAN: Where is this home?
ELISSA MONTANTI: In Staten Island.
AMY GOODMAN: And you are looking for something in Staten Island?
ELISSA MONTANTI: Yeah. But what — you know, we’re really a small charity, but what makes it so wonderful is that I have the Shriners Hospital, Columbia Presbyterian, and it’s a very personal charity. It’s not 9:00 to 5:00 Monday through Friday. Hesham has joined forces with me, when I needed an interpreter. And now he’s like, you know, my side, my right hand. But there are — my waiting list is about 50 children from Iraq. And I have a Pakistani child coming next week. And I’m overwhelmed, because there are so many children that need help.
AMY GOODMAN: How can people reach you?
ELISSA MONTANTI: They could reach us by our website or our toll-free number [1-866-734-4673]. Our website is www.globmed.org.
AMY GOODMAN: For "Global Medicine."
HESHAM EL-MELIGY: Without the "e," the globe without the "e".
ELISSA MONTANTI: Without the "e." Kanen, the first boy I helped, who is now my adopted son from Bosnia, who is a triple amputee, he designs and manages the website. So it’s back when we designed it that the "e" came out. But anyway, there are so many children. And the need is great. And every child I bring has a story. Little Dalal, who was here, lost her home, her eight-year-old brother. And, you know, it is just heart-wrenching. And the sad thing is that as generous as Americans are, and they are, there is also the other face, which is so sad, so, so sad, and we need to pray.
HESHAM EL-MELIGY: We had another kid, a little Iraqi girl, six years old. Her name is Dalal. She’s from Basra. In the very beginning of the war, March 30 of 2003, her house was hit by a missile from an American fighter jet, and destroyed the house, killed her brother and injured her mother. And, of course, she lost her leg, her right leg in that accident. She was only three years old at the time. She just left a few days ago. And, I mean, if you see these children and everything on the website, actually, there’s a lot of photos, a lot of stories. We need the help to be able to continue to do such work.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to end with Jabbar Sharif. Are you afraid to return to Iraq now?
JABBAR SHARIF: [translated] The southern part of Iraq is a little more stable than Baghdad and the north. So, they are actually moving from Baghdad to Nasiriyah in the south, seeking, you know, better —
AMY GOODMAN: And Ahmad, as we end this interview, do you have advice for children who have been hurt like you have? Maybe a story to tell.
AHMAD SHARIF: [translated] He says, stay strong.
ELISSA MONTANTI: He’s such an inspiration.
HESHAM EL-MELIGY: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, thank you very much for coming to our studios.
ELISSA MONTANTI: Thank you very much.
HESHAM EL-MELIGY: Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: Ahmad Sharif, eight years old, his father Jabbar Sharif, and Elissa Montanti of Global Medicine. This is Democracy Now! It’s called Global Medical Relief Fund. When we come back, three-year-old Alaa joins us.
AMY GOODMAN: We continue to look at the impact of the invasion and occupation on Iraqi children. We turn now to three-year-old, Alaa Khalid Hamdan. She and her father also joined us in our studio on Friday.
AMY GOODMAN: Today, we’re joined by Khalid Hamdan Abd and his three-year-old daughter Alaa. Last May, a U.S. tank opened fire on their home in the town of Al Qaim near the Syrian border. Two of Khalid’s sons died, as did three of his cousins. The infant, Alaa, was seriously injured. Thanks to the organization No More Victims, she recently had surgery in the United States to reconstruct her abdominal wall. She also underwent eye surgery to remove shrapnel and to reattach her retina. According to her surgeon, she would have been blinded for life if she hadn’t undergone the surgery. Cole Miller also joins us, a Hollywood screenwriter and founder of nomorevictims.org. Our guests will be translated by Hesham El-Meligy, an advisor to the Global Medical Relief Fund. We welcome you all to Democracy Now!
COLE MILLER: Thanks, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you start by talking about No More Victims and this family?
COLE MILLER: Well, No More Victims, I founded it back in September 2002, in anticipation of the invasion, because I wanted to show the human face of collateral damage. And we went over, we originally tried to go over and get a girl named Israa Abdul Amir out prior to the invasion. I then — I felt that once we put these projects together and we began bringing children over, that other communities would want to get involved and bring children themselves.
So I started to acquire medical reports. One of those medical reports was for Alaa Khalid. And then what I thought happened would happen did happen. A 22-year-old law student with two children of her own from central Florida contacted me, saying she wanted to help a child, that if one of her children was in the situation that these children are in, she would want someone to help her and to help her child. So I then sent her the medical reports, and she went out and pounded on doors and hospitals and doctors’ offices and got the medical care set up in her community, and then I organized the process of getting her here. And so, a 22-year-old law student with no resources to speak of, no time and two children, actually saved this child’s eyesight. And that’s something the communities in the United States can actually do.
AMY GOODMAN: And what actually did the doctors do on her eye? What was in her eye?
COLE MILLER: Well, she had 17 pieces of micro-shrapnel in one eye and 11 pieces of micro-shrapnel in the other eye, and a detached retina. She was blind when she got here. She had sensitivity to light only in one eye. And Dr. Saad Shaikh, a very gifted retinal surgeon, removed the micro-shrapnel. There were a number of surgeries that took many hours, and it was all donated care. And we’re very, very grateful to him. He extracted the micro-shrapnel, reattached the retina, and then she convalesced for a period of about three weeks with plastic goggles taped over her eyes. Afterwards, about a week later, they took the goggles off, and they put on a pair of glasses, and she stood up and walked over and picked up a toy.
AMY GOODMAN: Cole Miller is with us, as is Khalid Hamdan Abd and his daughter, Alaa, who you hear is sitting on the chair. Welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about what happened and when it happened?
KHALID HAMDAN ABD: [translated] The accident happened on March 5, 2005. Last year. He was at work at this time, and they heard about the explosion that happened, and they ran home. They were a close distance to home. And they found the injuries and fatalities that happened.
AMY GOODMAN: Alaa’s playing with a little clock.
KHALID HAMDAN ABD: [translated] There were five deaths in the family, on two families, him and his brother’s, and also nine injured, including Alaa with her eyes injured and the shrapnel filling her face also.
AMY GOODMAN: So, how did you make the trip to this country? And do you know who attacked your family?
KHALID HAMDAN ABD: [translated] It’s most probably it was a tank shell that hit the house, because it was a long distance and there was no air — I mean, fighter jets flying at this time. And he doesn’t know for sure but, you know, the accident itself made him busy with the fatalities.
AMY GOODMAN: And what are your thoughts, being in this country now, in the United States?
KHALID HAMDAN ABD: [translated] I’m pleased and praise be to God that I was able to come here and treat Alaa, my daughter, and I’m just like any other father who cares about his children, and that’s why — that’s the most important thing to him.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you afraid to return to Al Qaim now?
KHALID HAMDAN ABD: [translated] It is kind of scary to go back, because even if you are just driving your car peacefully in the street, you might be shot by the American troops for no reason. So it is not easy to live there, and also going back is scary.
AMY GOODMAN: And does Alaa understand what happened to her?
KHALID HAMDAN ABD: [translated] Yes, she understands. She knows that the reason of the accident is American bomb that hit her and killed her brother and, you know, similar things.
AMY GOODMAN: And how do you feel that it’s an American bomb that killed your children and American doctors who are helping your surviving child heal?
KHALID HAMDAN ABD: [translated] When he was first told by this Iraqi doctor that they are going to try to get him out of the country for treatment, he said he thought it’s going to be an Arab country, so he said, "Okay." But when they told him it’s America, he refused. And they told him again for three times, and he refuses; he doesn’t want to go, until somebody told him that the people of America, the population, are different, different from the army. They are not the same. So, on that basis, he accepted to come here.
AMY GOODMAN: Have a safe trip home.
KHALID HAMDAN ABD: [translated] Thank you very much.
COLE MILLER: Amy, if I could say briefly, there are tens of thousands of children who have been injured in this war, and many of those children, their injuries are beyond medical remedy. But one other thing that we’re doing is we’re gathering up the medical reports and also the facts behind how they were injured, and groups in the United States are now organizing to provide advocacy for these children. There is a group in South Carolina that is now organizing, and they are going to be asking questions of the Pentagon. There is a little girl named Ayad, who picked up a cluster bomb in Baghdad. She was permanently blinded. There is no medical remedy. But they are now raising money in their communities and their churches, at their offices, and they are finding out the facts for themselves. Since we are not getting it through the mainstream media, they’re finding out the human stories of this war, and they are going to be advocating for these children. And if anyone wants to participate, please contact me. You can get to me through my website, which is www.nomorevictims.org, or send me an e-mail. I got hacked the other day, so not all the links work, but it will be up and working perfectly soon. But you can also contact me via my e-mail address, which is firstname.lastname@example.org.
AMY GOODMAN: Cole Miller, Khalid Hamdan Abd, and his daughter, Alaa. They were translated by Hesham El-Meligy. Again that group, nomorevictims.org, and the group that brought Ahmad Sharif to this country is Global Medical Relief. That’s globmed.org. And we’ll link to those groups on our website at democracynow.org.