Boy, 16, made lone trip to Iraq for school project

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The Independent Online

You might hope, however, that the teacher of his high-school journalism class will give him top marks for initiative. Then again, he could be expelled.

No one could accuse the 16-year-old American of not taking his homework seriously. The journalism assignment was clear: write about an international issue of significance from the viewpoint of people living through it. The holidays are coming up, he thought: why not go to Baghdad?

Yesterday, as the American government shipped him back to his family in Fort Lauderdale - his parents are natives of Iraq who have lived in the US for 35 years - he perhaps saw the downside of his bright idea. He did manage to make it to Baghdad, but not without several moments of death-defying challenge.

There was the day that a Kuwaiti taxi driver dumped him at the Iraqi border but angry guards barred his path. And the moment another driver lunged to punch him in the face. And the scary Christmas foray to a Baghdad restaurant where no one understood him and he was left to flee back to his hotel fearing for his life.

The perilous odyssey started on 11 December, when Hassan left for Miami airport bearing a $900 (£525) ticket for a flight to Kuwait. Only upon arriving did he telephone his parents to say where he was. After his abortive drive to the border and ignoring pleas from his father to come home, he flew to Beirut, where family friends gave him shelter.

It was from Beirut that Hassan finally took a plane on Christmas morning to Baghdad and into a country where 400 foreigners have been kidnapped since the war began and 39 others have been murdered. Thanks to his parentage he at least looked like other Iraqis, but he cannot speak a word of the language.

Meanwhile, he e-mailed a short essay to his teacher. "I want to experience during my Christmas the same hardships ordinary Iraqis experience every day, so that I may better empathise with their distress," he wrote.

Come Tuesday, Hassan found his way to the Associated Press bureau. The appearance in the office of a lone, teenage American startled an editor, Patrick Quinn, who said: "I would have been less surprised if little green men had walked in." He quickly alerted officials at the US embassy.

The teen's big adventure was over when an officer from the 101st Airborne arrived at his hotel room to take him away. The Army is now delivering him back to the safer climes of Florida. "I don't think I will ever let him leave the house alone again," said his mother.