Three among tens of thousands - a family, maimed and then forgotten

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The Independent Online

The Abdullah children are three of the forgotten victims of the war in Iraq. A brother and his two sisters, by a terrible twist of fate they each lost one of their legs when an American rocket smashed through the back of their pick-up truck during the advance on Baghdad in April.

But while the lucky few who made it on to the world's television screens, have been flown to the West for treatment, the Abdullah children are among the thousands who have been left behind.

They hobble into the room to meet us one by one. First Abbas, a 10-year-old boy on crutches. Then his four-year-old sister, Ilaf. The family could not even find any crutches small enough for her, so she hops in on her one remaining leg. Last comes Sabrin, a 14-year-old girl on crutches, old enough to be painfully self-conscious about her new deformity.

While Ali Ismail Abbas, the 12-year-old boy who lost his arms in a US air strike, smiles politely for the cameras in London, the Abdullahs have nothing. They could get state-of-the-art prosthetic legs if they were treated in Britain. They might even be able to walk again. Instead they are left to suffer. The family has tried to get Iraqi-made artificial legs for them. All you can get are basic, rudimentary stumps. But they could not get even those.

"Why did George Bush cut my leg off?" says the four-year-old, Ilaf. "I never did anything to him." The three children's legs were so badly mangled when the rocket hit the car that they had to be amputated. A single doctor, Daoud Sahan, had to perform all three heart-breaking amputations on the children, one by one in the basic, poorly equipped al-Mahmoudiya Hospital.

It was Dr Sahan who told us of the children, breaking off his work in the hospital to go home and find their address, in the hope that someone outside Iraq might do something for them. "I want to help my children," says their father, Hamza Abdullah. "I went to the international Red Cross and the Iraqi Red Crescent but no one responded."

"The doctors told us they would be transferred to a foreign country," adds their uncle, Hussein Abdullah, who was with the children the day they were injured. "We recorded their names with lots of humanitarian organisations, but nobody cared."

The family lives on a farm, out among the rice paddies and date palms outside Baghdad. It looks peaceful now, but in the early days of April, as American forces advanced on Baghdad, this was a dangerous place to be.

"We were working out on the farm," says Hussein. "The children were with us when the Americans came. They attacked some Iraqi army buildings in the area, and so the people in this area were all trying to get away. We decided to head back. But before we could get to the house they attacked us."

The children were sitting in the pick-up truck. "We heard the sounds of some explosions and then the Americans attacked us," says Abbas. All three of the children needed emergency amputations when he first saw them, says Dr Sahan.

The pick-up the family were driving that day sits outside the house, a neat hole about one foot wide in one side where the rocket came in and a slightly larger hole where it exited. Why it was attacked is not clear. There were no soldiers, or irregular Fedayeen anywhere near when the vehicle was hit, according to the family. The Fedayeen were driving around in shiny new white trucks at the time and the Abdullahs' model is a beaten-up red relic. And the children would have been clearly visible riding in the open air in the rear.

Hamza is bitterly worried about his children. "What future do they have?" he says. Until April, they could look forward to a future that, while it would not bring wealth, would ensure they did not go hungry. The girls would marry farmers, and Abbas would inherit a share of his father's farm. They are useless on a farm now. The girls will find it hard to get married and Abbas will end up a cripple, supported by his relatives.

If they remain inside Iraq, their future is bleak. They are just three among thousands. "The Americans attacked three families in our area," says Hussein. "In one of the families seven of the children died in the same incident. They were with us in the hospital when we took our children in, but theirs died. From the family just one small girl survived."

For the Abdullah children it is not too late. They could get help in the West. But nobody is giving it to them. They are just being quietly forgotten.