To say that Zahraa Hamada has just made an ironic journey would be the understatement of her lifetime.
The 12-year-old Iraqi girl flew thousands of miles last week to receive open-heart surgery in a country that is bombing her homeland, killing and maiming other children her age. Meanwhile, United Nations sanctions on Iraqi oil sales have been blamed for shortages of food and medical supplies that have claimed the lives of an estimated 500,000 children since 1990,
Hamada awaits surgery at an Indiana hospital. She is one of 10 Iraqi children so far brought to the United States by the Southfield-based nonprofit Life for Relief and Development. Jad Jadallah, a spokesman for the organization, says he met the girl and her mother Oct. 6 in New York and the three of them flew back to Detroit.
Jadallah said, "The mom was saying, Is it safe to have the operation here? We are at war with the U.S." He said he told her, "Dont worry, because the Americans who brought you here want to save your daughter."
Of the girl, Jadallah adds, "She was walking so slowly. I felt she was very tired. She was so quiet."
After staying a few days with an Iraqi family in Dearborn, the girl and her mother flew to Indiana over the weekend, where Hamada is scheduled to have surgery Oct. 18. The hospital is performing the operation without charge.
Hamada needed to seek medical care in the United States because bombing has destroyed Iraqs health care infrastructure. Also, the United Nations Childrens Fund estimates that 4,500 Iraqi kids die monthly because of malnutrition and medicine shortages caused by the U.S.-backed U.N. sanctions. In August, UNICEF reported that child deaths have more than doubled in Iraq since the 1991 Gulf War.
"Theyre letting medicine in, but theres a lengthy, tedious process to get it through the U.N.," says Dr. Vicki Robb, Life for Relief and Developments medical director, who led a delegation to Iraq including students and doctors between Aug. 23 and Sept. 29. Robb says the medias portrayal of the Iraq situation misses the dimension of human suffering.
"Theres people killed or injured every day," she says. "We saw children with actual shrapnel under their skin that was still there ... We met one child in particular and we were interested in getting him back to be treated because he was injured (by a U.S. bomb). His brother was killed, who was 8, I believe, and he was 6 and had shrapnel all over him."
Iraq has long pleaded with the United States and Britain to stop using U.N. sanctions to try to overthrow its government. U.S. and British officials blame Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein for the child mortality rate, saying he hoards medicines and refuses other help.
Anti-sanctions grassroots groups from around the United States are expected to attend the National Organizing Conference on Iraq, Oct. 15-17 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. To learn more or to register for the conference, check out this Web Site. To contact Life for Relief and Development, call 1-800-827-3543 or 1-800-82RELIEF.