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Iraqi children become war casualties as fighting enters city streets

NEAR NAJAF, Iraq—The face of this war is changing. It is becoming the face of a child.

As the battle has moved to the streets, more and more children are getting shot.

"Caught in the crossfire," said Maj. Scott McDannold, a MASH nurse near Najaf.

Six children were flown to the unit over the weekend, wounded by Iraqi AK-47s, American M-16s or mortar shells from either side. Two arrived in critical condition and were slowly improving.

A 5-year-old girl was shot in the hand, a 7-year-old boy in the forearm. An 18-month-old girl was hit in the shoulder, a 3-year-old boy in the belly. Those four were treated at the mobile military hospital and sent to an Iraqi hospital in Najaf.

But Sayed Hassan, a 3-year-old, lies in intensive care in the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, a gunshot from an AK-47 an inch from his heart. Soldiers found him lying in the dust near Baghdad.

Sayed cries for his "Popi," but no one knows what happened to his parents, whether they are dead or alive.

Army nurses, doctors and translators heap attention on him: Does he want juice? Does he want to hear a tune played on a guitar? Look at a picture of a dog, a tree, a mountain? Talk to a surgical glove blown into a balloon with a smiling face drawn on it?

"You are my Popi's friend?" he asks a MASH translator in Arabic.

"Yes," replies the translator, who has never met the little boy's father.

In the next cot is Wassam Atayie, 16, whose left leg was blown off above the knee by a U.S. mortar round.

He says he hopes someone in the toddler's family will find the boy. He says he knows his own brother will come for him because it was his brother who found him lying in the field, after the blast took his leg.

"He will come," Atayie says in Arabic.

Atayie was running from American mortar rounds when he was hit. He lived through the night lying in a field near his family's poultry farm, where his brother found him, and was airlifted out by U.S. troops at dawn. He forgot to ask about his parents before the helicopter took off.

"I hope they're OK," he says. "Like Sayed's parents."


Laughlin reports for The Miami Herald.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.