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Boy working at vending stall among Iraqi victims to die in obscurity

BAGHDAD, Iraq—As he did most mornings, 13-year-old Ali Abbas al Nidawi arrived at his street-vending stall shortly after 8 a.m. last Tuesday and began to set up for another day of selling cigarettes and sodas in front of the Al Karma Hotel.

Then someone parked a blue Volkswagen Passat between the stall and the hotel.

For the rest of the day, the world saw footage of another suicide bombing in Baghdad, mainly of two cars—one had been flipped on top of the other—burning spectacularly when TV cameras arrived. Military officials believe a man was behind the wheel of the car bomb and that he was blown into thousands of indiscernible bits.

Ali died that afternoon in a dilapidated city hospital. The thinly built boy—who liked to collect clocks and had dropped out of school to help his family's tiny vending business—became another Iraqi victim of the violence that has plagued this country during the U.S.-led occupation.

While American fatalities are dutifully recorded, the vast majority of Iraqi terror victims die in obscurity. But each death has a ripple effect—emotional and economic—on family members, friends and neighbors.

And the frustration and resentment that many Iraqis already feel for the occupation grows with each new victim, said Salah Najim al Joboori, a human-rights lawyer.

"This is a disaster," he said.

On Monday, another car bomb in Baghdad killed four Iraqis and wounded 25 others.

Ali's father, Abbas Mohammed al Nidawi, 38, a burly man with a mild manner, now asks a simple question: "If the U.S. can't protect the people, why did they come here?"

Ali quit school when he was 8 years old to help his father in the makeshift concrete stall just down the street from their family's sand-colored brick house in Baghdad's al Jadriyah neighborhood.

The oldest of six children, Ali was not unlike many young boys in Iraq who become street vendors to support their families or simply to survive. Some sit on ice chests by the side of the road, but Ali did better. The al Nidawi family stall, about 8-feet square, had glass windows and an air-conditioning unit in the back.

Ali liked to collect pictures of the great Shiite Muslim martyrs and he displayed them proudly when he worked.

He would open for business between 8 and 9 in the morning and pack up around 5, when his father and his uncle would show up and turn the place into a kebob shack till after midnight.

But the kebob business was his uncle's. The money Ali made was for his family, and he would average about 5,000 dinars, or about $3.50 a day.

It was "just enough," his father said.

Sometimes when business was slow—as it usually was—Ali would sneak off to a nearby shop to a play shoot-'em-up videogames. Teen boys at the shop recalled that Ali liked to joke around and play "Counter-Strike."

Ali liked to swim and ride bikes. He also maintained a small collection of cheap but ornate clocks. His father said he liked the designs.

He kept them in an upstairs hallway that passed for his room. Ali slept on an old steel-framed bed.

"He was a very good boy," his father said.

On May 25, Ali kissed his still-sleeping father on the cheek and walked to work.

Minutes later someone parked the Volkswagen about 10 yards from the main entrance of the five-story Al-Karma Hotel. Guests, including a newlywed couple, occupied 12 rooms.

At 8:20 a.m., the Volkswagen exploded. Nearby cars erupted in flames, sending a black plume of smoke towering in the sky. Twisted pieces of the car bomb were blown more than 100 yards in every direction. Every window of the hotel facing the blast was shattered. Surprisingly, only four people inside were hurt and their injuries were minor.

Ali's father had just stepped out the front door of his sand-colored brick house when he heard and felt the powerful force of the explosion, which he could tell came from near the hotel.

Fearing for his son's life, he ran down the street to the family stall. As he approached he could see his son lying motionless nearby. Ali was covered in blood and appeared to have a severe injury to the side of his abdomen.

When Iraqi police arrived, Ali's cousin, Mohammed Ali, 18, and another man carried Ali into the back of a police vehicle, and with Ali's father aboard, they raced to a nearby private hospital. But hospital officials inside said they were not equipped to handle such an emergency and turned the family away.

Outside, Ali's father found that the Iraqi police had left, so he was forced to hail a taxi, which took five minutes.

The cab ride took another 20 minutes, much longer than it should have because the traffic was snarled.

Frustrated and desperate, Ali's father jumped out of the cab to plead with other driver's to clear the way for him.

Inside the taxi, Ali briefly regained consciousness, his cousin recalled. In agony from his wounds, Ali bit his cousin in the shoulder. He cried out for his mother and father.

As he began to slip out of consciousness for the final time, Ali told his cousin: "I want to sleep."

At the crowded Ibn al Nafees Hospital, Ali's father ran in with his son.

"Please help me!" he was crying, said receptionist Razak Rashid Jaber.

The staff moved quickly. Dr. Akeel Salmaan, who operated on the boy, said he had lost a lot of blood. During surgery, Ali was given 15 pints, Salmaan said, including 5 pints that were donated on the spot by volunteers.

Salmaan removed Ali's left kidney, spleen and part of his liver because they were so damaged.

After surgery, Ali was transferred to intensive care and Salaam sat at his side.

An hour later, at 2 p.m., Ali died.

On his death certificate, Ali is listed as a martyr.

Ali's family suspects the intended target of the bomb was the nearby Australian embassy and its personnel. If that was the case, the bomber had no chance to get close enough because of extensive security measures and concrete barriers. There were no Australians hurt in the blast.

Some officials believe the hotel, which was unprotected, became a target of opportunity. It is near a cluster of hotels used by western journalists and security contractors and the bomber may have believed some of them stayed at the Al-Karma. None did.

Maybe the target was simply anybody.

But life goes on and neighbors are talking about helping the al Nidawi family reopen the stall for business.

In the meantime, the family has no source of income.

"My relatives, they will help me," Ali's father said hopefully.

"Inshallah," he said. God willing.


(Moran reports for the Philadelphia Inquirer)


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ-VICTIM


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