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Published:September 26th, 2007 10:52 EST
Iraq War From a Different Perspective

Iraq War From a Different Perspective

By Krzys Wasilewski

The war in Iraq, now in its fifth year, has received substantial media coverage. Day after day, we are bombarded with new, alarming reports from this troubled country. In a sea of casualty statistics, damaged military equipment, and billions of dollars appropriated for the war, it is easy to miss a personal tragedy. Jannat was born 12 months ago, in Baghdad, Iraq. Minutes after she let out her first scream, the doctors diagnosed Jannat with a rare and serious heart disease. In the realities of post-Saddam Baghdad, it could mean only one thing: death. Fortunately, for Jannat, her grandfather had studied in Poland in the 1960s and now served as a translator for a Polish brigade stationed in south Iraq. The old man managed to talk his superiors into taking his granddaughter to Poland and sponsoring an expensive surgery. In July, Jannat, with her father and grandfather – her mother had to stay at home to take care of the rest of the children – landed in the southern city of Wroclaw and was quickly carted off to a children's hospital.

When Jannat's story had reached the media, doctors decided to perform the surgery for free. The Polish army, together with people of good will, sponsored the stay for her entourage, as well as further expenses. For the two Iraqis, Poland seemed to be an oasis of peace and prosperity in comparison with their war-shattered homeland. They were able to walk the streets freely, enjoying the small pleasantries of every day life – eating ice cream, window shopping, visiting museums. It took them some time to get used to seeing cars without the fear that a passing Mercedes or Chevrolet could be housing another bomb.

The surgery lasted over eight hours and was carried out by two groups of the country's most established surgeons. For Jannat's father and grandfather those eight hours seemed like years; the several feet between their chairs and the surgery room became an insurmountable distance. The cold, sterile green of the hospital's walls now burned their bodies with an electric fire. Despite the 21st-century technology and the amazing skills of the surgeons, no one could guarantee that Jaanat would survive the complicated operation. Normally, such surgeries are performed days, if not hours, after the birth of a sick baby, whereas the young Iraqi girl was merely ten months old. What is more, her sick heart had already been noticeably weakened by malnutrition and poor medical conditions in her home, in Baghdad. But faced with the choice between having a risky surgery and letting Jaanat die in a matter of months, her father had not hesitated.

Early in the morning, the doors to the surgery room opened and the tired doctor delivered a message: Jaanat is fine; the operation was successful. It would still be hours until the baby woke up, but for her father and grandfather, the horror of the last several hours was finally over. They could go back to the hotel and get some rest.

Jaanat surprised everyone with the speed of her recovery. At her bed, there would always be six nurses, ready to help in case the monitor showed that her heart had stopped beating. But nothing like that happened, so the nurses usually played with Jaanat, trying to substitute for her mother. The small Iraqi appeared remarkably strong, steadily gaining weight and showing faster improvements than anyone had expected. Jaanat's father visited her every day while her grandfather was shuttling between the hospital and the Polish ministry of foreign affairs, fixing their immigration papers.

A month after the operation, Jaanat was given permission to leave the hospital. Since she still had to receive various medicines – expensive and unobtainable in Iraq – the family decided to stay in Poland until the doctors allowed the girl to return to her country. This idyll, however, did not last long. Jaanat's father proved to be unprepared to take care of his little daughter; back in Iraq, it was his wife who looked after the children. According to the tradition of Islam, the man worked and enjoyed the privileges of inherent law whereas the woman made sure that the household was kept in order. The doctors who visited Jaanat on a daily basis grew suspicious of the girl's deteriorating health and took her back to the hospital, much to the relief of her father.

On Tuesday, September 18, Jaanat left for Iraq. The hospital's authorities opposed the move, arguing that Baghdad was not the place for an ill girl. But in the words of a psychologist, Jaanat needed the presence of her mother since it was over two months since they had first parted. Also Jannat's relatives insisted that they returned to Iraq. Dozens of ordinary people, touched by her moving story, as well as the Polish forces who had provided the girl and her relatives with enough medicine and money to accomplish Jaanat’s treatment witnessed her departure from Wroclaw.

Two days later, on Thursday, September 20, a commander of the Polish brigade in Iraq received a phone call from Jaanat's grandfather. He had only one thing to say: Jaanat is dead. Later he explained that the girl had died during the night night, probably of suffocation. Any attempts to take her to a nearby hospital had been abandoned due to the imposed curfew. The information surprised the doctors from the Wroclaw hospital since, back in Poland, the little Iraqi had been in such perfect health. Her grandfather declined further comment.

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