Ahmed Zuhair, Iraq "I have only god to help my daughter"

BAGHDAD, 6 June 2007 (IRIN) - Four years ago, Ahmed Zuhair, 44, a father of three girls, decided to get his family out of Baghdad as US-led forces were heading in to topple former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's regime. Minutes after they left their home, nearby bombings sent shrapnel flying at the family, injuring his three daughters Arsalan, 14, Suzan, 12 and Ban, 9.

At the time, doctors only managed to remove shrapnel from Arsalan and Suzan. Ban's case was more difficult and required complex surgery, which could not be done in Iraq. For the past four years, Ban has depended on painkillers to cope with the shrapnel in her head.

However, last March a piece of shrapnel in her brain led to the formation of an abscess, leaving her almost paralysed in bed and forcing her to leave school permanently.

"As US-led forces were heading to Baghdad on 6 April [2003], me, my wife and our three daughters - Arsalan, Suzan and Ban - left our house in Baghdad's northern neighbourhood of Hurriya at about 8pm. As we were walking to a relative's house to leave with them in their car, bombings rocked our neighbourhood and left my three daughters with shrapnel wounds. The doctors later said it was from cluster bombs.

"I immediately hired a taxi to take them to a hospital in one of Baghdad's north-eastern suburbs as I couldn't take them to downtown Baghdad, but we were stopped by Iraqi soldiers who prevented us from approaching the hospital area saying there was a military operation in the area. So we continued to Baqouba [a city about 60km northeast of Baghdad] as my three daughters were bleeding inside the taxi.

"We spent 10 days at Baqouba hospital where they took out shrapnel from Arsalan, Suzan and some of Ban's, who lost her left eye. But they left three other pieces of shrapnel in Ban's body, as they didn't have the facilities to do the major surgery she required. That left her with shrapnel in her brain, her back and right hand.

"When we returned to Baghdad, I went to all the hospitals but I was shocked when doctors told me that they didn't have the medical equipment to do the surgery as most hospitals were looted in the chaos that followed the invasion. I went to the US-led forces headquarters in Baghdad, to the Iraqi health ministry and the Iraqi Red Crescent Society - but in vain. They all told me that her surgery can't be done in Baghdad and that I have to take her abroad.

"We have been depending on pain killers to alleviate her headache over the past four years, but her situation has deteriorated since last March as her upper and lower limbs have become paralysed. Now, she has difficulties talking and breathing and she has blackouts from time to time after which she loses the inability to recognise others. And because of all that she has left her school.

"The doctors told me that the shrapnel in her brain has led to the formation of an abscess that affects its nerves and this needs major surgery, which can't be done in Iraq.

"I've come here to Najaf [about 200km south of Baghdad] to live with a relative as the security situation is better than Baghdad. Here, I can rush Ban to hospital during the night and the electricity is better.

"Now, the outlook for my Ban is grim as she lies motionless in her bed in front of me all the time and sometimes I see tears run down her cheeks as if she knows she's dying. I have just God now to help my daughter. Moreover, I now depend on financial assistance from relatives, as I can't leave her to work. And my wife can't look after her as she is pregnant."