In the nine months since she was born, tiny Fatima Jubouri first lost her father, then gunmen killed her mother and uncle and she was left alone and uncared for in a pile of garbage in Baghdad.Police found Fatima, malnourished and suffering from dehydration in Iraq’s scorching summer heat, hidden under rubbish in one of southern Baghdad’s most violent districts.
How she got there is not clear, although there is speculation her mother hid her before she was killed.
An innocent rescued from Iraq’s killing fields, her survival against the odds has made Fatima a media star at a U.S. military hospital in Baghdad’s Green Zone.
“She is a baby — she is happiness in a bad place,” said Lieutenant Beth Brauchli, the hospital’s acting public affairs officer.
Between Fatima’s naps, staff at the 28th Combat Support Hospital have been scheduling appointments for U.S. and other foreign television crews to visit their tiny charge in the hope that her story will rescue her from an uncertain future.
Children are particularly vulnerable in Iraq’s sectarian violence that has killed tens of thousands of people and made millions homeless. A report by British charity Oxfam also said at least 28 percent of Iraqi children were malnourished.
For now, Fatima is the center of attention, doted on by nurses and other visitors to her ward. But soon, and no one at the hospital knows exactly when, U.S. soldiers will return to take her to an orphanage to join her five siblings.
“Every day we are waiting for the soldiers to come and take her to the orphanage. We are not pushing, because we know what the future could hold for her,” said the ward’s head nurse, Captain Nhan Ngo-Anderson, adding that she had heard that efforts were being made to find Fatima’s extended family.
After receiving adoption inquiries, the hospital’s chief doctor made enquiries at the U.S. embassy, staff said. They replied that “Iraqi law does not currently permit full adoptions as they are currently understood in the United States”.
A U.S. embassy official referred media inquiries to Iraq’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.
Brauchli said staff were hoping that the media interest in Fatima would “create a loophole in the policy.”
However, adoption is forbidden in Muslim countries.
Fatima weighed just 8.4 lbs when she was admitted, the weight of a new-born baby. Now she is a healthier 11.6 lbs, but still her wide, dark eyes seem too big for her face, and her head looks too large for a body stunted by malnourishment.
Old ringworm scars mark her thin arms.
The U.S. military says Iraqi police rescued her from a garbage dumpster on June 25 in the mostly Sunni Arab district of Saidiya, where many residents are too afraid to venture out.
She was brought to the hospital by U.S. soldiers who had been in the area at the time. They told staff how her parents and uncle had been killed.
“When she first got here she was timid and scared. Now she is laughing all the time. We’ve made a sling out of a sheet. We put her in there and carry her around while we take care of patients and do paperwork,” said Specialist Desmond Cacciotti.
Her presence is a welcome distraction for staff. They are still trying to come to terms with the death of head nurse Captain Maria Ortiz, who was killed in a mortar attack on July 10, the first army nurse to die in combat since the Vietnam war.