- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Ibrahim Sadic Shokic is among a unique class of casualties produced by the Iraq war: thankful to be alive but struggling to craft a life in a mangled body that never will be the same. Thirteen months ago, surgeons severed the 15-year-old’s right leg above the knee after it was mangled by a roadside bomb while Ibrahim was enjoying a sunset stroll in central Baghdad.

Four months after the attack, Ibrahim was fitted for an artificial limb at a government-run facility, but he is still waiting for his prosthesis, tottering along on a pair of decrepit crutches he bought on the black market for $40.

“I get very depressed when I look at him,” said Faras Emir of his cousin, who has now waited nine months for his new leg. “He’s a young man, but he can’t do any of the things people his age normally do, like go to school or play soccer. It’s even difficult for him to use the bathroom.”

In addition to claiming tens of thousands of lives, the 53 months of mayhem here have left behind more amputees than government-run facilities can help, even though medical technicians have doubled their output to 1,100 prostheses a year since the war began.

For amputees such as Ibrahim, the shortage of artificial limbs often means an isolated, sedentary and hopeless existence.

The high school sophomore no longer attends school or visits friends because, he says, “it hurts too much to move around.” He has outgrown his weathered metal crutches.

Tired of waiting for his free government-issued limb, Ibrahim made the treacherous journey to Amman, Jordan, looking to buy something. He was disappointed to find a prosthetic limb there would cost $6,000, an amount far out of the grasp of his single mother, who supports the two of them on 200,000 Iraqi dinars, or $160, monthly.

So for now, he’ll have to hope for outside help or simply wait for the government to get to him.

Steve Sosebee, who heads the Palestinian Children”s Relief Fund (PCRF), an independent aid group based in the West Bank town of Ramallah, said prosthetic limbs are psychologically and physically significant for amputees, especially children and teens.

“If they have an artificial leg or arm, they will be much more independent, able to go to school, to access public places and be less dependent on others in the family for their basic needs,” said Mr. Sosebee, whose organization has facilitated artificial limbs for three Iraqi youths since 2005.

The organization is working to acquire a prosthetic limb for Ibrahim and one other Iraqi teen in Baghdad.

In a recent visit to a workshop at the back of the Baghdad Artificial Limb Center last month, about two dozen technicians in white smocks and lab coats buzzed around the room.

Hussain Yousef, 39, stood at a metal workbench attaching a piece of polypropylene to a metal slat as he constructed an artificial leg for a child.

Haitham Mohammed, 40, sat nearby with a plaster cast of a leg held in a vice, which he used to take measurements for a different prosthesis.

A pile of completed artificial limbs lay on a table at the back of the workshop, a testament to the craftsmanship of the staff, people who only can be described as overworked and undercompensated.

Technicians explained a typical prosthesis takes at least two months to produce, while artificial limbs fitting amputees above the elbow or knee, as in Ibrahim’s case, take longer. Those devices, the technicians said, are more complicated because they also must act as a joint.

Built in 1982 under the auspices of the Defense Ministry, the Baghdad Artificial Limb Center initially served amputee veterans in Iraq’s long war with neighboring Iran, along with a handful of civilians.

The center was operated independently for the last eight months of 2003 while the staff worked without pay until the Health Ministry assumed control in January 2004.

Amad Hasan, the center’s director, who oversees 27 other employees, said that along with the growing demand for prostheses, poor security along Iraq’s highways and the destruction of vital bridges leading to the capital during insurgent attacks in recent months have choked off the delivery of materials.

“If we don’t have the supplies we need, the patients may have to wait a long time,” Mr. Hasan said.

While there are two government-sponsored prosthetic-limb centers in Baghdad, services for Iraqis outside of the capital are available only in four other provinces throughout the country, including Basra, Najaf, Babel and Mosul.

Health Ministry officials said they have requested funding from the World Bank to build additional centers in the country’s 13 other provinces.

“We need at least one in every province so people wouldn’t have to travel great distances for treatment,” Mr. Hasan said.

Behind a white curtain inside one of the center’s examining rooms, a battered artificial leg stood at attention like a loyal servant beside 45-year-old Kareem Sahan.

Technician Mohammed Jabar meticulously marked a stocking covering the withering stub of flesh below Mr. Sahan’s right knee with purple ink — the first step toward fitting the former war veteran for a new prosthesis.

“I have to work, and this enables me to do my job,” said Mr. Sahan, a studio photographer whose right leg was severed below his knee after an injury sustained on the battlefield in 1982, while pointing to his artificial limb. “I can’t do anything without it.”

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