One child’s war: Iraqi boy hopes for a better life

SNOHOMISH – Hope brought the little blind boy from Baghdad to Snohomish.

Maybe in America, his family hoped, doctors could restore the eyesight of Muhammed “Hamoody” Hussein.

The Shiite boy was 2 when Sunni insurgents shot him in the face.

American doctors eventually ruled out a miracle. The now-4-year-old will not regain his sight.

He’s since received reconstructive surgery to improve his disfigured face and will have another operation soon.

When Hamoody finishes his medical treatment this fall, his visa will expire. Then he is expected to return to his family in Iraq.

His Snohomish foster parents, Randy and Julie Robinett Smith, want that to change.

A blind boy has a better future in America, they say. He will not have much of a chance in Baghdad, wracked by sectarian violence.

Bombings and murders have left many orphans and injured children.

And the country doesn’t provide education for children in those situations, said Adil Joda, Hamoody’s uncle.

“It will be very hard for him to get back to a normal life in this war-torn country,” said Joda in a phone interview from Baghdad.

Joda, 27, who teaches linguistics at the University of Baghdad, hopes to immigrate to the United States and raise Hamoody.

The boy’s parents don’t want to put him up for adoption, but they are struggling to make ends meet. The extended family of 19 people now live in a single house, Joda said.

“They can’t afford him,” Joda said of Hamoody’s parents.

The Smiths, who have hosted Hamoody since May 2006, want to help Joda settle in Snohomish. They are willing to pay for Hamoody’s education if he can stay here.

“Being blind in Iraq, he will have no life, no school, no job,” Julie Robinett Smith said holding Hamoody in her arms.

“No playing outside,” Hamoody added, speaking in an American accent.

The Smiths, who have two daughters, have fallen in love with Hamoody. The boy attends Central Elementary School in Snohomish, where he learned how to count to 100 and spell his name in English.

“We want what’s best for him,” Julie Robinett Smith said. “He’s smart. He will be an asset for our society.”

Smith has contacted U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., seeking help. Matt McAlvanah, a spokesman for Murray, declined to comment on the issue, saying there were privacy matters involved.

Larsen said that Hamoody should be allowed to stay in the United States. This country is known for its generosity, he said.

“It’s about providing hope and opportunity,” Larsen said.

A visitor visa might be granted for Joda to visit Hamoody in Snohomish, or Hamoody might be allowed to stay here as a refugee, Larsen said.

About 2 million people are displaced in Iraq, and another 2 million have fled to other countries such as Syria and Jordan, Larsen said.

President Bush announced earlier this year that up to 7,000 Iraqi refugees would come to the United States. But new security screening procedures have delayed the process.

Since the war began in May 2003, fewer than 800 refugees have been admitted to the United States, the Associated Press reported on May 30.

“We need to do a better job on the Iraqi refugee issue overall,” Larsen said, adding that European countries such as Sweden are taking more Iraqi refugees.

Meanwhile, Everett already has a sizable Iraqi community between 500 and 1,000 people, said Van Dinh-Kuno, executive director of Refugee and Immigrant Services Northwest. Most of them came to Everett as refugees following the first Gulf War in the early 1990s.

“They might bring in more Iraqis,” Dinh-Kuno said. “We don’t know for sure.”

The Smiths, though, see an opportunity to reach out and help one of the civil war’s victims.

“We don’t want him to be damaged psychologically more than he has,” Julie Robinett Smith said. “He’s been through so much.”

When insurgents ambushed Hamoody and his family in May 2005, she said, they fired on the boy with a shotgun at close range.

Hamoody’s right eye was shot out. His remaining eye was left blind. His uncle was shot to death. His mother was shot in her head and spine; his cousin in a leg. Only his sister escaped injury.

The Shiite family was denied medical treatment at a Baghdad hospital because Sunni insurgents threatened hospital staff. Hamoody was later treated in Iran; he came home to Iraq with scar tissue on his face.

His uncle Joda turned to the Internet and came across Healing the Children, a Spokane-based international nonprofit group that helps children to receive medical treatment.

Rebecca Snyders, executive director of the group’s Oregon and Western chapter, coordinated the effort to find foster parents and bring Hamoody to Snohomish.

“The biggest obstacle was getting his visa because traveling outside Baghdad is very limited,” Snyders said.

Hamoody, escorted by his grandmother, traveled to Jordan and waited six weeks to get the visa, Snyders said.

Since arriving in Snohomish in May 2006, Hamoody has picked up English fast, made friends at school and brought a lot of joy to the Smiths.

He received several checkups and examinations, as doctors determined what could be done to bring him to a normal life.

The boy finally went through reconstructive surgery on May 18 at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center.

Doctors donated their time removing scar tissue from Hamoody’s face and taking out four inches of his rib to rebuild his right eye socket and nose. The surgery was to improve the look of his face and ease his breathing.

Hamoody is expected to receive more surgery in August, Julie Robinett Smith said.

She knows that he will then have to go back to Iraq.

Her heart can’t accept that; she wants him to stay in America and maximize his potential.

“We love him,” she said.

Hamoody, who loves chocolate milk and fish and chips, has settled into her five-bedroom house. He now zigzags among chairs and tables as if he could see them.

“Do you want to stay in America?” Smith asked the boy.

“Yes,” Hamoody said.

“What do you want to do in America?”

“I want to be an attorney.”

Why?

To help cops, Hamoody said.

As he talked to Smith, he drank juice from a Burger King paper cup.

Reporter Yoshiaki Nohara: 425-339-3029 or ynohara@ heraldnet.com.

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