Thursday, August 07, 2008

An Iraqi boy's story

Thanks C.H. for this heartbreaking story.
Kevin Cullen

The end of Rakan's war

Life asked far too much of Rakan Hassan, the Iraqi boy brought to Boston in 2005 for treatment after a mistaken shooting by American troops. The next chapter of his story is hard to write.

Rakan Hassan flashed his famous smile during a physical therapy session in Boston in November 2005. Rakan Hassan flashed his famous smile during a physical therapy session in Boston in November 2005. (Globe Staff Photo / Michele McDonald)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / August 3, 2008

We were standing on a dusty road in Mosul, Dr. Larry Ronan and I, and he had just left us.

It was January 2006 and this boy named Rakan had driven away in an Opel sedan identical to the one he was riding in when his life changed forever a year before, and so we stood there, with this odd mix of hope and apprehension, and waved goodbye.

Rakan Hassan had been shot and paralyzed, his parents killed, when American soldiers panicked and opened fire on the family car as it sped toward them in the fading light of dusk. Ronan and other doctors and therapists in Boston had put Rakan back together, and I had watched the whole process, to write about it, and then we brought Rakan back to the war zone where he was nearly killed because that was what Rakan and his family wanted.

As we waved, and the car driven by Rakan's brother-in-law disappeared into the dust, Larry Ronan must have felt what I was feeling because he put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye, and said, "Don't worry. We'll see him again."

We never did.

Rakan Hassan, the boy whose life Larry Ronan saved, the boy I sat with most days for five months, the boy who became my sons' friend, the boy who touched anybody and everybody he met, was killed in June when a bomb exploded at his family's home in Mosul. He was 14 years old. Two of his sisters - an infant and a teenager - were injured in the attack but are expected to recover.

It happened June 16, but given the madness that is Iraq, it took us weeks to confirm. We got a death certificate the other day and so now we know for sure.

The information is, like Iraq's future, sketchy at best. Through an interpreter, Rakan's brother-in-law and guardian, Nathir Bashir Ali, said he suspects insurgents put a bomb in or next to the house. He believes the house was targeted either because of his associations with the Iraqi government or because the family had accepted help for Rakan from Americans.

But the truth is, we don't know why. We only know Rakan is dead.

Larry Ronan has been heartsick for weeks, as he awaited final word. I have been, too. Ronan is a doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital with thousands of patients, but for six months in fall 2005 and winter 2006 you would have thought his only patient was Rakan.

Rakan's case caught the eye of humanitarians because his shooting was captured in a series of haunting photographs by Chris Hondros, a photographer for Getty Images who was embedded with the platoon from the First Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division, which opened fire on a car they thought was carrying suicide bombers.Continued...

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