| Ali Ismaeel Abbas in Saddam City hospital in Baghdad. (AFP)
London, April 15: Tony Blair, who has received a real hammering in the British media for the tragedy that has befallen Ali Ismaeel Abbas, has ordered that all stops should be pulled out to save the 12-year-old Iraqi boy, including flying him to Kuwait to receive life-saving treatment.
The Rajmata of Jaipur may have been one of the first public figures to want to do something about Ali but Blair’s need is more pressing: the British Prime Minister realises that if Ali dies, the boy will become the focus of worldwide anger and the “liberation” of Iraq will be forgotten.
Pictures of Ali, lying on a bed in Saddam City general hospital without his limbs and with 60 degree burns, have been flashed around the world and have become, much to Blair’s distress, the abiding symbol of the joint Anglo-American military action.
Ali’s parents and siblings were killed in a missile attack on Baghdad. Ali himself has given interviews from his hospital bed and been quoted by British journalists as saying: “Can you help get my arms back' Do you think the doctors can get me another pair of hands'”
He has described how his father, his brother and mother, who was five months pregnant, died in the missile blast. Journalists try to maintain a kind of neutrality, especially when reporting potentially controversial stories, but one journalist was so moved that he ruffled the boy’s hair.
An open appeal to Blair and President Bush from Ali’s nurse, Fatin Sharhah, has been published in Britain. She warned that Ali would not survive without immediate medical treatment, prompting Blair to consult Bush and clearing the way for necessary arrangements to be made, possibly to fly the boy to a Kuwait hospital today. There are fears that Ali might succumb to fatal blood poisoning.
“The situation is desperate,” begged Sharhah. “He will die if he stays. Please send one of your helicopters or planes.” She added: “You have all this technology to bomb us, to make the missile that burned Ali’s house. But you cannot spare one aircraft for one day to save a life.”
Pressed to show concern for the wounded, Blair told the House of Commons yesterday: “We are in touch with the authorities in respect of cases such as this, which are not in our zone of control. We will do whatever we can to help him (Ali) and others, because there are others in a similar position. In the last 24 hours two Iraqi children have been flown to the UK for treatment. We are working with US forces to see what we can do.”
As things stand, it does seem that Ali’s picture will haunt Blair, politically and possibly emotionally, for the rest of his life. The mood of those still angry that Britain went to war at all has been reflected by several commentators, one of whom, Richard Stott, a former editor of the Daily Mirror, wrote in the Sunday Mirror: “Oh sure, we’ll make him new arms, the least we can do as we blew the rest of his life away in the cause of banishing weapons of mass destruction from his country. Ali, like thousands of other Iraqis, is, in the Prime Minister’s bromide phrase: ‘An unfortunate consequence of war’.”
Stott ended his piece on a really sarcastic note: “Sorry, Ali, your arms were just an unfortunate inconvenience, but it was all in a good, if not strictly legal, cause. You do understand that, don’t you' As Tony Blair’s New Labour told us when he swept to power and you were a five-year-old playing with your brothers and sisters at home in Baghdad, things can only get better. He really meant it, you know. It’s just unfortunate you got in the way.”