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Boy Hit by U.S. Missile Gets Medical Help

A 9-year-old boy wounded in a 1999 bombing attack in Iraq is now in Southern California, ending a years-long struggle by a Hollywood screenwriter and other Americans to bring the boy and his mother to the United States for much-needed medical care.

As NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, Mostafa's odyssey began four years ago, when his Basra neighborhood was hit by a U.S. cruise missile that strayed off course. Mostafa's brother Haider was killed, and Mostafa was sprayed with shrapnel.

Doctors did what the could to save the boy, amputating some fingers and removing much of his liver. "But he still has shrapnel in his legs and waist -- fragments that are moving dangerously close to his spine, and could eventually paralyze him," del Barco reports.

A photo of Mostafa taken by The Texas Observer photographer Alan Pogue caught the attention of Hollywood screenwriter Cole Miller, who put Mostafa's photo on his Web site, NoMoreVictims.org. "This is a child that was grievously harmed by us," Miller says. "This is about putting a name and a face to collateral damage."

Miller and Pogue joined forces, and have spent the past five months gathering the records and documents needed to get medical visas for Mostafa, his mother and a girl, Isra, who was also badly injured in the cruise missile incident.

The duo lined up a team of Iraqi-American doctors in Los Angeles to operate on Mostafa. They also got help from several members of Congress, and even actor Sean Penn. An American relief worker in Iraq escorted Mostafa and his mother to Amman, Jordan, where they met Miller and Pogue and continued on to Los Angeles.

"People were telling us, 'Oh, this'll never happen. You'll never get an Iraqi out of Iraq. Not during a war, not now.' But we did. It happened. They're here," Miller says.

However, Pogue and Miller couldn't get Isra out of Iraq before the war began, and they are worried she might have been injured in the recent battle for Basra. "Mostafa's mother also worries about her other children left behind in Basra, as well as her parents and sister in Baghdad," del Barco says.

"As for Mostafa, he says he can't wait to get back home after the surgery."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.