Freelance in mercy dash for Iraqi child

Bomb victim Zeynab and journalist Lee Gordon in London this week

An 11-year-old Iraqi girl, crippled by a coalition bomb, has been flown to London by a British freelance journalist who wants to highlight the plight of other children like her.

Lee Gordon had been in Iraq more or less continuously since the outbreak of war. He reported from inside Fallujah when the town was under siege and has filed reports for The Sunday Telegraph, The Mail on Sunday and Channel 4 News.

Gordon was in Basra several weeks ago reporting on allegations of brutality by British troops when he decided to check out the story of a young Iraqi girl injured in a bomb strike.

He told Press Gazette he heard about the girl, Zeynab Hamid Taresh, “through a friend of mine, one of my fixers down there”.

Gordon added: “He took me to see her just to see whether it was worth doing a story about her.

“She’s so lovely. It was one of those ‘your heart melts’ moments and I decided to take her to Baghdad for medical treatment. En route from Basra to Baghdad, I had a brainstorm and thought I might as well go back to London with her.”

With the permission of the girl’s father, Gordon drove Zeynab overland to Oman with an Iraqi doctor, Salam El-Obaidi, and a female Iraqi journalist, Ahrar Zalzali. After a 10-day wait, Gordon said the necessary papers were organised with the help of intervention from Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, who was contacted by his father Eric Gordon, editor of the Camden New Journal.

Since arriving in the UK last Wednesday, Zeynab and her two compatriots have been staying at Gordon’s home in Tottenham, North London.

He is trying to organise funding for medical treatment and says meetings have been set up between Zeynab and Heather Mills McCartney and London Mayor Ken Livingstone.

Zeynab had her right leg amputated above the knee and her left leg was also badly injured in the early days of the war in March last year.

According to witnesses interviewed by Gordon, 17 members of her family were killed when a cluster bomb hit the village to which they had been evacuated just outside Basra.

He said: “A Basra hospital amputated her leg and that was that – there was no back-up care of any kind.

“The Coalition Provisional authority has never offered her compensation or medical aid. Save the Children came and went and she has just been hobbling around on a couple of broken sticks.

“The area she comes from is really squalid, with kids playing in the open sewers. It’s an horrific place.

“I thought, if something can be done to help her and other kids like her, let’s do it. It’s the sort of situation where if you don’t do it, it’s not going to happen.”

Gordon added: “It’s not so much about this particular girl. I’m fairly confident we will be able to get her treatment.

“The main problem is trying to get some kind of scheme to help the other kids in southern Iraq.

“At the moment, there isn’t anything there. There are hundreds of injured children with no hope, unlike this girl. She’s made it clear that she wants to help these friends of hers, as she calls them.”

On Saturday, Gordon took Zeynab to a meeting of 400 trade union activists at the London headquarters of the TUC, Congress House, which she ended up addressing.

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear, who was there, said: “It was incredibly moving. It puts into perspective all the fancy discussion people have about international politics when you hear from someone who has lost 17 members of her family and lost her leg as a result of a cluster bomb.

“She was a very good advocate of the need for people in Britain to provide medical assistance for Iraqi children.”

By Dominic Ponsford

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