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ARLINGTON, Va. — At 10 months old, Fatima Jabouri might be the most spoiled baby in Baghdad.

The tiny Iraqi girl, left to die in the trash in 120-degree heat by insurgents after they shot her mother in the head on July 25, is the darling of the 28th Combat Support Hospital in the Green Zone.

The nurses, doctors, dietitians and other staffers compete to see who can win the most smiles and giggles from the baby, who in just 18 days has gone from a listless scrap weighing less than nine pounds to a bouncing mound of sunny fun.

“Our staff has fallen in love with her since day one,” Lt. Beth Brauchli, a nurse from the 28th CSH, told Stars and Stripes by telephone Tuesday from Baghdad.

Fatima was found by Iraqi National Police in Saydia, a suburb in Baghdad torn by sectarian violence.

A death squad had executed her mother and uncle by shooting them each three times in the head, according to an Aug. 13 New York Times story citing Capt. Mushtaq Hassan, the policeman who found her.

“We believe [Fatima] was in her mother’s arms when this happened,” Capt. Nhan Ngo-Anderson, 32, the head nurse on her ward, said.

According to Ngo-Anderson, the baby’s 7-year-old brother fled the home and flagged down police, who were traveling with members of a U.S. Military Transition Team, or MiTT.

Ngo-Anderson said she had heard about Fatima’s plight from team members who later brought the baby to the hospital.

While investigating the murder scene the police found the baby, “tossed in a heap of trash,” she said. The insurgents had “basically thrown her out to die.”

The Iraqi police brought the baby to their police station.

The following morning, Maj. Andy Yerkes, the MiTT adviser, decided to bring the child to the 28th CSH, the Times said.

Tucked inside the blanket was Fatima, too weak to hold her own bottle, too weak to cry.

Hospital staff estimated that she was about nine months old, based on the development of her fontanel, a soft spot on a baby’s skull that eventually hardens, Ngo-Anderson said.

The hospital staff has worked hard to help Fatima gain health and strength. At first Fatima was unable to perform even the simplest tasks for herself, but progress has been swift.

After two weeks in the ward Fatima graduated from “just rolling around” to standing on her own two feet if one of her caretakers holds her hands for support, Ngo-Anderson said.

Fatima’s personality has also blossomed, she said.

Like many healthy babies her age, Fatima is fascinated by sunglasses and the sound of jingling keys. She breaks into giggles at the sight of her favorite stuffed animals dancing with the aid of her caretakers.

“It’s a lot of great memories, and a lot of hard work,” Ngo-Anderson said.

The baby is special to the soldiers on the ward for another reason, Ngo-Anderson said — she came to them right after the death of their beloved head nurse, Army Capt. Maria Ortiz, 40, who died at the hospital July 10 of wounds suffered when she was hit by a mortar in the Green Zone on July 7.

“Every day, I look at that baby and think about how happy she would have made Capt. Ortiz,” Ngo-Anderson said. “She loved children, and she would have loved taking care of her so much.”

Fatima will remain in the hospital until officials can decide what to do with her, said.

The Times wrote that Yerkes is hopeful that the baby will join her siblings, who are now in hiding with Shiite relatives in Baghdad; or possibly move with relatives in Shiite-dominated southern Iraq.

But according to the Times, Fatima has a possibly deadly problem: mixed Sunni-Shiite heritage.

Fatima is a Shiite name and her dead father was a Shiite. But her widowed mother and uncle were Sunnis, and “Jabouri,” her surname, is a well-known Sunni tribe.

It is dangerous to have mixed heritage in Iraq today, where sectarian strife continues to flare in many areas, and claiming pure allegiance to one sect or the other is often the passport to safety.

“I’m very concerned about her future,” Ngo said.

Meanwhile, Fatima jingles her keys, drinks milk all by herself, like a big girl, and plays with the smiling soldiers, totally unaware of what lies in wait for her outside the barriers and barbed wire that protect her.


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