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An American Child In Iraq

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An American Child In Iraq


"The whole point is that Americans shouldn't be coming here." - Elizabeth Colton, spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Iraq.

No one can believe it, the precocious child, sixteen-year-old Farris Hassan, with his long face and the open eyes of an optimist which is sometimes another word for fool, running off to Iraq for three weeks with the money his parents gave him to invest in the stock market. It's front page in all the papers: The LA Times, The New York Times, you name it. Sixteen hundred stories on Google News. Imagine, an American boy in Iraq! OK, he looks Iraqi, but still.

What have we done to this country? How badly have we fucked this place up that the very idea of a sixteen-year-old alone drives us to distraction? When did the idea of an American in Iraq traveling alone become such an impossibility? If Farris had gone to Iran would it be so incredibly impossibly unbelievable that he was not beheaded, that he made it home safely? Would an American official have accompanied him back coaching him on what to say? What about Darfur? Tanzania? Syria? How about Iraq under Saddam Hussein? Was it impossible to imagine an American teenager surviving for three weeks when Saddam was in power?

The story of Farris Hassan seems to prove only one thing and that is we have turned Iraq into the least American friendly place in the world. Our president continues to talk about how well things are going in Iraq. "Millions of Iraqis looking forward to a future with hope and optimism." And we have to take his word for it because the country is so unsafe that journalists can't travel in it, can't interview the population, can't get facts on the ground. They stay in the green zone away from the hotel windows, stare wide-eyed and incredulous when a sixteen-year-old boy walks into the AP office there looking for information. He might as well have been riding a unicorn. Everything stopped, no one could believe it.

One can only wonder if Iraq will ever be safe for an American to visit. Will our news media ever be able to report from inside the country again? Does anybody think so? Will Fox News open an office in Najaf? And if the Iraqis hate us so much that the idea of an American with an Arab phrase book on the streets of Baghdad is impossible to imagine, the equivalent of surviving being swallowed by a giant octopus, then how the hell is it that we are winning this war on terrorism exactly? Where are the hearts and minds in this land where one cannot imagine a child? And really, shouldn't someone have lost his or her job over this?

Hassan slipped across the border. Not supposed to be able to do that but apparently it's not so difficult to get into Iraq from Kuwait. All you need is taxi fare The taxi was easy. Small change. Back in Florida Farris Hassan's parents gave him a $50,000 car for his sixteenth birthday.

Now Farris is on his way home. His parents have vowed to suspend his credit cards. He might be grounded. And the children that die in Iraq every day? Well, that's not front-page news. It's not unusual enough. An Iraqi child sawed in half by machine gun fire is one thing; an American child on the streets of Baghdad, that's batshit crazy. They didn't chop his head off? They didn't even take a finger? He got lucky, no doubt about it. He goes back again he'll most likely return in a box sporting a very serious haircut. But the Iraqi children die every day. They die at roadblocks and they die in the village. They die in Fallujah, we cut them down with superior firepower. They die from bombs in cars, bombs in mosques, bombs hidden in dead dogs lying in the street. They die as fighters and civilians, as soldiers and collateral damage, and they kill each other in their nation, which has dissolved into a place without laws. It's not news. It's war. There's a difference.

And of course American children die there too. Granted, not in the same numbers, but they are children, our children, and they are dying. They signed up to do a job, army, air force, navy, marines. We keep pictures of coffins draped in American flags out of the news. It's bad PR. More than two thousand American children dead now. Many more wounded. How many joined up thinking they would go to Iraq? How many soldiers still believe in the cause, which after all was always about finding weapons of mass destruction?

When children die it's an awful thing. Farris Hassan will be home soon. Financially poorer, conceivably richer for the experience. Maybe they'll send him on the lecture circuit or package him as a freak show exhibit. Step right up ladies and gentlemen and view the last unarmed American child to survive the land between the rivers, the mythical Garden of Eden.

I hope more soldiers survive too. And more Iraqis. And as long as I'm wishing for things I wish I had a president who was good for something other than repeating over and over again how we're winning the war on terror all the while turning the world into a place that is wretched and unsafe, uninhabitable for our children and theirs.

- Stephen Elliott