Iraqi boy’s goodwill status has endangered his life: club

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Supporters of a 10-year-old Iraqi boy who underwent eye surgery in Japan earlier this month expressed concerns Monday over his future safety if he returns home.

They say Mohamad Haytham Saleh, due to return home next month, might become a target of antigovernment violence in his strife-torn nation.

“As he was widely exposed to the Japanese media, our friends are worried whether he will really be safe after he returns to Iraq,” said Masaki Hitosugi, a senior member of the Numazu Rotary Club in Shizuoka Prefecture. The club helped arrange for his treatment in Japan.

Japanese freelance journalists Shinsuke Hashida, 61, and his nephew, Kotaro Ogawa, 33, had arranged for Saleh to be treated in Japan after his eye was injured by broken glass during a gunbattle in Fallujah. But the pair were slain, along with their interpreter, in an ambush in Iraq late last month before they could bring the boy to Japan.

Hitosugi said groups in Iraq that are hostile to the United States and its allies might target the boy because he is widely seen as a symbol of Japan’s good will toward Iraq.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, Hitosugi said the Rotary Club and the Iraqi Embassy in Japan are discussing building a children’s hospital in Iraq to commemorate the two slain journalists.

There is enough surplus money from contributions to support Saleh’s surgery to construct such a hospital, he said.

Hashida’s widow, Yukiko, who was also present, said sloppiness on the part of Japanese government officials delayed the transfer of the journalists’ bodies.

She said the officials lost a document from Iraqi police giving permission to transfer the bodies from a hospital in Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad, to the Iraqi capital. The transfer was subsequently delayed for a day, pushing back their arrival to June 1, she said.

The bodies were airlifted to Kuwait the following night, a Wednesday, but because government offices there are closed on Thursdays and Fridays, another two days passed before permission was granted to transfer the bodies to Bangkok.