In Iraq, Sweet Promise Struck Down

An injured boy stands at the site in Baghdad where a suicide car bomber sped into a crowd of children gathered around U.S. soldiers distributing candy last Wednesday. Of the 26 children killed, the oldest was 13.
An injured boy stands at the site in Baghdad where a suicide car bomber sped into a crowd of children gathered around U.S. soldiers distributing candy last Wednesday. Of the 26 children killed, the oldest was 13. (By Hadi Mizban -- Associated Press)

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By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 20, 2005

BAGHDAD, July 19 -- Many of the boys in the dusty al-Khalij neighborhood of east Baghdad awoke to the news, rousing late on a hot, sleepy summer morning with no school. Their families recalled the excitement -- the American soldiers were here. And they were handing out candy.

Hamza Firas Khuzai, 11 years old, and his friends, many of them boys ages 9 to 12, rushed out without breakfast and mounted their clunky, hip-high bicycles, said Hadi Firas Khuzai, Hamza's father.

To boys Hamza's age, the words "American soldiers" meant mingling among armored troops who looked to them like action figures come to life. It meant laughs while clowning with the Americans, and candy, cookies or toys waiting to be dropped into their waving hands. Hamza's friends pedaled away, rushing toward the soldiers' Humvees at the far end of one block. Younger brothers and sisters trailed them, without wheels.

About 10 a.m. last Wednesday, a suicide bomber drove his brown Suzuki sedan and its load of explosives into the crowd of American soldiers and Iraqi children clustered around the Humvees, residents said. Twenty-six of al-Khalij's children died. The bomb killed boys old enough to play out in al-Khalij's streets and young enough to still want to. One U.S. soldier was killed and at least three others were wounded, the military said.

When the Americans first arrived, Hamza, the conscientious youngest son among six children, had stayed behind, according to his family. He had been helping his father repair a car. As word about the Americans spread, Hamza's father, Khuzai, sent him upstairs to fetch some car mats.

Khuzai looked around five minutes later, he recalled Monday, and realized that Hamza hadn't come back.

The boy seized the opportunity of being sent to fetch the mats to run outside the house. He met up with his friends by the American Humvees but came home crying five minutes later, his sister said. "He came back saying, 'The Americans were giving out candy and they didn't give me any,' " his father said.

Hamza headed indoors, where his sister demanded that he eat breakfast, she recalled. I'll be right back, he told her, and ran outside, through a side door to bypass his father.

"We all heard a big boom, and the metal came flying," Khuzai said Monday.

"I ran inside the house, saying, 'Where's Hamza?' "

Khuzai ran down the street, toward the smoke and dust.

He found the bodies of Karrar, Muhammed, Abbas and Ali, surrounded by their bicycles.


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