Thousands Maimed in Iraq Anti-Government Protests
A fractured spine, paralyzed leg, hole in the back: Hamza took to the streets of Iraq's capital to demand a better life but now he has even less than ever.
"This is my sacrifice for Iraq," said the 16-year-old, his strained voice barely audible over the phone in Baghdad.
"If I could walk, I would be back in the protests now,” he told Agence France Presse.
Hamza is one of at least 3,000 people who have been maimed in Baghdad and southern Iraq since anti-government protests erupted on October 1, according to the NGO Iraqi Alliance for Disabilities Organization (IADO).
The staggering number is the latest burden for a country already struggling with one of the highest disability rates in the world, according to the United Nations.
After decades of back-to-back conflicts, Iraq is in the thick of its largest and deadliest grassroots protest movement, with more than 300 people dead and 15,000 wounded.
To disperse protesters, security forces have used tear gas, rubber bullets, flash bangs, live rounds and even machine-gun fire -- all of which can seriously maim or even kill, as Hamza learned.
On November 4, the teenager was among around 20 protesters wounded by live fire in Baghdad.
A bullet pierced Hamza's stomach and exited through his back, leaving a gaping hole.
Two others hit his legs.
By the time he arrived at a nearby hospital, he had lost liters of blood and his heart was failing, said his father, Abu Layth.
Doctors revived the boy with a defibrillator, injected him with four units of blood and rushed him into surgery.
"He was basically dead. The doctors brought him back to life," he said.
CT scans and medical reports shared by Hamza's family revealed multiple fractures to his lower spine, leading to paralysis in his right leg.
After more than a week in hospital, the teenager has gone back home and is on steady doses of anesthetics.
"Sometimes he screams from pain at night," his father said.
The government's Central Statistical Organization says that in the wake of decades of conflict, more than two million of Iraq's 40-million population are disabled people entitled to state support.
But IADO and other rights groups say the real number sits at more than three million -- and counting.
"The number of disabled people continues to grow... We exit one crisis and enter another," said IADO head Muwafaq al-Khafaji.
He told AFP his group's estimate of 3,000 maimed since October 1 is an approximation, as the government is either not documenting or not releasing precise figures.
To fill the gap, IADO members have been contacting hospitals and reaching out to families in Baghdad and southern cities.
Although Iraq is party to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, disabled people suffer from poor health services, lack of job opportunities and social exclusion.
They have organized their own rallies in Baghdad as part of the larger protest movement, demanding more support from the government.