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IRAQ: Baby abandoned at base gets a home

April 25, 2008 |  8:40 am

Baby_13

U.S. forces living on the bases scattered across Baghdad's neighborhoods have grown accustomed to visits from locals looking for help, work or just offering tips on criminal or insurgent activities. But the local who paid a visit earlier this month to troops at a base called Callahan, in northeastern Baghdad, came bearing something nobody had expected: a newborn baby boy.

The unexpected arrival occurred in the midst of recent fighting involving U.S. and Iraqi forces and Shiite militiamen. Many of the troops engaged in the battles live at Callahan, a former shopping mall in a neighborhood near the militia stronghold of Sadr City. The sight of someone leaving a mysterious bundle outside their base at this time of heightened tensions was discomfitting, to say the least.

A robot used by explosives experts to detect possible bombs was deployed to creep around the tiny baby, which had been left in a plastic sack on the ground outside one of Callahan's entrances. Once the robot declared the sack non-threatening, soldiers from the 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment of the Army's 4th Infantry Division, who live at Callahan, swooped in.

The infant was no more than a few days old, base medic Staff Sgt. Paul Briscoe told the Stars and Stripes, which did a story about the bizarre incident.

U.S. military bases aren't normally equipped to handle newborns, and Callahan is particularly un-child-friendly. The cavernous four-story structure bears no resemblance to the shopping center it used to be. The escalators are rusted, mangled ruins. The stairs are chipped and slippery. There are no guard rails to prevent a baby crawling off one of the higher floors and falling straight down into what might have once been the mall's central food court.

Troops swaddled the baby in clothing, and an Iraqi working as a military translator bought diapers and formula from a nearby shop. Briscoe declared the baby in perfect health, and he was even given a temporary name: Alex Callahan, after the soldier who found him and the base.

Then came the hard part: deciding what to do with the abandoned infant. According to the military, the brother of an Iraqi working at the base plans to adopt the child.

—Tina Susman in Baghdad

Photo: Courtesy U.S. Army, Sgt. Zach Mott

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, the war in Iraq and the frictions between the West and Islam. You can subscribe by registering at the website here, logging in here and clicking on the World: Mideast newsletter box here.

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