TOKYO – While on assignment in Iraq two months ago, photojournalist Shinsuke Hashida was so moved by a boy partially blinded by glass shards during a gunbattle that he made a promise: To return to Iraq and bring the child to Japan for medical treatment.
Hashida went back for the boy, only to be killed in an ambush.
But his promise stands.
This morning, 10-year-old Mohamad Haytham Saleh arrived in Tokyo from Amman, Jordan. Following through on arrangements Hashida made before he and his nephew Kotaro Ogawa, also a journalist, were killed in an attack south of Baghdad, a local Rotary Club will sponsor the boy and pay for his medical care.
“I’m grateful to all the Japanese for helping me,” Saleh, smiling shyly, told Japanese reporters before boarding the plane. “I’m really excited.”
Though he has undergone two operations in Iraq, Saleh cannot see with his left eye, which was pierced by glass shards last November during fighting in Fallujah.
His story has touched Japan.
Updates of his situation appear daily on nationwide television. Before leaving Amman, Mohamad and his father, a taxi driver, went on a quick tour of the city with Japanese TV networks in tow. Video of the child mounting a mechanized horse at an arcade and waving goodbye at the airport were among the top stories of the day.
At the same time, the murder of Hashida and his nephew last Thursday has deepened concerns here over Japan’s involvement in Iraq.
Japan has about 500 non-combat troops in southeastern Iraq on a humanitarian mission intended to help improve the local infrastructure and provide badly needed drinking water.
Hashida, one of Japan’s top freelance combat photographers, was no stranger to Iraq. He was killed while on his fifth trip there – this time to report for the daily tabloid Nikkan Gendai.
According to authorities, Hashida, 61, and Ogawa, 33, were attacked while driving about 20 miles south of Baghdad in the city of Mahmoudiya. Details of the ambush remain sketchy, but gunmen are believed to have sprayed the vehicle with bullets before it exploded in flames.
Hashida’s interpreter also was killed, while his driver survived a bullet wound in the head