Iraqi kids toil in Dickensian desperation
Thousands work long hours salvaging battlefield litter to support families
By Vivienne Walt, Chronicle Foreign Service
San Francisco Chronicle
Baghdad -- Karar Ali works each day in the molten 125-degree heat of Baghdad's summer amid a giant mound of discarded ammunition. He starts his job most days about 6 a.m. and often works until 5 p.m.
Karar is 9 years old.
For more than six weeks, he and his diminutive colleagues have chipped away at each bullet until the copper casing comes away from the lead. A large sack of copper chips fetches 3,000 dinars -- about $2.80.
"I can fill half a sack if I stay here for a long day," Karar says, one pudgy hand clutching a Kalashnikov bullet that is searing hot to the touch.
"My mother says this is a good job. I give her all my earnings."
Hundreds of thousands of live bullets and spent shells have been gathered from the military camps of Iraq's crushed army and from the war litter strewn on Baghdad's sidewalks.
The sight of small boys in shorts and sandals squatting over piles of ammunition recalls the rigors of a medieval factory. But these working conditions are not startling in Iraq these days, according to child-welfare experts in Baghdad. The war's end has brought not only a seemingly bottomless supply of battlefield junk, it has lured perhaps thousands of children into arduous, and sometimes dangerous, jobs.
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