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Iraq's Orphans Left to the Kindness of Strangers

The shocking pictures of neglect that emerged from a grisly state-run Baghdad orphanage this week revealed the Iraqi government's inability to care for some of its most vulnerable citizens.

With four years of war having cannibalised much of the Iraqi government, volunteers have begun providing vital social services at their own expense, relying on the generosity of friends and neighbours.

The images of the inside of the al-Hanan orphanage were disquieting even by Iraqi standards: two dozen emaciated children, some tied to cribs, others writhing in their own waste and some appearing, at first glance, to be dead.

US and Iraqi forces uncovered the orphanage for children with special needs in northwest Baghdad last week, according to a CBS News report broadcast on Monday.

"They saw multiple bodies laying on the floor of the facility," Staff Sergeant Mitchell Gibson of the 82nd Airborne Division told CBS News. "They thought they were all dead."

Inside the government-run facility, the American and Iraqi troops found 24 boys aged between three and 15 years, many showing signs of severe neglect and starvation. Medics initially feared at least one of the boys was dead.

He had "thousands of flies covering his body, unable to move any part of his body, you know we had to actually hold his head up and tilt his head to make sure that he was okay," Gibson said.

"The only thing basically that was moving was his eyeballs," he added.

"Flies in the mouth, in the eyes, in the nose, ears, eating all the open wounds from sleeping on the concrete."

The caretaker of the orphanage is on the run.

The severely disabled children have since been moved to another clean, well-lit orphanage nearby, with smiling social workers, sun-drenched rooms, ceiling fans, and stuffed animals.

But the grisly episode underscored the breakdown of social services -- and family structure -- in a country
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