PORTLAND — Noora Afif Abdulhameed and her father began a long journey back to Iraq on Monday morning, leaving Portland for what likely was the last time.

Nine-year-old Noora and Afif Abdulhameed Otaiwi gathered with about 15 well-wishers at the Portland International Jetport, exchanging hugs and taking pictures before starting the trip to their hometown of Hit.

The two first came to Portland in July 2008, less than two years after Noora was hit by an American sniper’s shot while riding in a car with her family. Otaiwi said Iraqi insurgents would sometimes fire at U.S. soldiers, then try to blend in with a crowd. When the Americans fired back, they sometimes hit bystanders.

Otaiwi was also shot on that day in 2006, with a bullet hitting his jaw.

A piece of Noora’s skull was shattered by the shot and she lapsed into a 10-day coma. After four surgeries in Iraq, she was still missing the piece of skull. Doctors there told her there was nothing else they could do for her.

No More Victims, an aid group that connects communities in this country with war-wounded Iraqi children and their families, wanted to bring her to the United States for further medical help.

Susi Eggenberger of Arundel agreed to be the local sponsor for Noora and her father, raising money for travel and other costs and helping to coordinate medical care. Doctors, nurses and Maine Medical Center donated their services.

Noora and her father ended up staying for nearly a year during their first visit. Several surgeries and procedures were done, highlighted in December 2008 by the implant of a prosthetic replacement for the shattered piece of skull.

Noora had several other surgeries, on portions of the scalp that were not healing properly, before she and her father returned to Iraq in June 2009.

She returned last fall, and doctors inserted balloon-like implants under the skin on her head, injecting small amounts of fluid regularly to enlarge them and stretch the skin. The skin that grew to cover the implants was then grafted over the portion of the skull where the prosthesis was attached.

After follow-up visits with doctors, Noora was cleared last week to return to Iraq. She’s expected back in the United States next year. A doctor in New York has volunteered to do a hair transplant on Noora, to finally cover all of the area that was damaged by the shooting.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]