An Iraqi infant with a severe birth defect of the spine underwent a life-saving surgical operation at a U.S. hospital on  Monday. "Baby Noor"  is recovering after several hours of surgery.

Three-month-old Noor al-Zahra was brought to the United States last month after she was found with her family by U.S. soldiers in a  town west of Baghdad. The baby was born with a severe form of the  birth defect called spina bifida, which is caused by the failure of the fetus's spine to close properly during the first month of pregnancy. If untreated, it would have eventually resulted in death.

Dr. Roger Hudgins, chief of neurosurgery at Chidlren's Healthcare of Atlanta, said doctors worked to repair a portion of Noor al-Zahra's spinal cord that did not form properly. He said the surgery was difficult, but went well. "We were able to dissect the skin off of the spinal cord, to roll

it back up as we've been talking about over the last few days,  put it back where it belonged and then close many layers over the top of it," he said.

Baby Noor was brought to the United States last month with her grandmother and her father after an American soldier sought help for her from a social worker in his home state of Georgia.

Despite the surgery, Baby Noor will remain a paraplegic and will not be able to move her legs. Additional surgery will be required to drain fluid from her brain. But Dr. Hudgins, the pediatric neurosurgeon, said he believes Baby Noor can become

developmentally and mentally normal. "She just radiates good feeling. She looks you in the eye. She's smiling now. She's cooing in the most delightful little way," he said.

The exact cause of spina bifida is not known, but health officials say that women can reduce the risk by taking folic acid, a B vitamin, every day before they become pregnant.