Since no one stopped us, we trailed them down a hallway and right up the open door of the examination room. We watched and continued to videotape as the doctors began working on Ali. All the while, there was that horrible shrieking. It seemed impossible that an injured little child could make so loud a sound.
After some time, we were forced to retreat to the waiting room. As I recall, the doctors came out after some minutes and told us about Ali's condition and how he would get excellent care and would survive.
As we broke up, I remember another journalist, an American, muttering: "That's America. We blow you up and then we patch you up."
Back at the work space, we edited the story and then fed it via satellite to New York. A producer in New York said we should not have put in the sound of Ali's screaming, which led to an argument. Gitika and I said that people – our viewers – shouldn't be protected; that they needed to know what happens in war. People get killed. People get hurt. Children get their arms blown off. The producer disagreed. He said it was too graphic, too upsetting. That's exactly the point, we argued back. People should be upset. The result was a compromise of sorts. The story ran with Ali's screams, but muted.
The image of this screaming boy with no arms stayed with me. For a while, I followed his story back in the United States. Someone in Canada offered to sponsor him to come there for treatment.
If he came there, I thought I could do a story about it and I spoke to a man. He seemed nice and was eager to help but for some reason it never happened. Ali remained in Kuwait for a while, and then one day I got an email from one of our Kuwaiti "fixers" that Ali had gone to England for further treatment, that he would be outfitted with artificial limbs.
And then, for years, I heard nothing further. Until I was emailed the Sun article with the headline:
"I didn't expect to live ... be loved and marry/Iconic face of the Iraqi War Ali Abbas on his emotional wedding to childhood sweetheart."
There was a photo of a young man with dark hair, in a suit, necktie slightly askew, looking into the lens with, well, no expression. His left arm hang loosely. No hand protruded from the cuff. Beside the young man with no expression is a pretty woman in a wedding dress holding a flower bouquet. The caption reads: " Newlyweds … Ali Abbas and his wife Ankam Hamza on their big day."
I stared at the photo for a long time. "This is Ali," I kept thinking. "He's a grown man." Then I read the article. It told how "the inspirational 21-year-old," now a resident of Britain, met Ankam during one of his regular visits to Iraq and they married there last November.
"I've definitely made the right choice," he is quoted saying. "She never lets me feel like I'm disabled. When I'm with her I just feel normal, like me."
Then I went on-line and found a video of an interview Time magazine had with Abbas in 2011. In heavily accented English, he recalls the bombing and, his time in the hospital in Baghdad. He says the pain he endured was so bad he wanted to die.
"I couldn't think of anything else apart from the pain I had," he says. "I had so much pain, I just wanted to be relieved. But, you know, God wanted me to live." It is remarkable how unangry he seems as he says this.