Events as vast and unwieldy as the war in Iraq often hit home hardest when seen through the experience of a single person. In last week's issue, TIME ran a photograph of a young boy named Ali Ismail Abbas, who had suffered excruciating burns and the loss of both arms after a missile hit his home in a southern suburb of Baghdad. It was not known whether any of Ali's family members had survived; the only relative tending to him at the al Kindi hospital was an aunt. The photo of the armless boy evoked distress and concern from readers around the world.
What has happened to him since? Yuri Kozyrev, the photographer who took the picture, and TIME correspondent Alex Perry went to the al Kindi hospital last week to check on Ali, but it was closed. Looting and disorder in Baghdad had forced doctors to move Ali and other critically injured patients. Our journalists found him at a hospital in Saddam City, a neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, where they were able to talk with him. Rasping through singed lungs, Ali, 12, indicated that he may have surviving family members. He said his parents are divorced and his father and stepmother are still alive, though no one knows how to reach them. Ali said that under Saddam Hussein it was difficult for his family to earn a living, but there were moments of joy, as when the family went to the park on feast days and played soccer.
He recounted how one night, just after midnight, a missile dropped from the sky onto the home where he and his mother, stepfather, brother and six sisters were sleeping. "The house collapsed," he says. "My mother was dead, my stepfather was dead, my brother, dead. My mother was pregnant." Ali believes some of his sisters may have escaped.
As a result of his burns, Ali is suffering from septicemia, which is spreading toxic bacteria through his body. His condition should be treated in a sterilized location, but Ali lies on a bed near an open window, a dirty towel suspended over his chest. His nurse says the boy is quiet when he's alone and never cries out in pain. "He just wants to go outside Iraq to get treatment," she says. "And he just wants to see his sisters." In the calmest of times, it would be difficult to treat a boy in Ali's condition in Iraq, but the current chaos has made it impossible for aid organizations to get medicine to hospitals. Ali's doctor says the boy is in danger of dying within weeks. It's hard to imagine something more emblematic of Iraq's humanitarian needs than a young boy simply running out of time.
James Kelly, Managing Editor