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From AJR,   June/July 2004  issue

A Boy Who Was "Like a Flower"   

This is an excerpt from a story by Anthony Shadid that ran in the Washington Post on March 31, 2003.

Baghdad--On a cold, concrete slab, a mosque caretaker washed the body of 14-year-old Arkan Daif for the last time.

With a cotton swab dipped in water, he ran his hand across Daif's olive corpse, dead for three hours but still glowing with life. He blotted the rose-red shrapnel wounds on the soft skin of Daif's right arm and right ankle with the pose of practice. Then he scrubbed his face scabbed with blood, left by a cavity torn in the back of Daif's skull.

The men in the Imam Ali mosque stood somberly waiting to bury a boy who, in the words of his father, was "like a flower." Haider Kathim, the caretaker, asked, "What's the sin of the children? What have they done?"

In the rituals of burial, the men and their families tried, futilely, to escape the questions that have enveloped so many lives here in fear and uncertainty. Beyond some neighbors, family, and a visitor, there were no witnesses; the funeral went unnoticed by a government that has eagerly escorted journalists to other wartime tragedies. Instead, Daif and two cousins were buried in the solitude of a dirt-poor, Shiite Muslim neighborhood near the city limits.

The boys were killed at 11 a.m. today when, as another relative recalled, "the sky exploded." Daif had been digging a trench in front of the family's concrete shack that would serve as a shelter during the bombing campaign that continues day and night. He had been working with Sabah Hassan, 16, and Jalal Talib, 14. The white-hot shrapnel cut down all three.


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