BAGHDAD—Thaab's friends are getting ready to play a game of soccer in a dusty field down the street, but Thaab, a skinny 17-year-old boy, will not be joining them.
His right leg is in a cast and a metal rod is sticking out of his right elbow, held together by a stainless steel contraption that resembles a crane. He has been confined to a wheelchair for seven months, since a car bomb detonated several yards behind him when he was walking to a friend's party. Thaab lost a piece of his right arm, including a chunk of bone. His friends try to cheer him up by drawing pictures on his cast with their pens: a grinning skeleton, a girl reading a book.
"There's more surgery I need to do," Thaab says. "I missed school this year because of this."
All around the Baghdad Iraqis bear scars of war. Everyone knows someone who was killed or wounded. Hundreds of families have had their loved ones kidnapped, never to be seen again. Many, like Thaab, were hurt in bombings and shootings. Craters from car bombs deface many roads, and holes where shrapnel or bullets hit pockmark the walls on every street.
Crooks are using the widespread fear of sectarian militias to get their way. Hoda al-Naim spends days sitting with a book on pillows on the tiled floor of her kitchen, her left leg in a cast. A doctor hit her with his car, and, before he left the scene of the accident, gave al-Naim his business card and promised to treat her.
But when al-Naim's daughter called to make an appointment, the doctor told her not to call again, or else he would send fighters from the feared Mahdi Army of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to the woman's house.
Most likely, the doctor has no ties to the Mahdi Army whatsoever. But al-Naim is not taking chances. She went to a doctor in her neighborhood and paid $1,000 for surgery and the cast herself.
At the gravel-strewn combat outpost in Baghdad's Risala neighborhood, U.S. Army Captain Sean Chase, who is serving in the 4-64 armor battalion of the Fourth Brigade, Third Infantry Division, contemplates the losses Iraqis have suffered during the war. This is his third deployment to Iraq since the war began, and he says the place has deteriorated since he first came here in 2003.
"If you think about how we live here, we live pretty well," he says, swatting away flies. "We have plenty of food, and we get plenty of sleep for soldiers. After this deployment we will go home. It's the people in the streets who have been living with this for the last five years, who have to keep living with it."