A human story behind Iraq’s deadly statistics

It is easy to forget those listed dead and injured are real, but recently the reality was brought home to our reporter.

Every month, the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq releases a report documenting the violence here that month. It’s a grim read, but such is the nature of our work.

Those statistics are vital in informing people of the scale of violence here. But it’s easy to forget that behind the numbers are people who got up that morning and who didn’t survive the day.

People with dreams and hopes and sorrows and all the stuff of life that makes us human.

Recently, those statistics became real for me, and in a very personal way.

My friend Ahmed was with his family in the middle class neighbourhood of Tunis in northeast Baghdad. It was night time. Ahmed and I work together in Al Jazeera’s Baghdad office and spend our days newsgathering and reporting.

In a place like Baghdad, you develop a shorthand for the almost daily violence that occurs. You find yourself talking in numbers and neighbourhoods. “Imran, X people have died in X neighbourhood,” Osama Mohammed the producer here often tells me.

On that day, it was the religious occasion of Ashoura, and the city’s Shia community was out on the streets in their thousands.

Shias around the world commemorate the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Imam Hussein’s death in battle in 680 CE, during the Ashoura period. Hospitality tents were set up outside to cater to the observant. ISIL had promised to attack the processions.

Ahmed left the office and, like many others, went home first, and then took his family out to pay homage to Imam Hussien.

As he left, I said goodbye and wanted to say “be careful out there!” But I didn’t, as he was grinning from ear to ear about something. I’m not sure what it was.

A few hours later, news broke of bombings in the Tunis neighbourhood. As always, I got to work, gathering the facts. How many dead? How many injured? What type of explosive? Where?

As I prepared to go live on Al Jazeera English, our producer Osama called. Ahmed was with his family when the bomb exploded. He had survived, but his two cousins had died on the spot, and his aunt had been seriously injured. The statistics had become personal.

Ahmed is now grieving, but at least he is alive. The dead have passed, but the more heart breaking stories are those of the injured, like Ahmed’s aunt who now faces years of physical pain and months of rehabilitation.

People like her are left behind as physically broken examples of the hellish violence, and they outnumber the dead by the thousands.

That’s why, when I was invited to watch the Iraqi Paralympic Basketball team in action, I jumped at the chance.

This is a team of young men who survived bombings and violence, and built something, despite their injuries. Young men like Ahmed Nasser who was sitting in a cafe when his promising career in football was cut short by a bomb.

Watching those guys glide around the court in modified wheelchairs made the hair on my neck stand up. They’ve found some joy in otherwise terrible circumstances. They are a source of pride and inspiration for other injured Iraqis.

But not all who are seriously injured in this country are as fortunate as Ahmed Nasser.

Few have access to a basketball team and a coach to give them hope. Many struggle with poor health as the system struggles to cope with the large number of injured.

In pharmacies I’ve seen bomb victims queue for painkillers. Many are emotionally and physically scarred by the shrapnel that has embedded into their skin.

Iraq’s injured are a forgotten minority reduced to a statistic.

A minority that I’m reminded of whenever I report on the violence here. I’m reminded that for every bomb there are people like my friend Ahmed who is mourning his loss, and Ahmed Nasser who is trying to rebuild his life through sport.

And I’m reminded of the thousands of broken people like Ahmed’s aunt, who are left to live on with their wounds.

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