More than 100 people also were injured in the attack, and a majority of them likewise are children, according to local officials. Dozens are still in the hospital. Some may yet die. Others will face a lifetime of disability and pain, their hopes and dreams for the future shattered.
One of the victims was Abdul-Hafidh Abd-Ali, who is 14. In common with all of the boys who swarmed to attend the game that was bombed that day, he loves soccer. His dream is to one day play for Barcelona. His idol is the team’s striker, Lionel Messi, and his favorite possession is his Barcelona soccer uniform emblazoned with Messi’s number, 10.
Abdul-Hafidh was wearing the uniform when we met him last week, lying weakly under a mosquito net on a bed in the living room of his family’s little home, a few hundred yards from the soccer field where the bomb went off. Shrapnel flew into his eyes and blinded him. He looked as if he was asleep.
His arms were also lacerated and broken in the attack, but they will mend, doctors have told his parents.
Whether he will ever see again is in question.
Abdul-Hafidh’s uncle Abdullah described how he raced to the scene of the bombing the moment the blast reverberated across the village. He found the boy lying amid the pile of bloodied children strewn on the soccer field. He rushed him in his car to the nearest hospital, which lacked the facilities to help.
Abdul-Hafidh’s father, Saadi, then drove him to a hospital in Baghdad, 40 miles away, where doctors performed tests. One said he thought he might be able to save his son’s sight. The others told him that Baghdad doctors don’t have the expertise to treat such injuries, and that he would have to travel abroad.
His father called an eye surgeon in India who said that he could do the operation, but that the shrapnel in the boy’s eyes would have to be removed within a month or he would never see again.
The family is frantic. They are trying to raise enough money to take him to India, but what if they are unable to do so before a month is up? Should they trust the doctor in Baghdad who said he thought he could help but might lack the skills and equipment for such a delicate operation?
Abdul-Hafidh was listening on the bed, clearly aware of the conversation among the adults around him. He nodded his assent when they said he was a Barcelona fan and smiled when they named Messi as his hero.
When his father said his favorite subject at school was English, Abdul-Hafidh interrupted to contradict him. “It’s geography,” he said.
He raised a bandaged arm to bid goodbye, but his eyes remained tightly shut.