In Baghdad, a busted infrastructure has left entire neighborhoods navigable by vehicle only. The sector we soldiers patrol is known unaffectionately as "Little Venice" because of the dark brown rivers of sewage that backwash from broken pipes. The biggest fear in these parts isn't sniper fire or IEDs, but a flat tire that forces you to wade through the reeking fluids. Occasionally, that fear is realized--like on the day when I met Ali.
When pulling security for a crew that's changing a tire, you need to make sure that your head is constantly moving, if only to provide snipers with the illusion that you're paying attention. It's especially important to keep up the movement when talking to local nationals (LNs). There are very few we trust to give us accurate information about insurgents; they usually just complain about big issues that are out of our hands.
It was during one of these head-swiveling sessions that a short but unusually healthy-looking Iraqi kid approached out of my periphery wearing an Adidas hat and snowboarding t-shirt, his lower torso swallowed by one of Little Venice's excrement canals.
Needless to say, it doesn't have a happy ending, but I'd call it essential reading.