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Inside a dimly lit room there on a recent, sweltering night, I found a group of tough-looking young men and teenagers gathered around a comrade who was struggling to remain stoic despite the pain.
Dante, 24, our protagonist, was hard at work, drilling a tattoo of the Shiite saint Ali into the young man’s arm.
Photographer Max Becherer and I had come to meet Dante — with the help of our young driver, Osama — to see a different side of Iraq than its grinding political violence.
Of course, almost no place in Iraq is immune from the horrendous suffering that has plagued the nation for decades — first under the brutal rule of Saddam Hussein, then with the violence that exploded after the U.S. invasion in 2003.