The family saved all the English-language books that were given to Noor in Atlanta. "Cluck, Cluck, Who's There?" and "Goodnight Moon." Zainab keeps them stored for safekeeping until Noor learns to read English.
Zainab shows me an album brimming with baby photos of Noor and a stack of old newspaper stories written by me. It is another reminder of how much time has gone by. And how everything in Iraq ages so much faster. The pages are yellowed and tattered.
Noor flips through the album. I talk with the family about everything that happened, starting with that chilly December night when a chance encounter with American soldiers forever altered the course of their lives.
A raid and a rescue
The soldiers of Charlie Company burst into Khalaf Abbas' family home in a routine raid and search mission. It was the end of 2005, and American soldiers operated with a guiding principle: suspect everything and everyone.
Trust was not a part of the vocabulary in Iraq; it still isn't.
How many men are in the family? Do you know anyone involved in insurgent activity? Are you aware of criminals in your neighborhood?
Khalaf's wife, Soad, answered the soldiers' questions through an Army translator.
She was the matriarch of the family, the one who possessed enough strength to carry her entire tribe. She'd had brushes with the Americans before.
A neighbor was hit by an American bullet intended for insurgents. An American tank rolled over a kiosk that she and others used at the local market. Her eldest son, Bashar, was detained on suspicion of firing a rocket-propelled grenade, and then again just days before Charlie Company pounded fists on her door.
Soad knew this would be her only chance to speak to the Americans. She asked the Georgia Army National Guard soldiers to help her find Bashar. What were the charges against him, she asked.
As the soldiers turned to go, Soad made an even bolder move. She took Sgt. Nicholas Jelks over to her granddaughter Noor in the dimly lit family room and turned her on her belly, revealing a large, purplish tumor on Noor's back.
Soad had taken Noor to see doctors in Abu Ghraib. But there was nothing they could do for the baby.
"She has at most 40 days," the doctors told her. "Take her home to die."
Soad turned to Jelks. "If you want to help Iraq," she blurted out, "you will help her instead of bothering the innocent."
The platoon's teenage medic, Pfc. Justin Donnelly, carried a digital camera on every patrol. He began taking pictures of Noor and with a few clicks of a camera, counterinsurgency melted into compassion.
The photos went back to Camp Liberty, where Jeff Morgan, the platoon lieutenant, showed them to Army doctors. He was determined to find a way to save Noor's life.
I was an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter embedded with Charlie Company back then and lived in a trailer at Camp Liberty. I learned from the soldiers that Noor was born in September 2005, with spina bifida, a birth defect in which the vertebrae do not form completely around the spinal cord.
She had the double misfortune, in Iraqi society, of being born a girl with a severe defect; many saw her as a liability. They called her lame, a reject.
Even Noor's mother, Iman, rejected her newborn. She had wanted a boy. Instead, she had a girl with a disability. She refused to breast-feed her. The other women of the family stepped in.
"Apparently, she didn't have any connection with her child," says Noor's aunt Hanan about Iman. "She neglected Noor from the very first day."
For the soldiers, saving this child offered a chance at tangible victory plucked from the chaos of combat. They were eager to deliver good news from Iraq at a time when support for the war was waning at home.
Plus, it was a few days before Christmas.
Morgan told me he could not fathom being unable to access medical care that could save a child's life. He had five children of his own.
News of Baby Noor traveled fast -- all the way up the chain of command of the 10th Mountain Division brigade to which Charlie Company was attached. Within days, I was in the back of a Humvee, heading to Noor's house in Abu Ghraib on a military mission to fetch the baby.