Years later, youngest son Mahmoud risked his life daily to sell Pepsi on the street, and daughter Fatima found love through the kitchen window, with a young man in the next apartment.
That joyful marriage would turn to abuse and misery, though Fatima has since regained her coquettish nature. Son Ali would be held and tortured in prison for 2-1/2 years, then released without charge. And Amal and her sister Hibba would finally make it to college – a bright coda.
Yet as the years ground on and the violence deepened, getting to the Methboubs required careful planning and disguise.
I used Iraqi shirts, jackets, a beard, a pair of Shiite rings acquired in Tehran, and an ordinary shopping bag to hide my camera and notebooks, hoping no one would notice me during the short walk to their apartment.
That walk grew longer and riskier when a spate of car bombs in the area caused residents to block the streets with chunks of concrete.
I could rarely stay for long, and left under the cover of darkness. I could never tell the family when I would arrive. But a similar balance of life took place everywhere.
When a double suicide car bomb in late 2005 hit the Hamra Hotel, adjacent to the Monitor office, it blew in our windows – and I had to stagger through clouds of dust with my cameras on my way out.
Those bombs devastated the lives of Iraqis who lived 25 yards from its impact point, including the Khafaji family. Father Yas lost his wife, 11-year-old daughter, and nephew when the bombs destroyed their home.
Such savage violence often defined the disconnect between Iraqis and their American occupiers.