Young enough to be my son, a man cradles the corpse of his 10-year-old boy.

The man looks tenderly upon the boy’s body, which he is about to wash. Behind him, other family members are distraught; their noisy distress renders them incapable; he can hear how useless they are.But you are still with me while I do this in remembrance of you, the man might be saying.

Except he would not say it, could only think it. Except he cannot think of it, dare not address himself to what happened – and who even knows how it did? He can only do what – yes, really – what a man has to do.

In Baghdad the city morgue is full to capacity: bags of bodies stuffed into freezers, temperatures in the streets outside nudging 50 degrees; mortuary staff carrying on withthe stifling work of listing and labelling. Wherever possible, reconciling recent images – broken faces, busted bodies – with earlier photos of missing persons.

Sometimes the remains cannot be released to relatives until a DNA test has proved positive.

The woman in charge doesn’t know the numbers, although in reply to the reporter’s question she concedes there are many more sectarian killings than a year ago. She laughs but not out of cynicism or defiance or nervousness; it is only funny that someone would need to ask.

Otherwise untimely, in these extraordinary circumstances her laughter is appealing. It carries the half-thought – why would she need to think it through? – that carrying on is what she does in remembrance of normality.

Doing what she has to, Our Lady of the Morgue is proof positive of that public virtue – bureaucracy. She bags bodies because life unrecorded might never have been; except for family, there is nothing to say, either way.

Public and private, official records and a father’s grief. In the open valuation of human life, each of these matters as much as the other.