Dispatch: Fear
May 2003

by Tyler Hicks


Iraq introduced me to a culture which operates on fear and repression, during a time which offered me a glimpse into a country I could only begin to understand by being here in person. Over the period of three trips beginning in October, I worked in Baghdad as a photographer for The New York Times. When I first arrived the constant paranoia of our government appointed "minders" was nothing more than an annoyance, or an aspect of the job which simply frustrated those of us working here. I soon learned that their fear was valid. I blame my initial non-acceptance in part on my personal reluctance that such repression of the human spirit was still exercised with such widespread force.

I soon found myself falling into another form of the same fear and behavior of those around me whom I had become increasingly annoyed with. Our intention was to lead the regime to believe we were playing by the rules, that our presence was a benefit to them, essential to our continued stay in the country. If a journalist or photographer broke the rules it might result in being kicked out of the country, or for a visa not be extended to remain in Iraq. For an Iraqi the consequences would mean prison, torture or even execution. During the regime, to photograph in the direction of a police station, government building or presidential palace would likely result in arrest of a foreigner such as myself. Several journalists and photographers were arrested and imprisoned during the war for trying to do their job, and were fortunate to have been released in the final days as the Americans approached and many other prisoners were being executed.

The regime is now history, but I will always remember standing on the roof on my hotel which rests on the eastern edge of the Tigris, listening as cruise missiles soared overhead and smashed into the very palaces which have been feared by the Iraqi people for nearly thirty years. It seemed inconceivable to me as I watched these buildings burst into flames. I can only the amazement it provided for the Iraqi people, as this was not only the breaking of buildings, but the crumbling of a regime.

Tyler Hicks
The New York Times

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