After spending nearly three weeks
in southern Iraq working as a photojournalist covering the most recent
war, I arrived in Baghdad the evening of the day a crowd toppled a
statue of Saddam Hussein near the Palestine Hotel. For the next week,
I roamed the city and its outskirts, observing the aftermath and the
near-term effects of this war on the Iraqi people.
During the month I was in Iraq I worked independently of the military.
I had consciously made this choice hoping it would give me the opportunity
to have the broadest exposure to the war, including its effects on
the people of Iraq.
One memory will always haunt me. On April 14th, I walked into a
hospital room of the Al Asskan Hospital in Baghdad. There were two
beds in the room and on one of them lay two year old Martatha Hameed,
in the arms of her mother, 23 yr. old, Eman Ali. I noticed as I walked
into the room, an expression of great anxiety and stress on the face
of Eman Ali. On another bed lay diagonally, a 10 yr. old girl, Worood
brown hair. She was dressed in a small shirt and pants, and her feet
wore only little white socks. Her head was pulled back on the side
of the bed. One doctor held it in his hands, and another doctor, from
the other side of the bed, pushed violently on her chest with repetitive
strokes. Both doctors had looks of determined intensity in their faces,
and their energy offered a great sense of hope. After many minutes
of cardiac massage, one of the doctors stopped and waited a few seconds
and put his stethoscope to her chest and listened.
I thought I saw breathing, and a leap of joy lifted me. Then several
seconds later, the doctor continued to push on her chest. Suddenly,
after what seemed to be at least ten minutes, in one almost violent
gesture, one of the doctors stopped and put his hand over her face,
and the other stood up and put her tiny hands together over her chest.
In the next instant, he pulled a towel over her face. Both doctors
turned to walk out of the room shaking their heads, and I realized
I had just seen this beautiful little girl"s life evaporate.
I stopped one of the doctors and asked him her name and what she had
died from. With perfect English, the Iraqi doctor gave me her name
and explained that she had died from pulmonary pneumonia, and that
it could have been easily treated. Her father could not bring her
to the hospital because of the impossible dangerous traveling conditions
caused by the war. He then said to me with bitter resignation, "I
am sorry, I have no more time to talk, there is too much work left
for me to do here. "A few minutes later, a man walked into the
room and removed the towel from her face. It was her father. Holding
her hands, he stood and sobbed."
I visited several hospitals in Baghdad and Basra. In all of them,
there was almost no medicine, anesthesia, or sterile instruments.
In emergency rooms there were scenes from a hell. The results of war
took on names and faces. A young woman, Hanan Muaed,16, was wrapped
in a body bandage, burned from an explosion when her home in Baghdad
was hit by a bomb. Mahmoud Mohammed,17, lost his leg from shrapnel
from a shell. Zeinan Haneed, 9, lost her leg and all of her family
when her home was shelled in Basra on March 23rd. A grandmother, Shukria
Mahmoud, stood next to a bed crying, as her grandson, Saif Abed Al
Karem, lay hurt by bomb, both having lost his father, and her son
in the incident.
A small girl, Safah Ahmed lay on a bed in the Al Karch Hospital in
Baghdad. She was playing in front of her home when a bomb landed in
her neighbors' front yard. All she could remember was that it had
been her birthday, and when she woke up in the hospital, she only
had one leg.
On the western outskirts of Baghdad, daily, thousands, if not hundreds
of thousands of Iraqis, are on the move each day, on foot, coming
home from having left the capitol during the war, or going in the
opposition direction, back home towards the the south and Basra. The
war in Baghdad seems almost over for the time being, but on the faces
of these masses on the move, there are no smiles. Children often have
looks in their eyes of terror and fear. At one point, 25 meters from
the road, a large munitions cache is blown up by American troops as
thousands of people walk by, creating a huge boom, and families scatter
with screams in all directions and dive to the ground. A woman stops
me one day, speaking perfect, well educated English. She explains
to me that she is a medical doctor, and that she and her family live
in a small village near Baghdad. She will only identify herself as
Jasmine. She expressed to me what I heard in variations from many,
many people. "We don't like Saddam, but what has happened here
is criminal and you must tell it! We will give you our oil, you can
take it, but we won't let you take our country. Look at this, no electricity,
no water, no food, no control, everything stolen. We didn't like Saddam,
but our country needs force to be controlled."
At one of the central cemeteries, near the Al Karch hospital, a group
of women wear the traditional black chadors of the Shiite Moslem Iraqi
minority. They come from the poor, predominantly Shiite neighborhood
in the north of Baghdad called Saddam City. The women were there to
bury Abed Al Hassin, 53, who was killed by Iraqi militia, as he waved
a white flag from his car while driving home in Baghdad. One of the
women, who preferred to be called, "just say I am a mother",
said, "Bush is better than Saddam, We will give him our oil,
and maybe he will let us live in peace."
The crowd burying a body in the "1,000 Houses" neighborhood,
an Iraqi soldier killed by a coalition bomb, was much less calm and
cordial. One man, called out, "If Bush has any honor, he should
tear Saddam into pieces and bring him to us."
I witnessed dozens of burials of Iraqis killed during the war. A large
family stood at the grave of Fadila Sadek,74, as she was being buried.
I asked if she had died from injuries from the war, and one of her
relatives gently said to me, "she died from the stress of this
A few days after one of many of the Saddam Hussein statues was pulled
down by crowds in Baghdad, signaling the end of his regime, life began
to come back to certain daily routines. Elder men, gathered again
at the Al-Zahani Cafe in the old city of Baghdad. Jamal Abdullah Khalil,
66 yrs., a former carpenter, sat smoking his water pipe. The cafe
owner explained to be that "Jamal has been coming here since
he was born." I asked Jamal what he felt about the war. He looked
at me and said, "I don't want to say to you, what I have to say,
please don't ask me."
In the Al Alawi Market in Baghdad, business is coming back gradually
to the daily life of this market. In the one month I spent in Iraq
since April 17th, I saw glimpses of smiles twice. Once was while women
fought with each other to get buckets of fresh water, the first they
had had in weeks, from a water truck provided by the British military
in Al Zubair, a town in southern Iraq. The second time was just a
few days ago as men sold squawking live chickens to buyers in the
Al Alawi Market in Baghdad.
During my career as a photojournalist, I have traveled professionally
to over 85 countries and covered most of the world's major conflicts
of the past twenty years. I have spent a lot of time this past month
trying to make some semblance of
sense from all of the impulses of experience I have lived and observed
in Iraq. The theme that has seemed to dominate my observations and
conversations with Iraqis, has been that of two worlds, two cultures,
at least two religions, and two sets of history and civilization,
that have confronted each other in the land of Iraq, and seem at best
to not know each other well, and at worse, are openly hostile towards
each other and are not really sure they want to live in each other"s
midst. As British and American soldiers sped through towns and villages
in southern Iraq, time after time, Iraqis would shout out as the soldiers
went ahead leaving no military presence behind, "where is the
water, where is the aid we heard about?".
Last night as I approached the town of Safwan, on the border with
Kuwait and Iraq, a group of Iraqi children stood waving as I drove
up near the customs point. As I lifted my camera to take a last picture
in Iraq, a young boy, who couldn't have been more than ten, waved,
and walked up to my car, and suddenly, produced a brick and slammed
it into my windshield, shattering it in to pieces. Disoriented, my
car rolled to the side, and I managed to speed away to through the
border, leaving a crowd of chasing children behind.
When I crossed into Kuwait, I was stopped by a Kuwaiti border guard.
I felt relieved to be in seemingly less hostile and more safe environment
and heading home. The border guard asked me to take everything out
of my car so he could search it. As I removed heavy boxes from the
car, I said to him, "I was here in 1991, when the Americans fought
for your country." The border guard looked at me and said, "They
didn't fight for my country, they fought for my oil!"
After I was cleared, I drove away slowly. I wondered if I should be
angry at those words and conceptions of this Kuwaiti man, standing
by himself at a dusty crossing between Iraq, and Kuwait. It occurred
to me, that what was much more important than my feelings about his
words, was that they actually represented his feelings and perceptions
about his world, and about a war the United States had been "won"
over 11 years ago.
© Peter Turnley