Baghdad Stories - A War Diary
In March 2003 the US military invaded Iraq and toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein. Shortly after we went to Iraq with hundreds of disposable cameras. We asked young US soldiers and Iraqis to take snapshots of their every day life in Baghdad.
We didn't know, the real fighting was just about to begin.
"We arrived in the country two weeks after the war started. I had mixed feelings, but for the most part I was excited. Sometimes you do get scared, but you have to trust that God is there with you. I was glad America stepped up and did something without a lot of support. It shows our country is becoming more and more bold, which is a good thing. A thousand questions were going through my mind as we advanced towards Baghdad. As you can imagine, soldiers are just like everybody else."
"My company was not a part of the initial attack. I thought there would be more action. My “advance” took over 2 weeks waiting for trucks to haul my tank. It sucked. Any situation possibly dangerous is exciting. I feel turbocharged in those situations. I felt hate towards the enemy. The desire to send a 3 round 5.56 mm burst right between the eyes."
"We live because the Americans help us to safety. I am happy that the Americans are here. They are nice."
Asia Ali, 12, Baghdad
"Baghdad is an eye opener. We have seen hundreds and hundreds of kids trying to sell us things and you wish in some way you could help them out. Before I left I thought everyone here would hate our guts. Now that I’m here, most of the people are so happy that we’re here. The hospitality is overwhelming. I wave and they wave and they come up an start talking and shake my hand. No one has told me they are unhappy but sometimes with the look on their face I think I can tell they are unhappy."
"The mass graves of Saddam have shocked me. But also the American missile, that fell on a family here and killed 13 people at once."
Sabrin Abd Al Rahim, 15, Baghdad
"I felt great going towards Baghdad. I felt that it’s cool. I‘ve never been to MidEast before. I got to do things never experienced back at home. My fear is contained through the training I received. It helped me to be cautious. The enemy, they are human, too. They are just like us doing their job to fight at war. But they must die."
"I took many photos, so that the whole world can see it. After Saddam is gone, everything is better. I often think of the war. Because we are not safe. I am pleased that the soldiers are here and Saddam is gone. But I don’t want occupation."
Ahmed Salah, 13, Baghdad
"I don’t like the heat but I doubt that they can change that. I really don’t like the terrible sandstorms."
"I expected a lot more hostility from the Iraqis. So far I have not seen a lot of anger at America. Some Baath party do not want us here. Sad, they are misguided by a few who spread anger and hate for their own advantage. But overall we are liked or tolerated.
We were repairing a school in western Baghdad when the girls school was let out they all came over to me, to wave and cheer. It was quite a site 200 girls yelling and waving all at once. The people are very curious people and seem to really want to travel and see the world, many want to go to Europe or America.
We already have changed things in the country. People can protest the government and speak their mind. We are working to clean up the police force. The feeling of oppression is gone. Now we need to restore 100% power.
But I wonder wether we can truly make as big a difference in those people lifes. We don’t want to pull out and see another oppressive dictator come into power."
"Now everything is better than before. Only thing: there is no security. I often think of the war. Sometimes I wake up at night. I then try to forget the nightmare. My greatest wish is to not fear for my life anymore. And I want to go back to school."
"Since my birth I live in times of war. We play with guns instead of toys."
Ali Hanoon, 14, Baghdad
"As the Iraqi army stationed missile launchers in our neighborhood, we always heard the noise from the rocket fire. We were afraid that the apartment collapses. The situation was bad. I don’t like anything about it. My brothers were soldiers in the Iraqi army. At that time I was very worried about their whereabouts."
Grafran Quassim, Baghdad
"Okay, picture a sandbox now put a bunch of little shitty monopoly sized houses and buildings in the sandbox. Now, go get the kitchen trash and dump it into the sandbox (smiles). That’s Baghdad!"
"When I see the soldiers, I feel in an occupied country. The house searches scare me. The US won’t be able to change anything in our country. Because they have no feeling for us." Grafran Quasim, Baghdad
"I hope that peace will come. I hope I can live my childhood like all children do around the world."
Ismail Kalifa, 12, Baghdad
"I took pictures I felt you would never see in the US and to remind me that everything is not quite what it may seem. This is my first deployment and some things I see just break my heart. I thought it was all desert and no woods. I would’ ve never thought there would be roses or grass here. It’s such a beautiful place here if only people would take care of it.
I don’t really have that many encounters with civilians. I try to stay away from that because I don’t know who to trust. My first encounter was alight. I just hate the males saying they love me and acting so just because I am a female. They act a little funny and whisper. I’ ve been told because I’m beautiful and female. But I don’t see myself as beautiful."
"The war was bad. We were afraid because of the missiles and the bombs that hit our country. The nights became bright as day, therefore maybe you can imagine how a 13-year-old feels at such moments. I'm really concerned. I have cried a lot."
Sarah Muhamad Ali, 13, Baghdad
"I‘m only 18 years old and I’m in Iraq. I feel like this is an experience most people my age won’t be able to talk about and sometimes it can be interesting. In this type of environment you never know what’s going to happen next. So fear plays a big role in a soldiers life. It accompanies me all the time. I’ve never been this far away from home before, especially being in an area where there is combat. I was scared because we could always hear stories about the bombing, shooting and soldiers dying. I didn’t know what was going to happen when we moved in that area, I didn’t want to come here.
When we were in a convoy at night we had to use blackout drive and the person that was driving the vehicle didn’t see where the vehicle in front of us went so he turned and we ended up stuck on a hill with the front tires in the air. The convoy started to leave us and all I could think about is this is the end.
The people here always smile and wave their hands. The first time it was really weired because I didn’t know how to act. They were greeting me in their language. I dind’t know what to say so I just smiled. I am happy I will be working on the 4th of July talent show. Me and a couple of girls will be stepping."
Iraq is an Islamic country. We have our Arab customs and traditions. It is forbidden for strangers to enter into our homes. And where are the rights of children you claim to fight for?"
Ali Hanoon, 14, Baghdad
"I think a lot about the boy Ali, whose legs were cut off because of an American bomb. But then I also believe that the Americans give the people what Saddam has never done. I hope they keep what they promised."
Nura Thamir, 14, Baghdad
"We hope now that everything will be better. I enjoy my freedom for the first time. I miss the fun park and the zoo. I sometimes have nightmares, but I don’t mind."
"The soldiers are important for safety. I was happy about the tanks in my city when I saw them first time. I watched the people as they were talking with the soldiers. Freedom of speech – I like that. But when the soldiers storm into houses and search, they are often aggressive. They provoke the people."
"We used to be afraid of the former government and the police, because they always came to us and wanted to convince my uncle to go into the army. During the war we were afraid, too. We are glad that Saddam is gone. We are still scared. Why do children become victims in your wars?!"
Hasseen Mohammed, 10, Baghdad
"Baghdad is nicer than what I thought it would be. A lot beautiful buildings. Besides nice looking architectures, everything else pretty much suck. Streets are dirty. People don’t know how to drive here. We talk a lot about the war and our experiences. I dream about going home. I miss my families. I wish world peace. I think about my bed and chinese food."
"I love peace and security. In my photos I want to show the flowers and the green trees in my hometown. But nothing much has changed. As if the war were to continue. No electricity, no water, no money. I didn’t have a single happy day in my life. Only war and misery and planes and guns. I saw an American missile hitting the house nearby. It killed my 2 friends Nasrin and Hanan. I do not like the Americans. My parents don’t like the Americans either. And when they patrol through our street, we close the doors. We don’t want to see them. I tell my siblings: Throw stones at them."
Iman Mohammad, 12, Baghdad
"My days consists of working on vehicles."
"The only time I’ ve relly gotten to know an Iraqi was our interpreter. He is very nice and well educated. Others they mostly just stare, wave and yell at us Arabic. The majority who don’t want us here are the ones who benefitted from Saddam’s rule. The rest are just stupid."
"Most encounter are good, they are usually with children. Sometimes I am angry because we are trying to help them and they are going against us. Confused also because I don’t understand why they feel such hate for us. While we are here we do make a small difference. As soon as we leave everything will go back to normal. Sometimes it seems like our presence makes no difference."
"We are afraid of the occupation. Because we do not want to replace one monarch with another. They come because we are so rich of resources."
Sabrin Abd Al Rahim, 15, Baghdad
"I have photographed me, the view from the window, the fountain, the birds. I took photos of American soldiers, dogs, friends, my mother, my room, my uncle, the children of the neighbors.
The satellite dishes were forbidden before, now they are allowed. Talking about the president was forbidden, now it’s allowed. Earlier we saw no tanks, now we see a lot. I like the helicopters in the sky, also the tanks on the streets. I miss going out to the restaurants at night. One grenade exploded next to the house. It has shocked me. Now I always sleep next to my mother. I sometimes have bad dreams."
Bahaa Salah-Aldeen, Baghdad
"I'm too tired at night to dream. I sleep well - even on top of my tank in the middle of Baghdad with the sounds of gunfire across the river."
"The war makes me being afraid of anything. I continue my normal life. I saw thieves and criminals who kill people because of money. I saw kidnappers who kidnap girls. So I'm afraid. If I see the Americans, I feel safe. Thank you Bush and Blair. But please, no more wars!"
"Dreaming is something nice. But at the end you always wake up."
"I have nightmares. Sometimes I dream that the soldiers kill my father. When I wake up I calm down. I'm afraid of the US soldiers, they are murderers. When I saw them for the first time, I read in their eyes, how proud they were to have destroyed our country and our culture. The good things, they will turn worse. They have brought the freedom to kill, to murder and to loot."
Ali, 13, Baghdad
"I have contact everyday to Iraqi people. First encounter was a little odd because I didn’t expect to be so warmly welcomed. The people here are great. 95 % love the soldiers in Baghdad. They are a pleasure to be around. Yes, I think we can make a change. Arresting/ shooting all the damn criminals so the area is stable. Then we can rebuild the place."
"What can I, one soldier, do? I really want to go home!"
"I like fairey-tales. I like to read. But I have no books."
"I'm afraid of the war, since the sound of the missiles and bombs are still in my ears. My mother was also afraid. I sometimes dream, a bomb falls on my head. But sometimes I dream that I have a beautiful life. When I saw the US soldiers for the first time, I was afraid of them. I thought they would shoot me. Now we play with them. The American soldiers protect us from the thieves and criminals, I like to talk to them."
Safa Hussein, 15, Baghdad
"What I miss most is my car, my girl, my friends, my family, people that don’t want to shoot me. Food, air conditioning, the beach, the PX, Walmart, 7-eleven, etc. etc. etc. My greatest wish is to get the hell out of here."
"I live in Baghdad. I went for a walk in the evening and took photos of what I saw on the streets."
Bilal Abdul-Jabbar, 14, Baghdad
"When thinking of home I think of my big house with my big bed and a big home cooked meal sitting with my whole family."
"It saddens and angers me that some of these people had to go through what they did and I hope one day everyone will realize that this military action had to be done. Now that I’ve been here and heard so many tragic stories from good people, I wish no one had to fear their government and no one would have to suffer."
"Dreams are just dreams."
Ahmad Khalil, 11, Baghdad
"The war, the dead, the injured and the sounds of explosions – that is always on my mind. We were hiding in the entrance of the house of my grandfather, because we were afraid of the rockets. Once I was woken up by the noise of the aircraft. These are terrible feelings that are still present."
Nazik Talal, 13, Baghdad
"Prior to leaving America I was plagued with nightmares about getting gassed and soldiers taking over. But eventually we came to the country and realized that it wasn’t going that type of war for us. We talk about our experiences here all the time. It helps a lot. We try to find humor to what is usually an unpleasant situation. But when we will be able to go home? I wish that this country gets settled enough that we can go home to our families."
"I felt scared, proud of my country and eager to see the ancient land and its inhabitants. I don’t hate the enemy, but it is going to be them or me. And I want to live to be an old man with grandchildren.
Every encounter with the Iraqi people is a memory I will always carry with me. They are full of curiosity and happiness, because now they are free. If I think the Iraqis are happy about the presence of the US in their country? 72 % Yes, 21 % No, 7% undecided.
My greatest wish is to honor my family and myself by becoming a great man. May God, Allah, Jehova be with us all!"
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