Faces of the Enemy

A photo essay by Alan Pogue

Out of ignorance or cruel irony, reporters and government officials speak of "starting" a war with Iraq or of a "potential" war with Iraq. As the people of that country know only too well, the United States and Great Britain have been waging war on Iraq continuously for more than a decade. Through both U.N.-imposed economic sanctions and missile attacks authorized only by military superiority, we have done much to destroy a generation of Iraqis -- the very same people the Bush administration now proposes to "liberate."

Should a full-scale invasion take place, American television will no doubt again be saturated with Defense Department images of "smart bombs" neatly flying through windows and hitting military targets with unerring precision. Those images, as always, will become part of a well-orchestrated propaganda campaign to reinforce the concept of the United States as the benevolent keeper of world peace.

Austin documentary photographer Alan Pogue has devoted his career to presenting compelling images of a very different kind. He took the following photos during a 1998-99 trip to Iraq, during the supposedly "peaceful" years of the Clinton administration. Pogue is familiar with war -- he served as a combat medic in Vietnam. That experience still drives him in his brilliant photographic career, documenting the joy and hardship experienced by people in all walks of life -- but particularly those who try to carry on their lives with dignity, despite the crushing weight too often imposed by forces beyond their control.

And that is precisely why some of these pictures are not images of suffering. Against all odds, these ordinary people -- our "enemies" -- try to push through bleak hopelessness to a place where their lives can have joy again.

Alan Pogue is currently traveling in Iraq, carrying on with his mission. We sincerely hope he will be able to bring back more pictures of joy, and fewer of suffering. -- Lee Nichols

Some of these photos and others like them can also be seen at www.documentaryphotographs.com.
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Gasim Risun and his two-week-old baby in a Baghdad hospital. In December 1998, Operation "Desert Fox" dropped a missile on his house and injured his wife and other children so severely that Risun was left to care for his baby in his own hospital bed because he was the only family member capable of looking after the baby. Risun, who has a Ph.D. in engineering, had worked in the U.S. prior to the Gulf War and speaks English. He told me he had many friends in the U.S., and he knew Americans have a big heart. "Why," he asked, "do not the Americans have a big heart for the Iraqi people? There should not be another Hiroshima in Iraq." (Dec. 1998)

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Asmaa lives in the village of Abul Khseeb, south of Basra. She and several other children were struck by fragments of a bomb dropped by American planes over the southern "no-fly zone," which includes everything south of Baghdad. There was no industrial or military installation anywhere near her home. (1999)

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Fadela, Gasim Risun's niece, looks through the ruin of Risun's home for anything salvageable. The missile that hit the house did not explode, but its effect was like dropping a car from 30,000 feet onto the house. Had it exploded, the house would be powder. Fadela was born with leg deformities that required many years of corrective surgery by Spanish physicians in Baghdad. She was able to speak Spanish with Kathy Kelly of Voices in the Wilderness, a group of volunteer witnesses for peace who have traveled to Iraq several times, bringing medicine and other necessities in violation of U.N. economic sanctions (www.nonviolence.org/vitw).

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This girl at the Dijla School asked us, "When you return to the United States, please ask the children to tell their parents not to bomb us." Then she sat down at her desk and cried. This was after four days of U.S. bombing.

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Neam Ahmad holds a dove of peace she made in her ceramics studio in Mosul. She makes some monumental four-tiered fountains, but I needed something small that would fit in my suitcase, so on my departure she gave me the dove; she represents all of the peace-loving people of Iraq, and I accepted on behalf of all the peace-loving people of the United States. Earlier, I told her that her work was so beautiful it would sell well in the U.S. She countered that it would sell well in Iraq if the U.S. would stop bombing. She showed me the cracks in the walls of her home/studio that were made by U.S. missiles that struck very close during the December 1998 missile attack called Desert Fox. (Aug. 2000)

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Sister Yvette shepherds her flock of first communicants at the cathedral in Basra. They are preparing for the big day. July is the month for First Communion among the 1 million Catholics in Iraq. Twenty-three churches take part. They used to have all of the ceremonies on the same day, but due to poverty brought on by the economic sanctions, the first communion Masses must be staggered so that the churches can move the white garments from one church to another -- most families can no longer afford to buy them. (July 1998)

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This happy little girl was walking down a residential street near our hotel. Wanting to know why she had such a big smile, I crossed the street. When I raised my camera, she held up her Lion King book. Disney movies are just as popular in Iraq as they are here. (July 1998)

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In December 1998, Voices in the Wilderness called asking me to fly to Baghdad immediately because the Desert Fox bombing campaign was about to begin. Working our way south to Basra, our small delegation came to the town of Al Deer, a few miles north of Basra. A cruise missile had struck a small microwave relay station there, killing one neighborhood man and causing three spontaneous miscarriages. Many houses were damaged. The children were too terrified to sleep at night. This was Christmas Day. This beautifully dressed girl gave us a chunk of a missile that was found in her school.

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This woman lives in an unfinished housing project on the edge of Basra, the southern port town of 1.6 million people. The project houses 8,500 internally displaced people from the Iran/Iraq war (1981-88) and the Bush War of 1991. There is no inside plumbing or air conditioning in the rough, concrete, two-story structures. The temperature outside was 128 degrees Fahrenheit. Her son, who lives with her, lost his foot in combat during the Iran/Iraq war. She has extreme joint swelling. There is no help for her. After I took her picture she said, "This is no way for human beings to live." (July 1998)

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The Amariya Shelter in Baghdad was bombed by the U.S. in 1991. After more than 400 people were killed, most of them children, the U.S. claimed that the shelter was really used for military purposes. However, Reuters, the British news service, reported that the building was never used for anything other than a civilian bomb shelter. All of the neighborhood children were in the shelter because their parents believed it was the safest place. There were also some teachers, cooks, and a clown or two to entertain the children. Two precision-guided "bunker buster" bombs penetrated the 6-foot thick ceiling, exploded inside, and incinerated the children and adults. Photographs of the children now line the walls.

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Sister Suzanne and Kathy Kelly teach the children of the Dijla School for Girls how to sing "We Shall Overcome" in Arabic. Sister Suzanne is the principal of the Catholic girls elementary and middle school. Girls of all faiths attend the school. After four days of missile attacks, Kathy Kelly, of Voices in the Wilderness, thought singing this song would help raise the girls' spirits. (Dec. 1998)

"Blast Their Hopes, Blight Their Lives"

"The War Prayer" was dictated by Mark Twain, apparently around 1904-05, to protest American military aggression in the Philippines. He submitted it for publication to Harper's Bazaar, but it was rejected and not published until after his death.

The short story, excerpted below, begins with a preacher speaking to his congregation shortly before their nation's troops march to the front. In a patriotic fervor, the minister beseeches God in a long, impassioned sermon to guide the military to victory, concluding with, "Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"

As the preacher finishes, an "aged stranger" walks to the front of the church, motions the minister aside, and tells the parishioners that he has been sent by God to speak the "unspoken" portion of the prayer: "... that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed silently." -- L.N.

The aged stranger speaks:

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!"

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said. end story

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