Witness from the Hurt Locker
Photo editor May Naji during an embed with U.S. troops in Iraq.
When I moved to Singapore, I thought I would escape the war and try to forget everything that reminded me of it.
But watching “The Hurt Locker,” I flashed back to all the sad and terrifying memories of violence and atrocities during that time in Iraq. The movie was about an Explosive Ordnance Disposal team, but it really highlighted what goes on in Iraq every day – what Iraqis and the U.S. military experience every day. I think that’s what made the movie so popular. People want to understand life in Iraq.
Even as an Iraqi who lived there and witnessed the war, it’s sometimes hard to describe — what happened, what we saw. The visions are in my mind, but it’s beyond the imagination of people who live in peaceful countries and never witness war. The movie’s most graphic images (planting explosives inside the body of an Iraqi boy; the civilian with a time-bomb strapped to his chest) were just some of the horrific things that happened in Iraq.
When I joined Reuters in Baghdad in 2006 to work as a photo-editor, it was the peak of the sectarian violence and bombings. We had to keep our work secret. Only my family members knew where I was working. I had to change my route from home to work frequently to make sure I wasn’t noticed by insurgents, who targeted anyone who worked for a foreign company. The bombings happened everywhere and the bombers targeted everyone. They did not distinguish between military and civilians, men, women or children.
The pictures that I used to edit from Iraq were part of my life, not just news photos. I was part of that story. The people who were killed or injured could have been my relatives, friends and neighbors or myself.
Working with Reuters gave me the chance to “embed”, or travel, with U.S. troops, and it was a good opportunity to be a part of the other side of the story. One of the interesting stories that I covered with U.S. troops (one that was close to the bitter reality of the movie) was the reopening of the Huda Girls’ School in Tarmiya, north of Baghdad in 2009.
The U.S. military said that in 2007, soldiers with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, discovered a wire leading from the school’s outer perimeter to one of the classrooms. Inside the room, the troops discovered five artillery shells. The insurgents’ planned attack also included two large explosive-filled propane tanks buried underneath the school’s floor and projectiles placed under electrical conduits in front of each classroom.
It’s hard to imagine what might have happened if these bombs had exploded with children in the classrooms. Residents were happy to see the girls returning to their school after insurgents were cleared from the area, and at their cooperation with U.S. forces to defeat the enemies who ruined their town.
It was exciting to see the movie win the Oscar. I hope Iraqis will create something similar to show their suffering and their ordeal since the U.S. invasion in 2003. I hope Iraqis, and American troops, can get out of “The Hurt Locker” they are stuck in, and win the peace soon.
Captions: From top
Photographer and photo editor May Naji during am embed with U.S. troops in Iraq.
A boy walks past a pool of blood and scattered books at the entrance floor of a school after a mortar attack in Baghdad January 28, 2007. REUTERS/Namir Noor-Eldeen
Mourners cry during the funeral of their relative who was killed in a bomb attack in Baghdad October 13, 2008. REUTERS/Bassim Shati
Students attend the opening ceremony of the Huda school for girls in Tarmiya, north of Baghdad, January 5, 2009. REUTERS/May Naji
U.S. soldiers of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment take up position on the rooftop of the Huda school for girls during its opening ceremony in Tarmiya January 5, 2009. REUTERS/May Naji
A girl looks at a U.S. helicopter flying overhead a refugee camp in Baghdad September 27, 2007. REUTERS/Mahmoud Raouf Mahmoud