Witness from the Hurt Locker

March 19, 2010

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.

IRAQ/SCHOOLBut 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


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

It is for your dream and that of many others who followed their dreams that can help end the nightmare your people are going through. No one should live in a nightmare, not in their own and especially not in that imposed on them, evil and cruel. I wish every child and every grownup can wake up from it an see an endless clear blue sky and fee the breeze of true freedom. Thank you for your wake up call May, Godspeed.

Posted by Pedja | Report as abusive

we must be there, to understand the pain

Posted by matilda | Report as abusive

It is partly due to the prurient interest and artful communication of events like those reported that support the continued violence and disgusting instances of war.

Posted by cranston | Report as abusive

You think of all the aid going to Haiti, and you have to wonder….

Posted by Story_Burn | Report as abusive


Now the peace has been restored in Iraq, has any been made to know more about these insurgent?

Posted by manishindia | Report as abusive

although i don’t like the “hurt locker” as i consider most of the movies that comes with the cover of international conflicts is a “propaganda”. but i agree with article writer about how the people went through all these chaotic events “especially during 2005-2008″ ’cause i have lived this period and i saw many incidents like the ones above. this article in partial describes the American side of the “game”, it would be interesting if and only if it was possible to describe the dark side of this conflict. i prey that peace lands on Iraq, people and country.

Posted by MarwanShaheen | Report as abusive

[…] additional steps that may be required to address the situation.”   | | Iraq Current Events Witness from the hurt locker When Iraqi native May Naji joined Reuters in Baghdad, she worked in secret to ensure she was not […]

Posted by Snapshot 20 March 2010 | WorldsWays | Report as abusive

Well, the peace has not been restored in Iraq yet, there are still bombings happening from time to time, there are still hundreds of Iraqi refugees outside their country, lack of services, and corruption. There are different of groups of insurgents or militias, who they have appeared after the war fighting for different agenda and what helped these groups to grow is chaos, the absence of law, and more important is the lack of jobs which made many young people to become an easy prey in the hands of those who does not want the stability and peace.

Posted by maynaji2003 | Report as abusive

There are always people, some of them thugs, some of them businessmen, some of them religious, some of them bureaucrats who profit from the instability from which killings arise. We never seem to work up a hate toward these, the actual, troublemakers. Everyone senses oil money has a lot to do with all this suffering; no one’s self-interest is on the side of exposing how, so that story is forever untold. Viet Nam was about propping up the value of the dollar, and we rescued FRANCE, which was bankrupted by that war. No one remembers that, especially the French interests!

Posted by emilysinsight | Report as abusive

No wonder you’re nauseated by The Hurt Locker. So was everybody else. It’s one of the rottenest, most cowardly little ordeal movies ever made, living proof that any hack writer can hook up with a director of modest intellect, point four cameras at hours and hours of improv ensuing from a fairly decent cast, then let editors stitch the results into some albeit pointless semblance of narrative whose core failure, as with any embedded by product, never questions why US & UK aggressors continually destroy all and any peace or civilization that ever prevailed in Iraq by bombing and contaminating the place to Kingdom Come.

As not only millions of Iraqis know, that’s gotta hurt.

Posted by HBC | Report as abusive

Great job, I hope this is but one of many post on this blog about your experiences and opinions. You never had the benefit of forgetting the war or escaping it. You lived with the constant reality of it kicking in your door at any time and invading the private refuge of your inner sanctuary of following you home, but yet you risk life and limb to work for Reuters and risk even more writing such an article in such a public forum. I am very proud to know you and consider you my dear friend, your strength and bravery are only matched by your passion for seeing peace come to your homeland.
loved this blog!

Posted by bpdoe | Report as abusive

[…] (61)  Testigo de The Hurt Locker […]

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