A tribute to journalist and colleague Sabah al-Bazee
Reuters correspondent Peter Graff in Baghdad writes following the death of journalist Sabah al-Bazee:
For those of us who work in the Baghdad bureau, it is always a shock to look back through the collected photos of one of our Iraqi colleagues. We think we are used to those old scenes. But seen one after another, the images compiled over eight years of carnage by a single journalist like Sabah al-Bazee still have the power to freeze your blood.
There’s a photo that Sabah took showing the bodies of a family killed during a botched U.S. military raid on their home in 2005. Three small children wrapped in blankets, who look almost like they are sleeping, snuggled with their parents, their faces pale and lifeless in the dust.
The first word that colleagues around our office were using on Tuesday to describe Sabah, who died in an attack in his home town of Tikrit, was “enthusiastic”. The second, heard from several and meant as a sincere compliment, was “almost childlike”.
Like many of our Iraqi colleagues, he was young. Just 23 or so when he started taking pictures of war for a living. He had boundless energy, constantly pestering our reporters, photographers and cameramen for tips at how to hone his skills. How do you square that boisterousness with the bone-chilling images he photographed over the seven years he worked for us?
“Sabah was an enthusiast, always on the phone, keen to get the news and to tell it,” writes Alastair Macdonald, Baghdad bureau chief from 2005-07. “He had an energy and courage that meant he thought nothing of driving the 100 dangerous miles between Tikrit and Baghdad at any hour to deliver video and pictures. I recall that his work rate could sometimes exhaust colleagues, and yet Sabah never seemed to stop smiling.”
Macdonald continues: “When I worked with him, at a time when Iraq seemed to be descending ever deeper into bloody chaos, life to Sabah seemed somehow joyful. I remember him showing up late one night, unannounced, at the Reuters bureau in Baghdad which felt under siege. It was Dec. 31 but we had little cause to celebrate. What brought him down to the city on a frightening night like this, we asked. ‘Happy New Year!’ he laughed, offering presents all around. It was a generosity in Sabah which we shall all remember amid the sadness.”
In 2006, Sabah photographed the appalling bombing of a Shi’ite shrine in Samarra, the event that, more than any other, triggered Iraq’s descent from a low-level insurgency into sectarian civil war.
The attack that claimed his life was one of the worst in years, in a country that is struggling to move beyond the bloodshed. Gunmen blasted their way into the provincial council building in Tikrit, seized hostages and executed them. Fifty-three people were killed and nearly 100 wounded. Sabah, who was killed by shrapnel, was outside the building, trying as always to get the news and to tell it.