Daily life in Shi’ite Baghdad

June 9, 2014

Baghdad, Iraq

By Ahmed Jadallah

When people mention Sunnis and Shi’ites, the topic is often sectarian violence.

This is certainly true in Iraq. The country’s former ruler Saddam Hussain came from the Iraq’s Sunni minority, but since he was overthrown, Shi’ites have dominated Iraqi politics. Now, over the past year, Sunni insurgents who target Shi’ites have been gaining ground and violence has spiraled.

With the government battling Sunni rebels, I wanted to take a step back and show the human face of the divided communities. So in Baghdad I went to photograph daily life inside some of its poor, Shi’ite neighbourhoods.

I saw buildings crumbling, people keeping chickens in their kitchen, and children playing by an open sewer outside school. It made me sad to think that people still live this way in 2014, in a country that is now the world’s fastest-growing oil exporter.

But despite the poverty and the conflict, I met a lot of friendly, open people who were just living their lives. I saw kids playing football, men laughing together and women going to cosmetics shops in a huge slum known as Sadr City.

If you mention the word “Iraq” to most people, they will think of bombs and war, but I photographed scenes of residents simply enjoying themselves. In one of my favourite pictures, a little girl gives all of her attention to the television. She doesn’t even care that there’s a journalist in her house, she just carries on with what she’s doing.

An Iraqi Shi'ites girl watches television inside her house in eastern Baghdad Futheliyah district

Even so, the war is not far from people’s minds in the poor neighbourhooods I visited. I came to Baghdad before in 2009, and back then I felt that there was hope. Many Shi’ites expected their lives to improve after the fall of Saddam.

Now, the situation is very hard – every time you are in a car and get stuck in the middle of traffic, you wonder if the car next to you might be a suicide bomber. People are worried when they send their children to school that they might not come back.

The poor security made it difficult for me to cover as a photographer. Iraq has entered a very dangerous period, and every time I travelled to these neighbourhoods I feared there could be a bomb blast.

I hope that everything here will change and that the people I met will go on to have good lives in the future. But I think that it will be a very long process, as their country grows more and more violent.

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