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Thursday, December 8, 2016
Iraq: exclusive report by Carlos Reyes-Manzo - part one
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 The award-winning photographer and journalist Carlos Reyes-Manzo visited Iraq with a Caritas delegation last October. Last month he returned to the country. This is the first of his exclusive three-part series for ICN. 1. Returning to Iraq As we approach Baghdad, thick clouds of black smoke rise above the city and the smell of burning and raw sewage hits me. Evidence of the battle for Baghdad lies scattered everywhere, flattened civilian cars burnt out and riddled with bullets, lorries shot at and looted, armoured carriers with their stomachs blown open, undamaged anti-aircraft guns. Packs of dogs roam the streets, women and children emerge from the burning rubbish and smoke. black marketeers sell petrol from plastic containers alongside the long queues of cars at petrol stations. This is not the Baghdad I left behind last October, the Baghdad of the peaceful boulevards where I talked to people without the expected security minders, the laughter of families looking into fashion shops, men sitting at cafes, juice shops advertising the seasonal fruit, markets full of goods, one or two people politely asking for assistance. Today's Baghdad is completely changed, people look desperate, afraid, defensive, ready to attack. On every street corner US troops are on the alert and columns of tanks and armoured carriers drive through the city. Looters are pushing stolen cars, carrying heavy loads on their shoulders, pulling donkeys with carts full of stolen goods. Every ministry, school and hospital has been looted and set on fire, filing cabinets thrown from upper floors lie open on the ground with official papers strewn everywhere. The only ministry that has not been touched is the oil ministry which is protected by a "US armoured division". White satellite dishes from every news network in the world sprout on the roof of the Palestine Hotel. The grounds of the hotel are surrounded by barbed wire, tanks and US servicemen, and within this fortress hundreds of small tents with prominent logos advertise their networks. The lobby is packed with the international press, businessmen, colonels, lieutenants, soldiers rushing in and out. Protected by their tough companions, groups of elegant women assess you as you enter the lobby. After navigating for half an hour in the smoky streets of New Baghdad I arrived at the corner of the two faiths, St Elya's Chaldean Catholic Church with its large courtyard and water tank guarded by the grotto of Our Lady, and the Al Abban Mosque with its four big loudspeakers at the top of the minaret which woke me up with its first call at four thirty every morning. Fr Bashar, my unwitting host was in Mosul but I received a warm welcome and an even hotter room, it was at least 40 centigrade at night with kamikaze mosquitoes attacking from every front. I was kept awake by the cacophony of howling dogs, the shooting Kalashkinovs, heavy artillery fire in the distance, the rumbling of tanks and Bradleys, tracer fire lighting up the skies, and the monotonous roar of the electricity generator in the courtyard. After lunch with Saad's family, we walked through the streets of New Baghdad, a neighbourhood of middle and lower class families, the streets full of piles of rubbish, some burning, raw sewage flowing through the streets, children playing football, families walking along. The baker asked me to take his photograph putting the bread into the oven and welcomed me with a freshly baked naan bread. He started telling me his experiences during Saddam's regime and during the recent bombing. He was one of the few who was able to keep his business running during the bombing, the people appreciated this and the bakery was not looted. People from nearby neighbourhoods were the looters so they set up armed patrols. From the jokes I understood that they took revenge by looting the other neighbourhoods. "Abrahim" was sitting in the sun, his right arm covered by a white piece of cloth held close to his chest. Above him was a funeral notice, it was his cousin who had been killed by US soldiers when his car filled with his family was shot at as they were escaping from the bombing in Baghdad. Both were eighteen year old university students. He hinted that the US sooner or later would be held accountable for this crime. With a big bang a car flattened a ball the children were playing with. A US patrol rushed to the scene, thinking that someone had been shooting in the area, we explained that it was just a football. The children were laughing and teasing the soldiers who replied with warm smiles not realising that the children were insulting them. A few corners later we were greeted by a group of men wearing traditional clothes, they were leaders who came to Baghdad to meet the new authorities. They expressed their unhappiness at the US and British occupation of Iraq. Reluctantly they accepted that Saddam was not the right leader for Iraq but felt strongly that it was their business to remove him. I enquired about their alliance to the Ba'ath Party and they told me that the Ba'ath Party had helped the Iraqi people to overthrow the British imposed monarchy and to create a modern Iraq but Saddam and his cronies had hijacked the party. They all believed that the reason for the invasion was the oil. I crossed Baghdad in an old taxi which took me to the Al Kindi Hospital to see my friend Dr Usama who I met in October. I showed Dr Usama's card to the two armed guards at the entrance to Al Kindi Hospital and they took me to the security office in one of the corridors, a small room full of men with a mullah sitting at a table. I looked around and saw posters of Abu Hamsa on the walls. The mullah asked me why I wanted to see Dr Usama and where I was from. When I told him I came from Britain, his face froze but when I added that I was Chilean, he smiled and asked me if I knew the man in the picture. I said yes of course, he's famous in England, so he shook my hand and I was taken to see Dr Usama who was operating at the time. I was given worn disposable protective covers for my shoes and sat with Dr Usama in his little office. He lit a cigarette and with a heavy sigh started telling me the tragedy of the Al Kindi Hospital and its people. He studied medicine in Spain and we spoke in Spanish and English. He doesn't know how his family managed to survive, he hasn't received his salary for over three months. During the bombing he brought his wife and five children to the hospital for shelter and to allow him to work twenty four hours a day. After the collapse of the regime Dr Usama was elected Vice-Director of the Hospital. "During the bombing everyone was working day and night as if in a daze. Both the injured and the dead were being taken to the hospital and left in corridors. When the bombing of the market happened there were so many people dying that blood was flowing in the corridors, we ran out of first aid supplies and the system collapsed very quickly. As soon as the bombing stopped the looting began, a mullah from a local mosque offered to provide security and they are now in charge of this." Nobody has kept a record of the number of people passing through the hospital, and how many have survived or died. But estimates are staggering, thousands of dead, injured and maimed for life, it makes you think a massacre took place. With a pass I began to document the situation in the hospital. I met Saad Zedan, father of two children, who was attacked and shot in the back by looters. He said, "You are not safe even in your own home. I don't think the situation will improve in the short term." Another patient was 16 year old Yasser Selmon who greeted me with a bright smile. He was suspended from four poles over a bed, his mother next to him. He was travelling on his donkey when he was ordered to stop by US soldiers at a checkpoint, the donkey didn't stop, so they threw a grenade under the donkey killing the donkey and gravely injuring him. Carlos Reyes-Manzo has travelled all over the world documenting social and human rights issues. He began his career in Chile where he suffered imprisonment and torture under the Pinochet regime. A campaign lead by Amnesty International, Cardinal Hume and several Bishops' Conferences lead to his release. He told ICN: "The plight of the Iraqis now is a poignant reminder of the situation we experienced in Chile - where so many people were killed and disappeared" Carlos Reyes-Manzo is now based in London. His latest images of the Al Kindi Hospital described above, can be seen at: http://www.andespressagency.com/
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