Bearing Witness: Photos of the Iraq War

On April 7, 2003, Reuters photographer Faleh Kheiber took a photo that will forever speak of the cruelty of war. Kheiber’s photo, and dozens of others taken by fellow Reuters photojournalists working in Iraq, comprise an exhibition of war photography marking the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Bearing Witness: Five Years of the Iraq War, is the inaugural exhibition for the Idea Generation Gallery in London, a timely show that is actually a collaboration between the gallery and the Reuters news agency. The Head of Visual Projects at Reuters, Jassim Ahmad, said of the gallery exhibit: “This is a tribute to 125 journalists who have died in the conflict, including seven colleagues, and testament to the bravery and tenacity of those who have born witness through half a decade of conflict.” Readers should be reminded that press safety advocates like the International Press Institute have designated Iraq as the most dangerous country in the world for journalists.

Reuters photo

[ Iraqi guerillas – Photo by Reuters news agency, from the Bearing Witness exhibit. ]

The exhibit stretches throughout two floors of the Idea Generation Gallery, bringing together war photography, video, and information graphics so as to form a narrative concerning the harrowing nature of frontline war journalism. Americans may be familiar with a number of indelible images in the exhibit, but there are other photos included in the show that will be less familiar to an audience habituated to the sanitized version of the Iraq war as presented by mainstream media outlets. Faleh Kheiber’s photo comes to mind.

Faleh Kheiber visited Baghdad’s Kindi hospital on April 7, 2003, along with the Gulf Bureau Chief for Reuters, Samia Nakhoul – just as U.S. troops began capturing parts of the Iraqi capital. The two interviewed and photographed 12 year old Ali Ismail Abbas, whose family home had been hit by U.S. missiles; Ali’s father, pregnant mother, brother, aunt, three cousins and three other relatives all perished in the explosion. Ali suffered third-degree burns over 60 percent of his body – and the deadly blast had blown off both of his arms. The two Reuters journalists filed their story on the unfortunate Ali, and their report was picked up and published worldwide – with Kheiber’s tear-jerking photograph breaking hearts around the world. But that would not be the end of the tale.

The day after Faleh Kheiber and Samia Nakhoul filed their story, the two were in Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel, where the Reuter’s Baghdad bureau had located its office in a converted upper floor suite. Some 200 international journalists from various news agencies were based at the hotel, covering the war from the Palestine’s balconies as the capital burned. The U.S. military was informed of the hotel’s role as a headquarters for journalists. As fighting raged near the Palestine, a U.S. tank fired a shell at the hotel’s 15th floor, killing two reporters and severely wounding three others – two of which were Samia Nakhoul and Faleh Kheiber. Ms. Nakhoul required emergency brain surgery in order to survive.

Bearing Witness, runs from April 9, 2008 to May 4, 2008, at the Idea Generation Gallery. 11 Chance Street, London E2 7JB. Reuters’ has also launched an excellent multimedia website in conjunction with the gallery exhibit.

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