Conflict & Justice

New photos from Iraq trouble photographer who covered the last war

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Credit:

Rita Leistner

The Iraq War in 2004, captured by Canadian photojournalist Rita Leistner.

Canadian photojournalist Rita Leistner covered the opening days of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq as an independent journalist, and in recent days she has been studying new images of war there.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

In April, 2003, Leistner entered Iraq through the northern Kurdish region, and worked her way south to Baghdad with the help of Kurds, Shia and Sunni Iraqis. 

"Now I'm thinking a lot about the people that I met then," she says. "When I see pictures of [Shia] volunteers getting ready to fight, all in civilian clothes, half the time they're only wearing slip-on sandals as they head off to war."

Other pictures taken in areas under the control of the Islamic militant group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIL), are deeply troubling to Leistner.

"A typical news photo might be captioned 'Militants of ISIL executing dozens of Iraqi security forces at an unknown location,'" Leistner says. "You know, it reminds me of the worst kind of picture of mass murder that you could conjure up."

Leistner notes that images of captured Iraqi soldiers being packed into ISIS trucks are easy to associate with ominous photos from previous wars.

"It's unimaginable the kind of horror they must be feeling about the uncertainty and unknown, and indeed we know many of them are just being carted off to be executed."

Images from Rita Leistners travels in wartime Iraq in 2003-2004 have been published in the book, "Unembedded: Four Independent Photojournalists on the War in Iraq."  Her latest book is called "Looking for Marshall McLuhan in Afghanistan: iProbes and iPhone Photographs."

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    Credit:

    Rita Leistner

    Kurdish smugglers risk treacherous terrain and Turkish border guards with shoot-to-kill orders to help journalists make the three-day journey into Iraq to cover the war.
    (April 11, 2003—in the Taurus Mountains between Turkey and Iraq)

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    Credit:

    Rita Leistner

    Fighters of the Kurdish separatist guerrilla party, the PKK, in the mountains of northern Iraq.
    (April 3, 2004—Iraqi Kurdistan)

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    Credit:

    Rita Leistner

    Civilians wandering around the smoldering buildings of one of Saddam Hussein’s Bath Party Secret Police Headquarters in Kirkuk greet journalists arriving from the north.
    (April 15, 2003—Kirkuk, Iraq)

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    Credit:

    Rita Leistner

    Photojournalist Thorne Anderson (right), co-author of "Unembedded: Four Independent Photojournalists on the War in Iraq," hanging out with fighters of the Madhi Army, supporters of Shiite Cleric Muktada al-Sadr. The Madhi Army, who fought deadly battles against the Americans throughout 2004 and 2005, are now on the same side as the Americans in the new battle against The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. (August 5, 2004—Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq)

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    Credit:

    Rita Leistner

    Members of a Madhi Army insurgent cell in Sadr City during clashes with American Forces.
    (August 6, 2004—Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq)

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    Credit:

    Rita Leistner

    Supporters of Shiite Cleric Muktada al-Sadr during the Siege of Najaf.
    (August 19, 2004—Najaf, Iraq)

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    Credit:

    Rita Leistner

    The cemetery of Najaf, the holiest burial site in the Shiite Muslim world because of its proximity to the Shrine of Imam Ali, during the Siege of Najaf (August 5-27 2004), that saw American Forces battle the Mahdi Army—supporters of Shiite Cleric Muktada al-Sadr—in the city centered around the shrine.
    (August 25, 2004—Najaf, Iraq)

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    Credit:

    Rita Leistner

    Battle-weary fighters of the Mahdi Army on the day following the ceasefire of the Siege of Najaf.
    (August 27, 2004—Najaf, Iraq)

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    Credit:

    Rita Leistner

    A street in Najaf, post battle.
    (August 27, 2004—Najaf, Iraq).

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