In conflict, it is often those with the smallest voices that pay the highest price. The civilians—men, women and children—make the ultimate sacrifice. At best, those who perish become a statistic. In the battle to liberate Mosul, the record keeping was so poor many did not even become that.
In May and June of 2017 I was in West Mosul, Iraq, volunteering with a team of medics com comprised of Iraqis and Westerners. The medical team was embedded with the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) and though their focus was to be the military casualties it was primarily civilians who came through their gate. I had photographed a wedding to afford the place ticket to Erbil; at the time I could not precisely identify why, but I knew I had to be there.
While in Mosul I spent the days and nights with the team, sleeping in their makeshift clinic and photographing their work. For much of the time I was the only woman there; initially prepared for anything, I soon found myself enjoying their company. Most nights we were woken by the sounds of airstrikes in the Old City, less than 2km away. We‘d sit on the roof and watch orange balls of fires light the sky. It was beautiful, unless you knew what was happening on the ground as each strike hit their mark.
When you read or watch the news and hear of an airstrike, a bombing or a shelling what do you think of, if anything? If you're like many, you may have never considered the human face of war. War looks like a lot of things. It looks like soldiers fiercely defending their country and it can look like the liberation and the defeat of evil. But it also looks like the death of civilians, often categorized as “collateral damage,” a sterile, anonymous phrase thats help the death of thousands be assumed a necessary byproduct of conflict.
We rarely see images of this side of conflict and I continue to debate with myself over how much to share. But then I think back to when this occurred and how I wanted desperately for everyone to know about these children, the loss of innocence and the end of young life.
In 2019, most of us live an existence where battlefields are distant concepts and where technology has made war an abstract burden. But to these children, the burden of war is all they have known. As a journalist, I believe it is our responsibility to ask the viewer to consider the [human] cost of war. This is what it’s like on the ground. If we, as a country are willing to engage in war then we must also be willing to look at and honestly consider its comprehensive impact.
Counting the Dead in Mosul
An Iraqi man carries his son into Trauma Stabilization Point #2, a makeshift medical facility, following an airstrike on the night of June 12, 2017 in West Mosul, Iraq.
Lina is treated at a medical Trauma Stabilization Point (TSP) in West Mosul, Iraq on the night of June 12, 2017. Lina was brought to the TSP following an airstrike; she survived the attack, sustaining serious injuries to her face and torso.
Medics treat Ammar at a medical Trauma Stabilization Point (TSP) following an airstrike on the night of June 12, 2017 in West Mosul, Iraq. Inconsistent electricity sources often required medics to improvise, using headlamps or lights from cellphones in order to treat patients.
An airstrike hits near the Al Nuri mosque within the Old City of West Mosul, Iraq on June 1, 2017. Less than 3 weeks later, on June 21, 2017, the Al Nuri Mosque would be destroyed when Islamic State fighters packed the building with explosives and reduced it to a pile of rubble. The mosque, a historic landmark for the city of Mosul, is also the site where, in June 2014, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ascended a pulpit and declared a caliphate.
Zeinab, from the Zingili neighborhood of West Mosul, is treated by medics at Trauma Stabilization Point (TSP) #2 following an airstrike on May 31, 2017.
Medics work to stabilize Ammar, age 8. The young Moslawi boy was brought to Trauma Stabilization Point #2 following an airstrike on the night of June 12, 2017 in West Mosul, Iraq.
Following an airstrike on the afternoon of May 31, 2017, Zainab, age 7, whose feet are seen in this photograph, is transported to Mosul Hospital. Her mother, grandmother and younger sister accompany her.
Medics work to save the life of Zainab following an airstrike on the afternoon of May 31, 2017. Initially stabilized at a medical Trauma Stabilization Point (TSP), Zainab was transported to Mosul Hospital for further medical treatment. An hour after arriving Zainab was pronounced dead.
Ali's legs were mangled during an airstrike on the night of June 12, 2017. The young Moslawi died of his injuries.
Ali, age 7, is wrapped in preparation for burial. The young Moslawi died from blunt force trauma following an airstrike on the night of June 12, 2017 in West Mosul, Iraq.
Amal says goodbye to her brother, Ali, as he is prepared for burial. Ali died from blunt force trauma following an airstrike on June 12, 2017.
Ali’s mother, Noor, grieves over the body of her son as his sister, Amal, looks on.
On the night of June 12, 2017 an airstrike hit Ali's neighborhood in West Mosul, Iraq. The young Moslawi died from blunt force trauma and arrived at the Trauma Stabilization Point already deceased.
Ali's mother, Noor, holds her son before he is taken for burial. The young Moslawi died from blunt force trauma following an airstrike on the night of June 12, 2017 in West Mosul, Iraq.
Ali's body sits outside Trauma Stabilization Point #2 in West Mosul, Iraq. The young Moslawi died from blunt force trauma following an airstrike on the night of June 12, 2017.
Reports as recent as November 2017 assert that one in five coalition airstrikes in Mosul resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that initially acknowledged by the coalition. This disparity in civilian deaths, in conjunction with consistent failures to properly investigate claims of death or to keep thorough records, makes the battle to liberate Mosul one of the least transparent wars in recent American history. (New York Times, The Uncounted, November 16, 2017)