The 30 Year Anniversary of Iraq’s Civil War

This April marks the 30th anniversary of the Iraqi civil war which broke out following the liberation of Kuwait by allied coalition forces on 28 February 1991. After the war in Iraq had ended and Kuwait liberated I was one of the first journalist to return to Iraq and I found a country embroiled in a civil war. In the south, the Iraqi armed forces were fighting against Shi'ite Moslem insurgents, and in the north, they were at war with Kurdish separatist. The leadership was eager to show the outside world that they were in control of the entire country. Nearly every day, the ministry of information would take the international press on government-sponsored trips to either of the two hotspots to show that the fighting only amounted to minor skirmishes. In all the towns and cities that we visited, Iraqi soldiers looked to be in control, but it was obvious that significant fighting had taken place. The centers of Karbala and Najaf, the two holy Shi’te Moslem shrines, had been so shot [Read more...]

Egyptian Feminist Nawal el Saadawi 1931 – 2021

Egyptian feminist, author, psychiatrist, and university lecturer Nawal el Saadawi died earlier today, 21 March, at the age of 89. Saadawi came to prominence in 1972 after she published her book "Women and Sex" which caused an uproar among Egypt's conservative religious and political circles. She also advocated against female genital mutilation which she described based on personal experience in "The Hidden Face of Eve." Saadawi's writings and controversial role in Egypt made her the face of the Arab feminist movement in the West, where she often appeared on the front page of magazines and on TV programs. At home, however, she was considered a persona non grata by both the government and religious extremists. Saadawi was jailed during President Anwar Sadat's crackdown against the opposition, including intellectuals, and received death threats from al Gamaa al Islamiya who declared her an apostate. During the 1990s and early 2000s, I photographed Saadawi at her home a number of times [Read more...]

Mezcal: The Spirit of Oaxaca

Mezcal, an alcoholic beverage made from the agave plant, originates from the Mexican state of Oaxaca which is also known for its exquisite cuisine, ancient sites, and tradition of arts and crafts. Mezcal, which means “oven-cooked agave,” can be made from over 30 species of agave cactus. However, the most popular is espadin, which is grown in Oaxaca and is the source of 90 percent of mezcal. The agave plant can live up to 30 years, but it is usually harvested when it is between 7 and 8 years. At the time of harvest, the center fruit or piña can weigh anywhere from 100 to 230 lb (45 to 105 kg). Pulque , a fermented alcoholic beverage made from the agave plant, had been drunk for centuries by indigenous people living in present-day Mexico.  When the Spanish conquistadors invaded in the 16th century, they distilled the pulque drink producing what became known as mezcal.  Although tequila is widely considered to be Mexico’s national drink, it is mezcal that was produced first. The [Read more...]

The Pope’s Pilgrimage to Ur in Iraq Finally Accomplished

Today Pope Francis is visiting Ur, in Iraq, the birthplace of Abraham, the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. At the end of 1998, Francis’ predecessor John Paul II was also planning to visit Iraq to draw attention to the Iraqi people’s suffering under crippling United Nations sanctions. Besides giving solace to the people he also wanted to make a pilgrimage to Ur but his timing could not have come at a worse time. As a prelude to the pope’s visit, I accompanied some members of the press who were in the country at the time and traveled to Ur to illustrate a feature story about the holy site. From the top of the Ziggurat of Ur, looking out over the empty desert, we could see U.S. war planes, which were enforcing a no-fly zone over the north and south of the country, bomb non-descript targets in the distance. The scene was surreal. In the end, it was deemed too dangerous for the Pope to make the journey to Iraq. Before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq there were approximately [Read more...]

Amiriyah Shelter Bombing 30th Anniversary

Thirty years ago, on February 13th 1991, a bomb shelter in the Baghdad neighborhood of Amiriyah was hit by two laser-guided missiles or “smart bombs” fired from U.S. fighter jets taking part in Desert Storm. The bombing killed at least 408 Iraqi civilians who were sheltering inside. The Amiriyah shelter was constructed during Iraq’s eight-year war with Iran which began in 1981. Both sides in the Iran-Iraq conflict would drop bombs at random on each other’s capital cities with no regard for civilian casualties. The shelter was made from reinforced concrete and was three meters thick. I took these photos when I returned to Iraq, shortly after the U.S. led bombing campaign was over.