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Iraq's Brutally Wounded (Photo Essay)

As Americans try to help the many wounded veterans returning from war, many more thousands in Iraq have suffered, yet have no way of receiving care.
 
 
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AlterNet and multimedia co-sponsor BAGnewsNotes are pleased to host the above slideshow of images from "Iraq, brutally wounded," followed by an interview with the photographer, Farah Nosh, conducted by Nina Berman.

Nina Berman: When did you go to Iraq to take these pictures? Was it your first trip?

Farah Nosh: I began the project a few days before the Samarra shrine was bombed in February 2006 and continued it just after the 10-day curfew was lifted. I spent six weeks on the project.

Berman: And what locations were you working in?

Nosh: I was committed to shooting the portraits in the homes of Iraqis who have been amputated in this war. I feel that the Iraq coverage has largely been disconnected from Iraqis, and I felt that an intimate setting would be more humanizing. I moved around to several different neighborhoods in Baghdad.

Berman: What inspired you to do these portraits? And how did you find the subjects?

Nosh: I was becoming despondent at only seeing images of American soldiers returning from Iraq with brutal wounds. The Iraqi side -- which is much higher in number and mostly civilian -- was not being shown. A few months before I left for Iraq, the New York Times ran a photograph of a series of wheelchairs (valued at around $20,000 each) from a VA hospital. That was a decisive moment for me. I knew right then that I would go to Baghdad. Months later I met Ali, who is missing both his legs. He had to sell furniture from his home to buy an old beat-up wheelchair for $50 that he fixes himself from time to time.

I have an Iraq friend that helps me when I am working there. Sometimes we went searching to hospitals and clinics together. If the neighborhood were too dangerous, he would often go alone and find subjects he trusted; he would then bring me in.

Berman: You speak Arabic and are of Iraqi descent. Did this allow you to move more freely?

Nosh: My parents are Iraqi, and I speak a slightly broken Iraqi Arabic. I may not have done this work if it wasn't for my disguise! It allowed for people to be less suspicious of me, and without the filter of a translator, I am able to communicate to those that I am photographing why the work was important.

Berman: I have been unable to find any current statistics on the numbers of Iraqi wounded, civilians and/or combatants.

Nosh: Who knows? When I was feeling the push to do this story, I had read somewhere that for every American soldier killed or wounded there are 10-20 times the number of Iraqis.

Berman: Describe the medical care or lack of medical care for those who are wounded.

Nosh: It depends on the neighborhood and whether they are civilians or military.

Out of those missing a leg (or two), not one amputee I interviewed was given a wheelchair when they left the hospital. Some described the humiliation at having to be carried out of the hospital by family members without legs. Generally, they are left on their own with their brutal wounds. Iraqis are not fitted for modern prosthetics or being cared for by a physiotherapist. Remember also, that these men have families to look after. For a lot of them, there is frustration and shame that they are not able to work and feed their families themselves. They rely on extended family for support.

Berman: We've seen many stories on the great battlefield medicine offered to American troops. What happens to the average Iraqi?

Nosh: Iraqi hospitals are extremely simple. Endless war and a period of the most brutal sanctions policy have left the hospitals as they were decades ago. They receive waves of trauma victims, with minimum support and overworked medical staff. There has been a brain drain on the medical system since so many doctors have been kidnapped, assassinated or threatened. The doctors I met have sent their families out of Iraq and live permanently in the hospitals as though they were their homes.

Berman:If an Iraqi wants treatment at an American facility, is this possible?

Nosh: This varies on the circumstances. Two of the amputees in my photographs were cared for in an American facility. One was an Iraqi soldier and the other was shot at by the Iraqi military.

Berman: Are the streets populated by the walking wounded?

Nosh: Not really. I feel that they are often staying home.

Berman: Do you have any anecdotes or special memories of this that you can share with us?

Nosh: Something that amazed me about that trip was the amount of fear that I had built up in moving around and through different neighborhoods. And yet in each of those homes, I was kissed by the women and children, fed, and welcomed with a hospitality that I had forgotten existed among Iraqis. It's the side of Iraq that the world has forgotten exists.

Berman: Anything you would like to add?

Nosh: A couple of the men I photographed still phone me from Baghdad. They keep asking when I am going to come and take them away and have them fitted for 'real' prosthetics. I think that was part of their hope when they agreed to be photographed. I was their only hope. It is hard to answer the phone when they call. You do this work in hopes of making a difference, and yet that change rarely comes.

This photo series is underwritten, in part, by the popular progressive blog BAGnewsNotes. Authored by psychologist Michael Shaw, BAGnewsNotes is dedicated to the daily visual analysis of political news images. In addition, the site features and promotes original photojournalism. Besides "The BAG," Shaw also writes a blog feature for the Huffington Post called "Reading The Pictures" and an online column for American Photo magazine.

Nina Berman is a photographer and the author of Purple Hearts: Back From Iraq .