I’ve always hated the way Hollywood portrayed Iraq, either as an eternal warzone or a desert full of camels and belly dancers. When I started taking pictures of Iraq, I felt like I was fighting against this misconception. I knew there was so much more to Iraq than the racist stereotypes that consumed us. I was twenty years old at that time. I was young and wanted to show the beauty of Iraq. I was filled with hope. My positivity felt contagious. Every time people saw my shots, I would always be told that they’re seeing the beauty of Iraq in a way that they hadn’t been allowed to see before.
Instagramming also allowed me to explore Iraq in a way that I hadn’t before. I travelled through the vintage alleys of Baghdad, the ancient streets of Babylon, holy sites in Najaf and Karbala, the old citadel in Erbil, and to the tip of Mesopotamia, where the rivers Tigris and Euphrates meet in Shatt Al Arab, near Basra. I’ve set a goal for myself to capture the beauty of all eighteen provinces of Iraq, but unfortunately that’s easier said than done. Some of the places I want to visit the most, like the leaning minaret in Mosul and the water wheels of Al Anbar, are under ISIS control, while the Garden of Eden, the Arab marshes, are still largely dried out and neglected.
In general, life in Iraq is becoming more unbearable by the day. They are getting worse exponentially. More and more, I feel like an outsider in my own home. There’s constant chaos and uncertainty. People’s opinions aren’t respected. I don’t want to be part of a herd that is walking through its days with no control over anything that is happening around it. Nowadays, I notice that I’m pulling out my phone camera less frequently. I feel that presenting Iraq in a beautiful light is disingenuous, that I’m fooling the audience. I feel like Iraq is fading away, overpowered by violence and sectarianism.
But despite what seems, on some days, like the end of the world itself, Iraq is still beautiful in my eyes. Maybe my lens allows me to create a Utopian Iraq, an Iraq that I always dreamt of living in. But all the pictures are real, and when I look back at my shots, there is something reassuring in them, that a different Iraq is possible.
That is why I take pictures of Iraq.
Here are some accounts that you need to follow to see Iraq in a way most media outlets refuse to show.
Ahmad Mousa is one of the most popular Instagrammers in Iraq, documenting daily life throughout the country. He always manages to make himself available at social events in Baghdad, meaning that he is able to document so much of what goes on in the city and beyond.
Matthyo Jaco is a talented photographer from Mosul based in the city of Dohuk, in Iraqi Kurdistan. He beautifully captures Kurdish culture in the city and how it intersects with increasing urbanization. Matthyo’s photography is sometimes accompanied with the stories of the subjects that appear in them, giving them context and a human touch.
Noori Kassim documents daily life in Iraq with tremendous beauty in his style. His edits and use of filters create memorable moments of art.
Huda Aljanabi is a medical student in Baghdad that strives to find beauty amidst the destruction of civil society throughout the city. Her photography will give you a look into Iraq’s capital city that is rarely seen anywhere else.