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Journalists share experiences from within Iraqi opposition
For journalists, telling the news is their job. Telling it truthfully, however, seems to have become an option. Photojournalists Molly Bingham and Steve Connors took the opportunity to change this trend and report on a truth that they say needs to be told.
On Tuesday, Feb. 15, the two journalists shared words and pictures from their coverage of the Iraqi opposition towards U.S. troops.
“We wanted to find the truth,” Connors said.
Bingham pointed out that the media had been showing violence and opposition towards U.S. occupation, but “no one has yet to interview one of these so-called ‘insurgents.'”
To learn the facts behind the opposition, Bingham and Connors traveled through neighborhoods in and around Baghdad for 10 months, starting in summer 2003.
“We just sat at tea shops, listening to anyone who wanted to talk. And of course, drinking lots of tea” Connors said. “We had to create a long-term trust with these people. There was lots of secrecy on both sides because we didn’t want to be discovered by U.S. troops either.”
Stealth and danger are no strangers to either of the journalists. Connors fought as a soldier in the British Army and covered stories in volatile Soviet states in the 1990s.
Bingham has taken pictures in Afghanistan and Iran and was put in prison for a week by Iraqis before the reign of Saddam Hussein ended.
As curious observing turned into actual conversations, Connors and Bingham developed a group of informants.
“We were approached by over 45 resistance fighters. Fifteen of them we interviewed, and of those 15, seven of them [were interviewed] repeatedly,” Bingham said.
“There was a man we called ‘the teacher,'” Bingham said. “He was a professor, very funny and eloquent. He admitted to [me] that he was in the resistance, and had been since the early 1950s. His job was weapons procurer, so his knowledge about what the resistance was fighting with and the modes and routes of transportation proved infinitely helpful to us.”
Another informer for Bingham and Connors was “the traveler.” Possessing four graduate degrees as well as street smarts, he was a consultant for resistance fighters.
Abu Arrak was another source, whom the photojournalists dubbed “the warrior.” Skilled in urban warfare, Arrak fought under Hussein’s special forces during the Gulf War and spent three and a half years in prison.
The two journalists were quick to point out that not only men fight for the resistance. Women, including “the wife,” aided the cause by carrying messages and weapons beneath their robes. In Iraq, women are less likely to be searched by soldiers.
Connors also mentioned that there was a foreign fighter, “the Syrian,” whose mosque called for its followers to fight the United States.
There was an opportunity for questions after Connors and Bingham related their story. Some queries concerned their actual experience around Baghdad.
“It was manageably unsafe,” Bingham said. “If [you] go in with good intentions and no sense of voyeurism, [you’ll] maintain sanity.”
Many questions concerned the lessons the two had learned.
“There is a coming together, a setting up of command structures. And there is no distance too far for these fighters. Some will travel 50 miles for an attack,” Connors said.
Most important to the two photographers is what they learned about the actual people behind the fighting.
“These people are fighting for pride and honor,” Bingham said. “Their country was invaded by another country. Their leader, although unpopular, was overthrown, and no one had any say or control in this.”
“Many of these people want to die. They aspire to martyrdom. These people are not leading an insurgence. They are resistance fighters. And right now, they are concerned only with getting the U.S. and its supporters out of their homeland,” Bingham said.
Connors filmed a documentary while researching around Baghdad. He said that while he has approached television networks with his project, he has not received positive feedback.
“It’s the hot potato for television right now,” Connors said.
Until the film is aired, the duo will share their research with anyone who is willing to listen in the hopes that people will see the truth.