February 15, 2005

Fallujah: Something of an Update

Looking at pictures from Fallujah, it seems there’s no “there” there.  Rather than images of people situated to place, you see people trying to get someplace, or looking anxious and out of sorts because the right place does not feel right anymore. 

From the news pictures — an always too-arbitrary collection of shots from photographers typically tied to military units  — it seems that Falloujah has become a twilight zone of checkpoints and security stops.  The original goal may have been to rid the town of insurgents while maintaining the structural and social fabric, but that seems like a cruel joke at this point — as optimistic as the Humpty Dumpty rhyme.  Instead, the scenes from Fallujah suggest physical, emotional and sensory disorientation, both for the occupied and the occupiers.  (And, God forbid you should be a young male in that city right now.  You could chalk up the better part of each day to rolling up you pant legs and emptying out your pockets.)


In an image that shows that primitivism doesn’t play favorites, this is a group of marines studying a map of a section of town they’ve made out of bricks.  In the upside-down world these guys now inhabit, it’s a little hard to tell if it’s night or day, if they are inside or outside, or if they really know where they’re going.


What’s noteworthy about this shot (besides the gesture of the girl) is that fact that the red “X” so competes with the house number.  Apparently, the mark indicates the house has been searched. (I actually stumbled upon a brief article in the Salt Lake Tribune written by the photographer who took these photos.  Her comments made me feel a lot less blind.)

The small percentage of people who have returned to their homes apparently spend a lot of time watching the watchers.  The article says that Iraqi’s will “run outside to watch when tanks grumble past” and that children will “cover their ears against the noise.”  Are the tanks really that loud?  I would have to guess so.  But perhaps this girl also has more to shut out then just the passing vehicle. 


As I mentioned before, the young men are all targets. 

Here, the American young man eyes the Iraqi young man sitting in front of his house, hunched forward in a pensive pose.  According to the article, the Marines routinely pull these boys aside “to make quick mugshots in case of future troubles.”  (Notice how the soldier literally casts a shadow on the boy.) 

Besides the red “X’s,” the houses are also marked with map grid numbers.  According to the article, the family will write ”Family leaves here” or ”Family in the home,” to indicate that they have moved back in.  It’s a slight thing, but I can’t help wondering if the word “leaves” — instead of “lives” — in the previous sentence was an unconscious slip on the part of the photographer (similar to her description of the tank as “grumbling”), or else a direct quote. 

Beside how rudimentary they are, it’s a little jarring to me to see these map numbers.  In a city which I assume has street names and house numbers, it’s too bad the Marines must indecorously mark each house, street and block with a completely alien notation. It’s also ironic the Marines and the Iraqis are so similarly wary and disoriented, but must experience it in such completely separate spheres.


If anything, this shot is most representative of the Fallujah pictures I saw.  If you’re a resident, life is filled with a lot of red cones, hastily made footpaths that funnel you toward checkpoints, and military guys going through your bag. 

The doll’s head really made me sad.  It’s a chilling marker that could suggest a thousand things.  It evokes little blonde girls who couldn’t be further away.  It refers back to the little girl holding her ears, and the emotional punctures she endures.  And, it indicates that the people here have no real physicality anymore. 

(images: Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press in Yahoo News)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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