Archives About Staff BagNews is dedicated to visual politics, media literacy and the analysis of news images.
June 14, 2007

Seeing The Slow Vanishing Of Iraq



Wednesday’s tragic destruction of the minarets at the already crippled al-Askari mosque in Samarra has dealt the Iraqi government and the U.S. position still another moral and strategic blow.

The NYT article detailing Wednesday’s attack leads with this visual comparison, juxtaposing the mosque in December ‘03, when still completely intact, with the post-Wednesday view.  In the coverage of the war, however, now over four years old, what is rarely conveyed is the process of erasure.  That’s why — as a metaphor for the progressive nature of how Iraq has been losing its face, its character, its mind — I thought a different comparison might be relevant. 

What you see above are two images from the NYT slide show accompanying their article.  The first offers the mosque complex following the attack that destroyed the dome in 2006 (and threw the country into sectarian civil war).  The second shot, photographed facing the wall situated immediately to the girl’s right, shows the ruin after Wednesday’s attack, highlighting a hauntingly expansive — and empty — blue sky. 

Admittedly an editorial detail, the “disappearance” of the child only makes the scene, and situation, feel that much more forsaken.

(image 1: Sabah al-Bazee/Reuters. Samarra. 2006. image 2: Getty Images. June 2007. Samarra.  Both via

  • Victor F

    Religion and national identity still walk hand-in-hand these days. The crumbling of this particular mosque over time seems to represent the state of things in Iraq.
    There is nothing inspiring in the skyline now, just empty blue sky. What is there for an Iraqi to call home? Another generation is being raised with craters and massacre sites as everyday landmarks.

  • gabriela

    Yes, from wanton waste (#1) to The Wasteland (#2). The toppling of the minarets did not seem to have the reaction that everyone was anticipating, which was the powder keg effect. It was like the raising of a burned out building that everyone has already dealt with and mourned, and gotten past.
    I take issue with the two NYT’s photo’s and I studied them a lot yesterday. The first before shot clearly shows the margins and the minarets, the second after shot is a close up that does not show the margins and it is just a close up of the destroyed mosque. The view is not wide enough right and left to provide the destructive comparison we were looking for. In war, minarets are like domino’s. The slightest shove will fall them. So sad. They are a worship structure, like outreached arms lifted to heaven. Completely unprotected and defensive. Vunerable. Like harming a monk in meditation mode.

  • MonsieurGonzo

    i agree ~ neither photograph succeeds well as either artifact or artistic accomplishment.
    the destroyed mosque itself is surprisingly similar to Image:HiroshimaGembakuDome, made all the more stark by that photographer getting even closer, having the blankness of the sky delineate her bones. fwiw, that perished dome is now a peace memorial, in perpetuity.
    and to agree again with gabriela, without an aerial view (or at least, a more artistic elevation) we simply get no mind’s eye metric of the scale of rubbleization apparent; eg., say, as we do here for Dresden.
    One thing the BAGman’s post today brings up is the lack of aerial photojournalism in IRAQ.
    The desert plane would lend itself well to aerial reportage, one would think. There exists, also these huge (and i do mean, mind-numbingly gigantic) junkyards in those deserts ~ they are filled with the bombed and burned-out carcasses of vehicles (tens of thousands of them: the number of military vehicles that AngloAmerican forces alone have lost, is simply incredible) and the point is, we are building these bizarre, abstract metal sculptures = ‘garbage dump’ monuments to our disposable conceit culture as an adjunct to the rubbleization of Iraqi concrete, and i daresay: wanton destruction of not just their culture, but also our own ‘Biblical Eden’ heritage.

  • readytoblowagasket

    It’s hard for me to override my own reaction to seeing the destruction of the mosque (which includes sadness, nausea, and outrage at the U.S. for causing its destruction). So, at first I thought the NYT was trying to deliver some kind of visual antiwar message. Then I read the first sentence of the article, and I was reminded how consistently neocon the Times is editorially:
    Two explosions on Wednesday that appeared to have been set by Sunni extremists with links to Al Qaeda . . .
    Silly, emotional me. Even though I’ve moved on, it’s still 9/11/01 for the Times.
    The photos are crap (as MonsieurGonzo politely articulates) because the Times doesn’t care that the mosque is destroyed. By running merely serviceable encyclopedia-entry images of the mosque, the Times communicates:
    See what these lunatic extremists will do? They’ll blow up their own mosques.
    Because if you’re pro-Iraq War, that’s what you’ll see in the same photos that I’m reacting to. If you’re pro-war, you won’t see that something beautiful or sacred or human-made has been methodically obliterated, because the images are as devoid of beauty, holiness, and humanity as possible.

  • lytom

    Powerless and angry.
    Heritage and nation’s pride destroyed. Genocide.
    Destruction of the Iraq nation started with the aggression of the USA in collusion with Britain and Multinational forces in March 2003.
    Piece by piece the beauty of civilization disappears. People suffer and bleed more.
    Blame is on the US.
    The picture shows disorder and chaos with no human activity. Forgotten by the rest, the time has stopped, just the presence of hell of the roman empire rules.
    The planners are busy building 14 “enduring bases,” stacking the supplies of more destructive bombs and arms and a huge complex of a fortress “Fascist Embassy” is almost completed. How can you resist all that? Damn

  • MonsieurGonzo

    good point, rtbag: ‘…appeared to be Al Qaeda ?
    Washington Post, BAGHDAD, 13-JUN : “Wednesday’s destruction of the shrine’s two minarets appeared to have been caused by explosive charges placed at their bases…
    Maliki, in a visit to the shrine complex late Wednesday, said security forces responsible for guarding the site may have been involved in the attack. The mosque has been heavily guarded by Iraqi troops since the [first attack] destruction of its dome.
    Iraqi law enforcement officials said the 15-man unit responsible for defending the mosque, from the 3rd Battalion of the Salahuddin Provincial Police, had been detained.
    The complex had two security forces on Wednesday — one from Tikrit responsible for an outer ring of defenses, and the other, from the government’s Facilities Protection Services, which was responsible for the site itself, according to a U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Christopher Garver.
    But witnesses interviewed by The Washington Post said a special unit of commandos, apparently from Baghdad, arrived at the mosque Tuesday night :
    The shrine was guarded by a police force mostly from Tikrit, but yesterday around 6 p.m. a police commando force came from Baghdad and pushed the police force that was guarding the shrine away and took their place,” Mahmood al-Samaraie, 42, who lives near the mosque, said in a telephone interview. “In fact, some disagreement and fighting between the two forces took place, because the previous force did not want to leave their position, but later they had to.”
    The global war on terror has spawned a local terroir, where warfare is grown like gnarled old grapevines; rubble warfields where regional forces fight one another by shifty proxy militia.
    “winning” is this state NOT ENDING : occupation in perpetuity, for petroleum.
    ‘IRAQ’ no longer exists; not even as ‘nation destination’ on some neo-con fantasy roadmap.
    And by arming Anbar, our “surge” has become The Insurgency against Shi’ite IRAN.

  • Anon

    Dear Bag and Baggers, Thank you for including a posting on the mosques – it is a tragedy. You should have seen my Iraqi friend’s face when I comminserated with him; he said Iraq is over. Every news item kills him within; there are days when I talk to him and he is here in body but not in spirit. It is grieving on a very profound daily level. His dignity makes it all the more wrenching to watch.

  • J R

    I honestly think that the main reason the American public seems so apathetic to the plight of the Iraqis is that the mainstream US media is withholding any and all “graphic” images and stories which would let us know how truly terrible it is over there. The terrible atrocities committed by the US government and military in Iraq just are NOT a concrete reality to the average American because such information is furiously withheld by the all-controlling corporate US media, like Fox “News”, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC. These “news” organizations are actually tools for disseminating propaganda to the US people. This isn’t an attempt to make an excuse for what we’ve done to the Iraqis; there is no excuse for what we’ve done…

  • readytoblowagasket

    The BAG said: The first offers the mosque complex following the attack that destroyed the dome in 2006 (and threw the country into sectarian civil war).
    A New York Public Radio program called On the Media aired a segment (Struck Gold) about this very popular idea: that the mosque bombing in February 2006 threw Iraq into sectarian civil war. It’s an idea promoted by the Administration and obediently parroted in the MSM, but one which isn’t nearly accurate, according to the show’s guest, WAPO military reporter and author of Fiasco Thomas Ricks. Ricks says civil war was well underway before the first mosque bombing, and that it was a reflection of ever-escalating sectarian violence in Iraq (and symbolically, of the deeply flawed U.S. strategy there), not the causative tipping point. Well worth listening to the podcast of that segment (as well as most of the 6.15.07 show, which includes another excellent piece on the parallel, completely unreported, soon-to-be fiasco in Somalia).

  • Lamont Cranston

    They seem to skim over the implication of why that mosque was bombed – You see, the “hidden Imam” is going to magically appear there to set everything ok in the end times…
    Yeah, and then Jesus will show up on a white horse at the mount of olives and have a lemonade with Mohammad in Mecca, and the Kali-yuga incarnation of Vishnu will join them on his white horse…
    and then comes the fimbul winter and Ragnarök…
    and the tooth fairy will reign over them all….
    These people are nuts! And they are killing each other over which flavor of insanity they are infected with… and our nuts are sending troops in to help immanetize the eschaton.

  • ummabdulla

    Only Shias believe in a “hidden imam” waiting there.
    But all Muslims believe that Jesus didn’t die on the cross; he was raised up and will return – first in Damascus, actually. Muhammad won’t be with him.
    You’re free to believe what you want, but you shouldn’t come here and call billions of people nuts because you don’t agree with (or understand) their religious beliefs.

Refresh Archives

Random Notes