Lens: Picturing Iraq in a Bygone Era


Lens

When his career began in the 1950s, Latif Al Ani captured scenes of Iraqi life in a more innocent time.

Women shopping in Baghdad in 1964.CreditLatif Al Ani

On some Fridays, Latif Al Ani walks around Mutanabbi Street, the heart of Baghdad’s intellectual life, with its bookshops and cafes. When he does go, he nurtures a faint hope that he will, amid the rows of stalls selling books, maps and photographs, stumble across an old possession: his pictures.

Mr. Ani, 86, is regarded as the founder of Iraqi photography, and many prints he had stored with the Ministry of Culture went missing when government buildings were looted after the 2003 invasion. Luckily, though, for Mr. Ani and those concerned with Iraq’s history, not all of his life’s work was lost.

When his career began in the 1950s, during what he calls Iraq’s “heyday,” Mr. Ani captured scenes of Iraqi life in a more innocent time. In the lulls between the revolutions, coups and wars that shaped modern Iraq, he captured family picnics, well-dressed Western tourists standing near ancient ruins and everyday moments. Image after image, in black and white — he loves the shadows and the feelings they convey — is informed by the collisions of old traditions with modernity.

Image
Eid festivities in Baghdad, 1959.CreditLatif Al Ani
A jeweller in Baghdad, 1960.CreditLatif Al Ani
The ancient city of Babylon, 1970.CreditLatif Al Ani

Paging through the book, we look down Rasheed Street, once the city’s grandest boulevard (“It was the heart of Baghdad,” Mr. Ani said. “You felt the past.”), and see American cars and men in suits. We see women gathered around a jewelry counter at an upscale shop. It could be Manhattan, but it is Baghdad. And we see pictures of modernist homes built in the 1960s, with clean lines and odd geometry, that have a Southern California vibe.

A European tourist with a shepherd on the road to the south of Baghdad, 1962.CreditLatif Al Ani
On the way to Damascus, 1955.CreditLatif Al Ani
A police van in Cairo, 1964 or 1965.CreditLatif Al Ani

“Life was easy,” said Mr. Ani. “There was no war, no problems.”

To live in Baghdad as a foreigner, as I did for many years as The Times’s bureau chief, was to always wonder what the city used to be like, before the blast walls and checkpoints circumscribed the urban geography, and before so much violence altered the city’s character, and changed the relationship between citizens and their public spaces. Often, I depended on older men, like Mr. Ani — who unlike so many other middle-class Iraqis never left for the safety of foreign shores — as my guides.

At his age, he easily slips into memory.

The 1940s, when his brother, a shopkeeper on Mutanabbi Street, gave him his first camera, and a Jewish man taught him how to use it.

The 1950s, crisscrossing the country as the photographer for the in-house magazine of the British-owned Iraq Petroleum Company.

The 1960s and 1970s, covering news, and traveling to Paris with the country’s young vice president, Saddam Hussein.

One of his favorite pictures is a simple scene, of his own family at a roadside picnic, in 1970 in Salahuddin Province — his mother, his young wife, his brother-in-law lounging on the ground, his gleaming late-1950s Pontiac in the background. “Nobody asked us what we were doing there,” he said. “No one asked, are you Sunni or Shia? That was life back then.”

Another favorite is a picture of a naked woman, stretching in the morning. The story of that photo, of a time when an Iraqi man and a European woman could find romance without fear, is a distillation, he said, of all that has been lost in Iraq. Her name was Anna and she was from Spain, and they met dancing in a Baghdad nightclub. The photo was taken at a lakeside resort in Anbar Province, then a place for a vacation, now famous for extreme Islamist politics and terrorism.

An American couple at Taq Kasra, Al Mada’in, Salman Pak, near Baghdad, 1965.CreditLatif Al Ani
Yarmouk, in Baghdad, 1962.CreditLatif Al Ani

And back then, America and Iraq were rubbing up against one another in softer ways.

The book’s cover shows an American couple from Colorado at the ruins of Ctesiphon, near Baghdad, in 1965. At the time, Mr. Ani said, the United States in the minds of Iraqis meant movies, ideals and cars. On a tour of the United States in the 1960s he stayed with the Colorado couple, and the only color photographs in his book are from San Francisco.

“At that time America cared about freedom,” he said. “It was our dream to see America. Now what America means is to control and rule the world.”

On many days Mr. Ani spends his time at the courtyard cafe and art gallery of an old friend Qassim Sabti, himself a guardian of Baghdad’s memory who often entertains foreigners at his home over al fresco dinners of masgoof, an Iraqi river fish.

U.S. Takes a Risk: Old Iraqi Enemies Are Now Allies


Several former militia commanders have risen to high-level political positions. Now, a coalition of them is expected to be among the biggest winners in parliamentary elections this Saturday, giving them even more prominent roles in the new government and possibly determining the future of the American presence in Iraq.

The United States has expanded secretive military ventures and counterterrorism missions in remote corners of the world, but in Iraq it is taking a different tack. Here, the United States is reducing its troop presence and gambling that common interests with former adversaries will help prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State. The bet seemed to pay off with the announcement this week that a joint Iraqi-American intelligence sting captured five senior Islamic State leaders.

And as President Trump pursues a confrontational approach with Iran, the American military hopes to use its evolving Iraqi partnerships to peel away Shiite factions from Iran’s orbit and chip away at Tehran’s influence in Iraq and the region.

Photo

American and British troops at an Iraqi military base in 2016, where they trained Iraqi forces.

Credit
Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“This is a time when Iraqi patriots can build their nation,” said Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, the commander of the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. “There is an opportunity here. We will do all we can to give them all the help they need and want.”

Last year, Congress appropriated $3.6 billion to train and equip Iraqi security forces, with a priority on units under Mr. Araji’s Interior Ministry. They include border guards monitoring the long Syrian-Iraqi frontier, a place where American and Iraqi commanders fear that Islamic State remnants could regroup, and which Iran sees as part of its corridor to move fighters and weapons to Syria and Lebanon. The funds also equip the Iraqi SWAT teams responsible for arresting and detaining terrorism suspects, and train a national police force in charge of daily security.

It was the Islamic State’s conquest of a third of Iraqi territory in 2014 that first brought together once-rival Iraqi militias and security forces with an American-led military coalition in a united effort to defeat a common enemy. The United States wanted to prevent the Islamic State from building a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, and the Shiite militias saw the Sunni extremist group as a sectarian threat.

After Iraq’s regular armed forces crumbled in the face of the Islamic State blitz, a coalition of Iranian-financed Shiite militias took up front-line positions against the extremists. The militias never worked directly with the Americans, but a joint command helped coordinate their efforts to defeat the Islamic State.

Now, some of the most influential militia leaders are working directly with the Americans and pressing for a continued American military presence.

For some of these former militants, America’s display of superior equipment and skills side by side with them in battle brought a newfound respect. Others say they had an ideological reckoning, a realization that years of sectarianism and interference from Iraq’s neighbors had made their nation vulnerable to invasion. Partnering with the world’s superpower, they said, was the best way to bring Iraq back up from its knees.

“We all made mistakes in the past, the Americans, as well as us,” said Hadi al-Ameri, the leader of the Badr Organization, the largest of the Shiite militias that helped battle the Islamic State and the leader of the electoral alliance of former militia members, known as Fatah. “Now, we need their help. We can’t let our country become a playground for other powers and their agendas.”

The vote on Saturday could determine whether the United States military stays in Iraq or leaves.

Most polls show that the front-runners are the current prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, Washington’s closest ally in Iraq, and Mr. Ameri, whose electoral list includes the interior minister, Mr. Araji. If either of them lead the new government, the military partnership is likely to continue.

However, Iraqi political analysts say that the previous prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who demanded the withdrawal of American forces in 2011 and still has close ties to Iran, could play spoiler. They believe he has a good chance of being included in a new coalition government, giving Iran a way to foil America’s growing influence.

Continue reading the main story

U.S. Takes a Risk: Old Iraqi Enemies Are Now Allies


Several former militia commanders have risen to high-level political positions. Now, a coalition of them is expected to be among the biggest winners in parliamentary elections this Saturday, giving them even more prominent roles in the new government and possibly determining the future of the American presence in Iraq.

The United States has expanded secretive military ventures and counterterrorism missions in remote corners of the world, but in Iraq it is taking a different tack. Here, the United States is reducing its troop presence and gambling that common interests with former adversaries will help prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State. The bet seemed to pay off with the announcement this week that a joint Iraqi-American intelligence sting captured five senior Islamic State leaders.

And as President Trump pursues a confrontational approach with Iran, the American military hopes to use its evolving Iraqi partnerships to peel away Shiite factions from Iran’s orbit and chip away at Tehran’s influence in Iraq and the region.

Photo

American and British troops at an Iraqi military base in 2016, where they trained Iraqi forces.

Credit
Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“This is a time when Iraqi patriots can build their nation,” said Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, the commander of the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. “There is an opportunity here. We will do all we can to give them all the help they need and want.”

Last year, Congress appropriated $3.6 billion to train and equip Iraqi security forces, with a priority on units under Mr. Araji’s Interior Ministry. They include border guards monitoring the long Syrian-Iraqi frontier, a place where American and Iraqi commanders fear that Islamic State remnants could regroup, and which Iran sees as part of its corridor to move fighters and weapons to Syria and Lebanon. The funds also equip the Iraqi SWAT teams responsible for arresting and detaining terrorism suspects, and train a national police force in charge of daily security.

It was the Islamic State’s conquest of a third of Iraqi territory in 2014 that first brought together once-rival Iraqi militias and security forces with an American-led military coalition in a united effort to defeat a common enemy. The United States wanted to prevent the Islamic State from building a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, and the Shiite militias saw the Sunni extremist group as a sectarian threat.

After Iraq’s regular armed forces crumbled in the face of the Islamic State blitz, a coalition of Iranian-financed Shiite militias took up front-line positions against the extremists. The militias never worked directly with the Americans, but a joint command helped coordinate their efforts to defeat the Islamic State.

Now, some of the most influential militia leaders are working directly with the Americans and pressing for a continued American military presence.

For some of these former militants, America’s display of superior equipment and skills side by side with them in battle brought a newfound respect. Others say they had an ideological reckoning, a realization that years of sectarianism and interference from Iraq’s neighbors had made their nation vulnerable to invasion. Partnering with the world’s superpower, they said, was the best way to bring Iraq back up from its knees.

“We all made mistakes in the past, the Americans, as well as us,” said Hadi al-Ameri, the leader of the Badr Organization, the largest of the Shiite militias that helped battle the Islamic State and the leader of the electoral alliance of former militia members, known as Fatah. “Now, we need their help. We can’t let our country become a playground for other powers and their agendas.”

The vote on Saturday could determine whether the United States military stays in Iraq or leaves.

Most polls show that the front-runners are the current prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, Washington’s closest ally in Iraq, and Mr. Ameri, whose electoral list includes the interior minister, Mr. Araji. If either of them lead the new government, the military partnership is likely to continue.

However, Iraqi political analysts say that the previous prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who demanded the withdrawal of American forces in 2011 and still has close ties to Iran, could play spoiler. They believe he has a good chance of being included in a new coalition government, giving Iran a way to foil America’s growing influence.

Continue reading the main story

U.S. Takes a Risk: Old Iraqi Enemies Are Now Allies


Several former militia commanders have risen to high-level political positions. Now, a coalition of them is expected to be among the biggest winners in parliamentary elections this Saturday, giving them even more prominent roles in the new government and possibly determining the future of the American presence in Iraq.

The United States has expanded secretive military ventures and counterterrorism missions in remote corners of the world, but in Iraq it is taking a different tack. Here, the United States is reducing its troop presence and gambling that common interests with former adversaries will help prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State. The bet seemed to pay off with the announcement this week that a joint Iraqi-American intelligence sting captured five senior Islamic State leaders.

And as President Trump pursues a confrontational approach with Iran, the American military hopes to use its evolving Iraqi partnerships to peel away Shiite factions from Iran’s orbit and chip away at Tehran’s influence in Iraq and the region.

Photo

American and British troops at an Iraqi military base in 2016, where they trained Iraqi forces.

Credit
Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“This is a time when Iraqi patriots can build their nation,” said Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, the commander of the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. “There is an opportunity here. We will do all we can to give them all the help they need and want.”

Last year, Congress appropriated $3.6 billion to train and equip Iraqi security forces, with a priority on units under Mr. Araji’s Interior Ministry. They include border guards monitoring the long Syrian-Iraqi frontier, a place where American and Iraqi commanders fear that Islamic State remnants could regroup, and which Iran sees as part of its corridor to move fighters and weapons to Syria and Lebanon. The funds also equip the Iraqi SWAT teams responsible for arresting and detaining terrorism suspects, and train a national police force in charge of daily security.

It was the Islamic State’s conquest of a third of Iraqi territory in 2014 that first brought together once-rival Iraqi militias and security forces with an American-led military coalition in a united effort to defeat a common enemy. The United States wanted to prevent the Islamic State from building a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, and the Shiite militias saw the Sunni extremist group as a sectarian threat.

After Iraq’s regular armed forces crumbled in the face of the Islamic State blitz, a coalition of Iranian-financed Shiite militias took up front-line positions against the extremists. The militias never worked directly with the Americans, but a joint command helped coordinate their efforts to defeat the Islamic State.

Now, some of the most influential militia leaders are working directly with the Americans and pressing for a continued American military presence.

For some of these former militants, America’s display of superior equipment and skills side by side with them in battle brought a newfound respect. Others say they had an ideological reckoning, a realization that years of sectarianism and interference from Iraq’s neighbors had made their nation vulnerable to invasion. Partnering with the world’s superpower, they said, was the best way to bring Iraq back up from its knees.

“We all made mistakes in the past, the Americans, as well as us,” said Hadi al-Ameri, the leader of the Badr Organization, the largest of the Shiite militias that helped battle the Islamic State and the leader of the electoral alliance of former militia members, known as Fatah. “Now, we need their help. We can’t let our country become a playground for other powers and their agendas.”

The vote on Saturday could determine whether the United States military stays in Iraq or leaves.

Most polls show that the front-runners are the current prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, Washington’s closest ally in Iraq, and Mr. Ameri, whose electoral list includes the interior minister, Mr. Araji. If either of them lead the new government, the military partnership is likely to continue.

However, Iraqi political analysts say that the previous prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who demanded the withdrawal of American forces in 2011 and still has close ties to Iran, could play spoiler. They believe he has a good chance of being included in a new coalition government, giving Iran a way to foil America’s growing influence.

Continue reading the main story