One Night in Tal Afar

In January 2005, photographer Chris Hondros was embedded with the US troops in the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar; the town had seen frequent clashes between US forces and insurgents, and just after dusk, as the curfew was coming into force, a red car ignored the warning shots and rushed past the patrol. The soldiers believed that it was a suicide attack, and opened fire.

Inside the car was an ethnic Turkoman family rushing to the hospital for a treatment for their ill-son, Rakan; the parents were killed, and five children in the back — the oldest a teenager, the youngest, 6 — were left bloodied and traumatized, before the soldiers realized that it was a civilian car. They carried the traumatised children to the pavement and started binding their wounds. Hondros’s photographs of the incident revealed not only the tragedies suffered by so many civilians in Iraq, but also tough decisions the soldiers faced under duress. Especially haunting was the picture of the youngest girl, Samar Hassan, crying and covered in the blood of her parents. The blood on the pavement, her hands and face, as well as the red of her dress, makes this photo an instantly disturbing image.

Hondros was working for Getty, and the photos were quickly distributed, and became some of the most iconic pictures to come out of the Iraq War. While the photograph led to him being sent to Boston for treatment, Rakan was accused of being an American spy on his return. Three years later, he would be killed in a bomb attack. Samar Hassan had never seen the photo until last week, when The New York Times traced her to the northern Iraqi town of Mosul. Samar, now 12, told them that the picture showed, ““the sad thing that is happening in Iraq.”

Equally sad is the fact that the general public does not see many such pictures; the U.S. military, which tend to keep many graphic images away from the public eye, was deeply bothered by Hondros. The New York Times claimed that he was removed from his embedded assignment, although Hondros conceded that he left on his own accord after a spat between Getty, his employer, and the military over the pictures. Hondros would go on to win the Robert Capa Gold Medal for his work in Iraq, and to cover natural disasters and military conflicts across the world, including the current crisis in Libya. Two weeks ago, Hondros was killed, alongside Tim Hetherington, in Misrata. He was 41.

See the full gallery here.

15 thoughts on “One Night in Tal Afar”

  1. OK, that was the last drop.

    Despite of all pretense of impartiality your real face – hater of America, hater of US military, and a banal spinner of lefty propaganda – shows clearly now.
    I erase you from my blogroll, you ungrateful swine.

    1. How can anyone not be moved by this photograph, regardless of where you stand on any issue?

      To be unmoved is to dismiss the suffering of this little girl.


      Supporter of Israel

  2. I hate the mealy-mouthed way the BBC says these are “graphic images”. All images are graphic. These are “disturbing” or “violent” or “upsetting” or even “bloody”. Otherwise, keep up the good work.

    1. But the “graphic images” is everywhere. The ominous thing is not that the euphemism exists, but how quickly it spread, which means that thousands of people made it their own because they found it convenient.

      A similar thing is the “adult joke”.

      Rather sickening.

  3. ETat, if someone does something bad, it should definitely be pointed out and not swept under the carpet. Pointing it out does not make anyone a hater or a traitor, and ignoring uncomfortable truths does not make you a patriot.

  4. The most moving war photo captured I have seen. This shows the unseen side of war where the civilians are caught up in this war like the children. This image of this 5 year old girl witnessing her parents death right in front of her seeing the child’s traumatic face is very distressing and extremely sad. This image should go down in history that shows this is what happens in war it should be a role-model to the world that war is never good and should end. Looking at images like this is the reason why I do not support war because this is what happens in war. So sad.

    rip Chris.

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