Photo Journalist David Honl Talks About His Experience in Iraq

Photo Journalist David Honl Talks About His Experience in Iraq

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I returned last week from Iraq, which had been on my regular travel schedule since 2006, at the height of the war. No embedding with the military here, American troops are long since gone, I spent my time this trip on the outskirts of Mosul surrounded by people of different faiths- Shiites and Christians all fleeing the direct death and destruction caused by the extremist group ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). My time with hundreds of Shiites taking shelter in a sacred shrine outside Mosul was a heartbreaking one. Lack of water was the number one hardship, followed by a lack of proper medical attention and medicine. The constant 100+ degree sun takes it's toll, especially on the young, elderly, and ill. This group lost 66 children to sickness and heatstroke since fleeing their homes.

The complexities of the Shia/Sunni history aren't exclusive problems there. In recent days word of the ISIS towards Iraqi/Assyrian Christians in Mosul have been given a choice: conversion to Islam, face a $450 tax, or be killed. I spent time in a 4th century Christian monestary on a mountaintop overlooking Mosul, with dozens of families, each with a story of destruction and death. Each having made the 20 mile trek to the mountaintop, mostly on foot. These Christians, and the Shiites I photographed both have deep religious beliefs, but I can attest religion is not number one on their minds. Survival is.

The safety net that so far maintains a sense of safety are the Peshmerga fighters that took over when the Iraqi army laid down their arms for ISIS on June 10. I spent time with these deeply loyal Kurdish forces at the Al Rash front line just within view of sniper fire from an overtaken farm house. 2 days before my arrival, my new friends lost one of their comrades and had another 9 injured in a mortar attack during their lunchtime. I heard their stories over roast chicken, pita bread, and pickled vegetables. There is nothing like Kurdish hospitality, even in times of trouble. The Peshmerga will fight to the death for anyone in need, regardless of religion. I felt safe and at peace with them and miss their company.

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