Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Happy Anniversary Iraq

It feels like I am constantly being reminded that it is now 10 years since the start of the war with Iraq. I do not want to disrespect the suffering of the Iraqi people so I'll get some statistics out of the way first.

SourceCasualtiesTime period
Associated Press110,600 violent deathsMarch 2003 to April 2009
Iraq Body Count project110,937–121,227 civilian deaths from violence. 172,907 civilian and combatant deaths[1][2][3]March 2003 to December 2012
Iraq Family Health Survey151,000 violent deathsMarch 2003 to June 2006
Lancet survey601,027 violent deaths out of 654,965 excess deathsMarch 2003 to June 2006
Opinion Research Business survey1,033,000 deaths as a result of the conflictMarch 2003 to August 2007
WikiLeaks. Classified Iraq War Logs[1][4][5][6]109,032 deaths including 66,081 civilian deaths.[7][8]January 2004 to December 2009

This anniversary partly can give us time to reflect on where we were then and the politics that bullied us into such a doomed conflict.The events leading up to the invasion culminating in the tragic and shocking death of Dr David Kelly, still resonates with me like something out of Stalin's Russia.

In 2010, I was asked to photograph the journalist Andrew Gilligan, we had arranged to meet outside a major Mosque in east London as part of story about Muslim extremism but he didn't show. It transpired that he was still in bed with the flu and had completely forgotten about the shoot. With some reticence he agreed to allow me to come very briefly to his home, as the press deadline was the next day.

When I arrived, I was greeted by the poorly fellow and was shown into his lounge which was a mess of books, papers, empty sweet wrappers and fizzy drinks bottles. It is an enormous privilege and buzz as a photographer to see the unrefined reality of someone else's life, there is much to learn from it. He sat for me for 10 minutes and I left.

I have always expected that Gilligan's role in the Iraq conflict would make him more of a celebrity but it seems he has quietly been working as a journalist in relative obscurity ever since his dismissal from the BBC. I did feel I was in the presence of an important protagonist that gave the government and especially Alastair Campbell a sharp poke in the ribs. I still believe history might make more of Gilligan but all the players in this grubby affair will never be able to completely wash away the blood  whether it is Iraqis' or Kelly's. They are rather macabre celebrities.

The National Portrait Gallery, London has a very dogmatic approach to its acquisitions; the subject must have earned their place in some way that they decide. Often it is celebrity that attracts their interest or those who have achieved some greatness in their field. It is an indication that I am not alone in my feelings about Gilligan and therefore no accident that they deemed his image worthy of a place in their historic collection. 

In the bottom left hand corner of the image by entire coincidence is the book 'The Country Formerly Known as Great Britain'. by Ian Jack.
Andrew Gilligan © Richard Ansett 2010 / National Portrait Gallery Permanent Collection

Detail from Andrew Gilligan © Richard Ansett 2010

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