Iraq War Photographer Diary: Militias

By Zoriah in Baghdad

The above image is of a confiscated weapons cache housed inside of a US/Iraqi army base in Sadr City. Notice that there are no magazines in these weapons. As I was taking these photos, U.S. soldiers filled their pockets with loaded magazines, intending to distribute them to local militias.

I am lying in my cot in a dank, concrete room in Joint Security Station Sadr City when one of the Army commanders who bunks next to me walks though the door, obviously frustrated an annoyed.  He is stationed upstairs in the Tactical Operations Center, which is basically a command center for all the troops in the area and a relay point between them and other commands around the area.

"What’s wrong man?  You look pissed," I say, as he throws his bag down on his bunk.

"Everyone upstairs is all xxx pissed off because the xxx New York Times just broke a story about how the U.S. is arming and funding all of these neighborhood militias and gangs all around Iraq," he says.

I mention to him that I happen to know for a fact that this is true because not more than two days ago I saw it with my own eyes.

He responds, "Yeah, I know its true too, we are taking guns out of one guys hand and putting them into the hands of another guy.  I’m not pissed about the article, I just have to work with a bunch of idiots who are pissed about the article. That is what makes my life miserable."

I have decided to post what I wrote a few days ago, now that I am sure that hunch was correct:

I am a photojournalist.  It is my job to be a visual story teller, showing people what other’s lives and struggles are like, when they would otherwise have no way of visualizing these lives.  I don’t consider myself to very an expert in politics, warfare or the situation in Iraq. It puts me in the unique position of seeing and experiencing without pre-conceived notions or ideas.  Since my job is based on truly "seeing", I am at ease with learning things along my path.

I am noticing a disturbing trend in Iraq right now, one that I feel pretty sure will prove to be a major mistake in this war and cause a fair amount of grief to the Iraqi people and most likely beyond.  The U.S. Military is arming and funding militias and civil military groups across the country.  After a discussion with a soldier about the Sons of Iraq, what is now called a "neighborhood guard" by the US military, the soldier said, "We are basically paying these guys off with money and weapons to not kill us."

The streets of Iraq are now filled with various militias and private security forces.  Think of these militias as Blackwater without background checks, rules or any kind of oversight whatsoever (ok, so just think of it like Blackwater!) . Often, they are composed mainly of children not old enough to drive and carrying AK-47 assault rifles nearly as big as themselves.

Another soldier explains to me that most of the members from the militant groups and death squads a year or two ago, are now either wearing the uniforms of the Iraqi National Police Force, or in one of the hundreds, if not thousands of militias.  As I said before, I no expert on such things, but in my humble opinion this appears to be a disaster waiting to happen.

– Zoriah is a multiple award winning photojournalist and war photographer with clients such as Newsweek, The BBC, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, and NPR. He contributed this piece to Visit his website:

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