Photographic evidence of the Iraqi regime's destruction in Kuwait from August 1990 through February 1991
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Interview 3

How do you feel about the Iraqi people in general?
I see goodness in all humanity and that includes Iraqis. Governments are a different story.

Does your country view Iraq as a threat today?
Some still see Iraq as threat to our security, but I do not. Today Iraq has enough problems of its own. When these problems are overcome and they regain strength, with Saddam gone, Iraq will be an asset to our security.

Do you believe Saddam Hussein should have been executed?
I oppose the death penalty. Saddam should have been sentenced to life in prison.

Do you remember how you felt when you saw the first oil fire?
The first thing I noticed on entering Kuwait from the Saudi border was the thick smoke over Kuwait so I knew there were oil well fires. I did not focus on it as I was thinking of friends and relatives. The smoke did not much concern me. After a few days when I decided to take pictures and went to the south where most of the wells were burning, I realized the enormity of the problem. Because of the number of the oil fires in close proximity, you could not see only one. When you neared the area of blazing wells, you immediately saw 10 or more fires at once. You had to come very close to one to see it as a single fire.

How conscious were you that the horrible fires were also beautiful?
While taking pictures of these oil fires, I had mixed feelings – a terrible sadness and fury due to the environmental damage, yet enjoyment from the scene’s beauty. I felt guilty for marveling at the scenery. I got so attached to these fires that I wanted to go every day to the burning fields. When work prevented going, I felt my life was missing something.

How did you view the oil fires as an artist?
Seeing all the oil fires would sadden anyone over the environmental destruction and revenue loss. But being a photographer at this time and place was also an opportunity to take pictures that no one else had taken. Of course I saw many other photographers and some were even in helicopters, but you hope your pictures will be better than theirs. Knowing I did not have all the equipment I’d have liked to have while other photographers had it made me try harder. I kept taking pictures from different angles and different distances and returning to same spot at different times like when there was smoke and when the sky had cleared to make sure my pictures would at least be unique. Later, I too took aerial shots from a helicopter. After a while the sad feeling I had from seeing the fires turned to intense anger. One big question started coming to mind: Why? I remember sitting so many times and just watching the fires without taking pictures and repeating Why over and over. I never found an answer, and even today I have no answer.

 

Did you take photos at night?
Never. The firefighters stopped working around 5 p.m. and this was my time to stop taking pictures and leave with them. It was too dangerous to be alone or to drive in the dark. I feared that if something happened to me like car failure or a mine explosion, no one would find out till the next morning.

Why did you create videos of the oil fires?
I shot a few scenes just for remembrance. This was not done professionally. I did not bring along a tripod, which is essential for filmmaking. Once I took a recorder and taped the sound of one of the burning wells. (See media.)

Did your government restrict what could be photographed in 1991?
At the beginning the government had no restrictions on traveling anywhere in Kuwait. As the weeks went by, the government started posting No Photography signs to restrict the oil fields and other sensitive places for security. I always found my way around these restrictions, sometimes legally by getting a permit and sometimes just by using the wide desert to avoid the police checkpoints and reach where I wanted to go. By doing so I was committing a dangerous act because, driving often on roads no one had taken before, there was a chance of hitting a mine or a UXO. (See 0300 and 4059.)

Were you ever in other danger when photographing oil fires?
Many times when the sky was black and the sun was covered, it was hard to see around me. I usually came near the burning wells to take the shots. Then I returned to the same spot on a later day when the sky was clearer. I found a lot of unexploded bombs had been around me and I had been so close to them without knowing it. Being too near the oil fires was also dangerous because of the incredible heat. I used to drive my car close to the fire. By staying just a few minutes around the fire while taking pictures, the car body got so hot that I burned my hand a few times. I also always feared my car’s oil tank would explode. (See 0293-0299.)

Was there danger in photographing property damage?
Yes. Entering large buildings like government offices and schools and even some homes was dangerous. Many of these structures had been bombed and were unstable. With no electricity inside, it was dark and I was never sure what I was stepping on. One time I was taking pictures in the devastated Al-Salam, a huge ship that had been turned into a hotel. I had trouble finding my way out. It was so dark. Everything was blackened because the ship had been firebombed. The narrow passages were like a maze and metal debris was everywhere. The silence was scary and no one knew where I had gone. It took more than a half hour to find my way out, thanks to the help of my camera flash.