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War photography 2016: A picture and its story

Our Reuters photographers give their accounts of the events behind some of the images captured covering conflict zones in 2016. The pictures below are selections from our Reuters Photos of the Year 2016.

I heard the plane just before the airstrike, and from experience knew I had little time

People run in panic after a coalition airstrike hit Islamic State fighters positions in Tahrir neighbourhood of Mosul, Iraq, November 17, 2016. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic
REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Reuters photographer Goran Tomasevic: I had been to the Tahrir district of eastern Mosul several times while covering the campaign by Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led air strikes to retake the city from Islamic State militants.

Covering battles is tough and in this case, it was difficult to get to the frontline at times, but on this day we managed. When we arrived it seemed calm and quiet.

Soon after a car blew up in a suicide bombing in an Islamic State counter-attack to the forces’ push into Mosul. There were casualties, children screaming, and several nearby houses were destroyed. There were also clashes.

I have covered many conflicts in my career, but what has struck me in Mosul is the number of car bombings.

The fighting comes in waves and when things eventually quietened down, I saw a group of civilians making the most of a break in gunfire to come out onto the streets.

They were both young and elderly, and felt safe enough to leave their homes with few belongings, walking carefully but calmly towards where I was standing capturing the scenes around me.

Suddenly an air strike targeted Islamic State positions a few hundred metres away behind them. It was close and total panic ensued. People were screaming, ducking and running away as the plumes of smoke rose nearby. They quickly ran for whatever shelter they could find.

I heard the plane just before the airstrike, and from experience knew I had little time. These things happen fast and you have to act quickly. First you have to make sure you are safe, then stay focused so you can get the shot. You get your lens ready and stay calm.

It was one airstrike and residents waited it out before finding other shelter. I eventually moved to another location to continue covering the fighting.

Related coverage

Iraqi police say ready to join assault on east Mosul

He looked so lonely

The body of 11-year-old Mahmoud Barakeh is placed on a table to be prepared for burial after shelling in the rebel held besieged town of Douma, eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria, October 24, 2016. Mahmoud's father was killed last year in a bombing in the same town. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

Reuters photographer Bassam Khabieh: He looked so lonely lying alone on the table, his cloths stained with blood. Mahmoud Baraka, 11, was killed during shelling of Douma, part of rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, an area the government is trying to recapture. Baraka’s mother and his brothers were also wounded in the bombardment. His father and two uncles died in attacks last year.

That day, the city suffered several air raids. I tried to go to the targeted locations but as a new wave of shelling started I waited in a building for the attack to end. Then I went to the civil defence point where they brought victims to prepare them for burial.

Baraka had been brought there; the workers were waiting to wrap his body in a shroud until one of his relatives could attend. A civil defence member tried to straighten the child’s leg, but they were already stiff and stayed bent.

A neighbour went to look for Baraka’s grandfather, who was working on the outskirts of the city, so he could collect his grandson’s body. I waited for the grandfather, but the civil defence team decided to transfer the child’s body to his family’s home before the grandfather arrived.

We went with the boy’s body to his families’ house. The grandfather arrived; he could not believe that another grandson, the last son of his dead son, had died. Tears ran down his face.

Baraka’s grandmother and other relatives were weeping and screaming, “Why did you leave, oh Mahmoud, why did you leave,” the atmosphere was electrified.

The family mourned at home and then he was carried to the local mosque, where prayers were said over the body. The neighbourhood kids stood around the body to catch a last glimpse of their dead friend. The body was transferred to the cemetery and buried.

Related photos

Air strikes in Douma

I left liberated

DATE IMPORTED:December 06, 2016Souad Hamidi removes her Niqab after Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) took control of her village, on the outskirts of Manbij city, Aleppo province, Syria June 9, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said

Reuters photographer Rodi Said: When U.S.-backed forces seized Souad Hamidi’s village in northern Syria from Islamic State, the 19-year-old swiftly tore off the niqab she had been forced to wear since 2014 and smiled.

“I felt liberated,” Hamidi said after swapping her black face-covering veil for a red headscarf.

“They made us wear it against our will so I removed it that way to spite them.”

I was heading to villages that had been retaken by Syrian democratic forces (SDF), and my arrival coincided with the arrival of Hamidi back to her home.

Am Adasa had been under the militants’ control since 2014, when Islamic State proclaimed its caliphate straddling Syria and Iraq. Under Islamic State, life was strictly regulated, Hamidi said, including dress codes.

“They would punish people who did not follow their rules, sometimes forcing them to stay in dug-out graves for days,” she said. “Since they (SDF) took control, we are living a new life.”

Sitting in her family home, Hamidi said she still fears Islamic State may return one day.

“I want to erase Daesh from my memory,” she said.

“I hope every area controlled by Daesh is liberated, that people are free of them and can live like we do now.

For me this picture expresses Hamidi strength of personality, her reclaiming freedom from the blackness that was forced upon her. Its the moment when one overcomes fear of religious persecution.

Related coverage

“I felt liberated”: life after Islamic State

Learn more

Explore the full series of photographers stories behind the photos on Reuters Wider Image.

Visit Reuters News Agency to see how our award-winning photojournalists cover global news and events. Our news agency distributes over 1,600 pictures a day, and adds daily packages and thematic selections to our searchable pictures archive totaling more than 7 million images and growing.

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