The photos that moved me most in 2016

UNICEF’s Baghdad-based photographer Wathiq Khuzaie shares the stories behind his most memorable images from a tumultous year in Iraq.

© UNICEF Iraq/2016/Khuzaie

This photo really hurts me. It’s at a concrete block factory in Wadi Najaf. I went there to report on child labour in Iraq and found these teenage boys working. Before they’d had a donkey to haul the bricks, but the donkey died so the boy was doing the work instead. They had left school because of lack of money and they wanted to go back. I cried there because the boy was doing a donkey’s work — they used him instead of an animal.


© UNICEF Iraq/2016/Khuzaie

This teenage boy was the victim of a suicide bombing at a football stadium in a village near Baghdad. I was careful taking this photograph because I didn’t want him to feel bad because of the situation he is in now. This picture to me is inspiring because it was about a month after the bombing and he was so optimistic. He has hope that he’ll get a prosthetic leg and be able to play football again. While I was working he asked his younger brother to bring a ball so they could play. For me this photo is about the incredible resilience of Iraqi children. Terrorists want to destroy civilian life, but I want to show that this is impossible — nobody can kill our way of life.


© UNICEF Iraq/2016/Khuzaie

I was really satisfied with this image because it shows how happy children are with the things that UNICEF has provided. This was taken at a school in Baghdad where teachers were being trained how to teach children to use LEGO play materials. Some of the teachers were shy about using the LEGO but the children were ready to play and their results were very imaginative.


© UNICEF Iraq/2016/Khuzaie

This child’s father has several shops and is financially stable. I asked him why he was letting his son work and he said ‘I want to teach him to work so that when he grows up he can support himself.’ The father doesn’t believe in education and so the boy comes to work every day at 6 am and leaves at 5 pm. He’s been injured more than once on the job. The child doesn’t have friends because spends all time in shop. His friends are the materials he’s working with.

I wanted to show this boy working with machines all around him. I asked him to pose for a portrait so that the viewer can to compare the spanner with his body, which is almost half his size.


© UNICEF Iraq/2016/Khuzaie

For me the this picture shows that UNICEF can reach every area in Baghdad, even places that are remote and dangerous. This mother and daughter were coming back from a rubbish dump with trash to sell when UNICEF-supported health workers stopped them to ensure that the young girl had been vaccinated against polio and measles.

I also really like the donkey. It’s almost 2017 but in Iraq we still use donkeys. I love donkeys because they tolerate many things and are so patient.


© UNICEF Iraq/2016/Khuzaie

I was thinking about machinery when I took this photo in Sheikh Omar in Baghdad. I compared the age of the boy — he’s about 16 or 17 with the machine he’s using — it’s for somebody much older than him. It’s a really dangerous machine, even for an adult, and he was not strong enough to control it. The machine is much bigger than the boy; I felt the machine was controlling him and not the other way around.


© UNICEF Iraq/2016/Khuzaie

This was taken at a school in Baghdad where UNICEF distributed bags, stationery, pens, pencils, and erasers. I love the colours in it. The boy was asking me if he could take a bag and he was happy to receive it. He’s in costume because there was a celebration at the school that day, there were many guests and a fashion show. For me this photo shows how happy children are when UNICEF distributes basic things for them.


© UNICEF Iraq/2016/Khuzaie

I was in a camp near this rubbish dump and I was on my way back home when I saw this young child digging in the trash. I didn’t have much time, so I could only get one shot. Later, I came back and visited the family and the father said he was jobless and couldn’t pay the rent so they were living in a mud house near the dump and going every day to scavenge and sell what they could. As a father of two girls, this just broke my heart.


© UNICEF Iraq/2016/Khuzaie

I took this photo at a school in Ramadi. When I went in I saw a room full of children studying. When I left the girl peeked out though the hole in the wall and I took this photo.

The thing that I love about this image is that it shows how determined children are to get back to their normal lives. That day they were studying; they weren’t focused on the suffering they’d been through, or the damage to the building or the materials they don’t have. The were concentrating on their studies. Ramadi was destroyed in the conflict, but there is still hope.


Wathiq Khuzaie is a Baghdad-based photographer for UNICEF Iraq.