A black-and-white photograph shows a 6-year-old Iraqi girl lying in a hospital bed, her bald head swollen as a result of terminal leukemia; her open eyes, puffy and blackened, see nothing.
Another photo shows a mother holding her leukemia-stricken boy, blood streaming from his nose, in a hospital in Baghdad.
These heart-wrenching images, taken last year by freelance photographer Naomi Toyoda, were part of a recent exhibition in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward. For the past two decades, Toyoda, 46, has been shooting photos of Palestinians, refugees and the everyday lives of people in the Middle East.
The Iraqi children are alleged to have contracted leukemia from the depleted uranium bullets and shells used by the U.S. military during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. The U.S. reportedly fired as many as 1 million of these rounds in the fighting.
“I was shocked to learn of the serious effect that depleted uranium has on civilians’ lives,” he said. “As the land has been contaminated by radioactivity, which then enters the food chain, I can’t even estimate the scale of damage it has brought to the country. The (Gulf) war ended, but the terrible aftereffects continue to torment the people.”
Toyoda said he was told by a hospital doctor that many children could be saved with proper treatment, but economic sanctions have made it difficult to prescribe the right mix of medicine at the right time.
As the U.S. moves closer to leading a military strike on Iraq, Toyoda said it should realize that it is everyday people who suffer the most during and after a war.
“When the Gulf War started, the U.S. media showed pictures of missiles hitting targets” without showing any casualties, he said. “But I could clearly imagine the people at the bombed sites, as I was there only one month before the military action began.”
Toyoda, who has visited Iraq on five occasions, will leave for the country again around the end of this month.
“Although Iraq has been labeled (by the U.S.) as part of an ‘axis of evil,’ Iraqi citizens are no different from us,” he said. “I want many people to recognize it by seeing my pictures. If the international community wants Iraqi President Saddam Hussein ousted, empowering citizens by guaranteeing free speech and access to information would be the best way, instead of using military force.”
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