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I was one of the last photographers left in Mosul during the final days of the battle to liberate the Iraqi city from Islamic State in July I have covered the humanitarian consequences of war for three decades, but the sheer horror I witnessed during this conflict felt different. There was no end to the cruelty. The stream of suicide bombs, grenades, car bombs, and snipers was relentless. People were forced to watch their loved ones die in front of them.
And when civilians did reach the point of escape, Isis would use them as human shields. But what really ripped at my heart was the plight of Isis children whose parents had been suicide bombers for the caliphate. As a mother, I will never understand an ideology that would induce you to hurt your own. The photo was taken near the ruins of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri, where Isis first proclaimed the caliphate in It was like Armageddon: buildings were smoking, bombs were dropping and there was sniper fire from all angles.
When people fled, they were first checked for suicide bombs by Iraqi soldiers, men had to remove their shirts, and their names were checked for recorded Isis affiliation. Then they moved on to the trauma stabilisation point for emergency medical care, which was where I spent most of my time taking photographs. This little girl had fled with a group of women and children.
She paused here momentarily. It was the picture of innocence amid war, a tragic juxtaposition of this tiny girl who should have been enjoying her childhood trapped in the middle of this catastrophic battle. She only stayed briefly. She looked to me as though she was in shock and she rejoined the group of women and children only a few moments later. This piece of rubble was the only place she could rest. I wanted my work in Mosul to help viewers to see these people as individuals.
But when you focus on individual faces, or a little girl sitting in debris with her head in her hands, it touches people on a universal emotional level, and gives viewers the possibility to connect. Isis may have been defeated, but the ideology has not been eradicated. Some of the children I met already knew the meaning of martyrdom because their parents indoctrinated them from birth. Hope is something I always look for, even within the worst devastation and despair.