By Diana Moukalled
In 2010, I visited the city of Baqubah in the Iraqi province of Diyala. The Iraq-based branch of Al-Qaeda had turned the area into a major hub for its attacks and the deployment of its members.
We had barely set foot in the city when it was hit by an explosion, followed by another.
The explosion and the chaos that followed made me quiver so Yasser, the photographer accompanying me, began to laugh at how I freaked out. He made fun of my reaction, which he considered a bit exaggerated. The closer we got to a tense or suspicious area, the calmer and the more focused on his job Yasser became.
Nothing prevented him from taking footage. He carried his camera and moved in a calm manner—unlike most photographers. His brother also had a camera, and often accompanied him and helped him. They sometimes bragged about the photos they took of difficult moments in Iraq, such as the photos they took when they were injured by an explosion.
He is Yasser Faisal Al-Gumeili, an Iraqi photojournalist from Fallujah. All these characteristics jeopardized his life. To be from Fallujah means you have inevitably witnessed or survived a battle, either with Al-Qaeda or with the American army when it was in Iraq. To be a photographer in Iraq means you are subject to death, abduction or detention at any time, in any area.
The continuous avoidance of death is Yasser’s profession, just like it is the profession of most Iraqis. He has got a record of moments in which he was approached by death but it retreated at the last moment.
He may have thought luck would be on his side when he venture out to work on a mission in Syria.
During his years of work, Yasser gained experience in dealing with extremist groups. But his experience, which he thought could immunize him, actually betrayed him on his last mission. He miscalculated and traveled to northern Syria, where he worked on documenting the violations of extremist groups.
He was detained and killed before he could return to Iraq.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s mercenaries have accomplished a new, bloody achievement that competes with the Syrian regime’s bloodiness. The group executed Yasser and he thus become the first journalist to be killed in the areas which have become “liberated” from the regime, but are occupied and violated by these groups.
During the two weeks of my work with Yasser in Iraq, there were many worrying moments. During such moments, we often remember those we love because we fear we won’t see them again. Back then, Yasser said: “When my children sleep at night, I like to approach them, smell them and listen to them breathe. It’s only then that I feel reassured. I can’t sleep [as a result] of my desire to sense the security I feel when I see them sleep in peace.”
I hope your beautiful spirit will be able to hover over your wife and three children, for perhaps it might bring them some of the reassurance they lost when they lost you.