The Star was given unprecedented access to the photographs of Iraq photojournalist Ali Arkady. Arkady had been embedded with Iraqi forces in the fight against Daesh (ISIS) and thought he was documenting the good guys. What he found, instead, was the torture and murder of civilians by Iraqi soldiers.
The story was designed and told with the photos at its centre and to let the pictures tell the story. The project was given a dark treatment online to highlight the enormity of the story. The use of graphics and videos were meant to add to, but not detract from, the horrifying photos. Pushed on social media and on all the Star’s publishing platforms, once again, this story had a huge impact with readers.
Ali Arkady’s courageous photos and video of the brutal torture and killing of Iraqi civilians by a branch of Iraqi special forces speak for themselves. The Toronto Star was approached by VII Photo Agency, which represents Arkady in mid-April and agreed to publishing the photos and video after we had interviewed Arkady and verifying to our satisfaction their authenticity. Foreign affairs reporter Mitch Potter, national security reporter Michelle Shephard and national bureau chief Bruce Campion-Smith spent several weeks assigned to that task.
What emerged was an astonishing narrative of evil by the very soldiers who Arkady had thought were the “heroes” of a “new Iraq.” The photos and video were taken during three embeds when Arkady was given extraordinary access to the “cleansing” of neighbourhoods as part of the crucial liberation of Mosul from the Islamic State. Potter spent 18 hours interviewing Arkady in Europe where he had fled with his wife and young daughter. Campion-Smith showed Arkady’s evidence to Canadian military and foreign affairs officials.
This story is important to Canadians as Canada is a member of the coalition that is giving support to Iraqi and Kurdish forces in their fight against IS. These officials have subsequently contacted the Iraqi government seeking an investigation. Shephard’s interviews with human rights watchdogs explained the significance of what Arkady had witnessed and the fear that such savage treatment of civilians by “liberators” would further destabilize Iraq with sectarian violence. The reporters and editors also fact-checked Arkady’s account against other media and official reports to ensure the dates and places were correct.
Arkady’s life and the safety of his family that remains in Iraq have been threatened. Arkady is seeking asylum in Canada where it is hoped that he will join the University of British Columbia’s Global Reporting Centre as journalist in residence. In a phone interview with ABC News, Capt. Omar Nazar, claiming that he can tell within 10 minutes who is loyal to IS, said his squad had made mistakes but “I’m proud of those mistakes,” adding that the man that he and Cpl. Haider Ali are seen on video gunning down a suspect “is not human.” It is a grim confirmation of Arkady’s work.