You are stopped in a traffic circle en route to a mosque in Sadr City, the Mehdi militia section of Baghdad, Iraq, when you are pulled from your car by four men. You have been kidnapped by Shiite Muslim rogue rebels and moved three times over the course of one day. This nightmare was a reality for 24 year-old photojournalist Paul Taggart less than a month ago. Mr. Taggart was released three days later thanks to negotiations by Mehdi militia leaders he had established ties with during his coverage of their actions. He said, “As a journalist you do your research and it saved my neck. Taking a picture is 10% of what we do. Ninety-percent is getting on our feet, doing your homework, and meeting people.” Mr. Taggart, working for the World Picture News, covered the Siege of the Imam Ali Shrine and fighting in Fallujah and documented the life of Sadr City from the perspective of the Mehdi Militia. Displaying haunting photographs of militiamen and naked children stained with blood spread coldly on the floor, Mr. Taggart’s images silenced the group of PA students and faculty that gathered to see and hear his account of his time in Iraq. When asked about his reaction to these daily horrors, he said, “It’s the opposite of numb, it’s hyper-real. But I’m there to do a job and oftentimes it makes me work even harder to get the image as good as I can so it’s not in vain.” “I haven’t had a day off, by choice. Once the State Department gives me back my passport I’m going to Gaza. I just keep going. I’ll be back in Iraq in January to cover the elections,” he added. Mr. Taggart’s presentation highlighted his experiences covering the Mehdi militia in Iraq, a perspective not often seen in American newspapers where most reports are from correspondents embedded with the Marines. He said, “We get edited a lot in the US. We’re filing our stories and going to ridiculous lengths, risking our lives and somewhere along the way it doesn’t make it in.” Mr. Taggart felt that the American media might mislead viewers about relations between the Iraqi people and coalition forces. “Out of all the marines I’ve met, less than 1% have ever talked to an Iraqi,” he said. However Mr. Taggart was impressed by the marines He said, “I went over with a stereotype, and it was shattered. They’re amazing. Many fight for the system that put them there, but not necessarily for the reason they’re there, which I think is admirable.” Mr. Taggart’s overall impressions of the war’s justification were greatly changed upon arriving in Iraq. “The situation was far more dire than I could’ve ever imagined. Two to three thousand people are dying every week. You see stacks of children cut in half and you begin to understand. The issue is not black and white.” The chaos resounded visually with Mr. Taggart’s photos of blood-covered children being buried only hundreds of yards from US air strikes, shown only five minutes after the joyous faces of similar children toting guns and toys to emulate the Mehdi militia. He finished with questions about the current state of Iraqi affairs and what he believes is the future of the muddled nation. Mr. Taggart said, “The country is slowly slipping into the third world. No one sees the Allawi government as legitimate.” He continued, “The bodies have to stop piling up before we can talk.”
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