The ferris wheel in Zawra Park, a popular attraction for Baghdadi families on the weekend.

The ferris wheel in Zawra Park, a popular attraction for Baghdadi families on the weekend.

I have always been curious about life in Iraq, because we never see images of normal life there. I think it’s dehumanizing to Iraqis that we only see war and terrorism on TV, and losing our empathetic view of them as humans gives politicians free play to do whatever they want there, ignoring any human consequences. So journalist Paulien Bakker and I went to Iraq and asked people the question: How are you after all these years? We talked to barbers and brides, teenage girls and heads of schools. Instead of discussing the pain and horrors some had been through, we focused on their daily—yes, normal—life. We found that there is no difference between these people and us, except that they have to live in a country that has become a toy in world politics, while we live in safe countries where we can develop ourselves in a peaceful environment. But the people in this series have just as little to do with politics as you and me. We all have just one life.

Firas in front of the remains of his uncle’s house; Firas lives just to the right.

Firas in front of the remains of his uncle’s house; Firas lives just to the right.
A young girl who only wanted to be photographed in her new dress and shoes.

A young girl who only wanted to be photographed in her new dress and shoes.
Khuder Hawakeem in his apartment, two days before his gastric bypass surgery.<span class="_Credit">Click the photo for Khuder's full story.</span>

Khuder Hawakeem in his apartment, two days before his gastric bypass surgery. Click the photo for Khuder’s full story.
The father of these children shared many stories about living in Iraq, like the abductions of family members, and is still afraid of the future. A door conceals a large gun.

The father of these children shared many stories about living in Iraq, like the abductions of family members, and is still afraid of the future. A door conceals a large gun.
Blast walls in Baghdad.

Blast walls in Baghdad.
A bodybuilder in a gym in Kerada. Bodybuilding has become increasingly popular in Baghdad.

A bodybuilder in a gym in Kerada. Bodybuilding has become increasingly popular in Baghdad.
The hands of a bride who wouldn’t let her face be photographed.

The hands of a bride who wouldn’t let her face be photographed.
School director Mama Ayesa, who advocates that boys and girls be taught together.<span class="_Credit">Click the photo for Mama Ayesa's full story.</span>

School director Mama Ayesa, who advocates that boys and girls be taught together. Click the photo for Mama Ayesa’s full story.
Two cabinets in different houses in Baghdad. A car bomb caused the damage on the right, rendering the house uninhabitable.

Two cabinets in different houses in Baghdad. A car bomb caused the damage on the right, rendering the house uninhabitable.
A bride, on her wedding day, in a beauty parlor in Baghdad.

A bride, on her wedding day, in a beauty parlor in Baghdad.
Barbers Saleh and Thamir in their barbershop on one of the main streets of Baghdad.<span class="_Credit">Click the photo for Saleh and Thamir's full story.</span>

Barbers Saleh and Thamir in their barbershop on one of the main streets of Baghdad. Click the photo for Saleh and Thamir’s full story.
Psychiatrist Dr. Haitham in his office.<span class="_Credit">Click the photo for Dr. Haitham's full story.</span>

Psychiatrist Dr. Haitham in his office. Click the photo for Dr. Haitham’s full story.
A sweaty worker dressed in Zawra Park. He refused to be photographed as a gnome.

A sweaty worker dressed in Zawra Park. He refused to be photographed as a gnome.
The swords of Saddam, where parades used to take place. The area beyond is now home to embassies.

The swords of Saddam, where parades used to take place. The area beyond is now home to embassies.

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Marieke van der Velden is a photographer based in Amsterdam, but her workspace is the world. Organizations and NGOs have sent her abroad many times to photograph their projects and campaigns, mostly in Africa and the Middle East. Her work includes portrait series, landscape series and photo essays in which both come together.