[Image: Photo by Saad Khalaf, IRAQ: Bird's eye view of an empty, wounded city - LATimes, 2007.]
Stumbling upon this photoset in the LA Times the other day of Baghdad seen from above during a citywide curfew, I’m particularly struck by this relatively unextraordinary photo of a Blackhawk helicopter’s shadow passing over Tahriat Square.
Not knowing anything about this square or the neighborhoods that spoke off around it, it looks like any other shot of a routine aerial patrol cruising over the mean streets of Baghdad ‘round the clock for insurgent movements and suspicious activity. This spot, for all I know, could be anywhere in the city and a notorious mainspring for violence; or, it could be one of the most peaceful places on the planet, who knows?
I guess what I see is not only a circular park but a representation of Iraq’s capital city laid out in its entirety in the form of some sort of urban timepiece; the way the paths cross and pass through and the trees line the periphery at even intervals spaced apart, it’s as if Baghdad has been reorganized into a kind of contemporary shadow clock haunted by the specter of foreign invasion and neverending conflict.
Certainly, I’m reading way too much mumbo jumbo into this, but, there is the war machine lodged in the cradle of civilization; its precision blades rotating and sweeping violently across the face of modern Baghdad like Leviathan clockhands that have seized control of history and time itself. Somehow superior to the sun’s own momentum this shadow of war remains fixed at the center of Baghdad’s image and place in time right now. The Blackhawk’s crusading swords dissect the airspace of Iraq’s temporal sovereignty delivering a chronographic-like stoppage of time across the city as the Gods of War have seen fit to hack the moment – and as if the entire metropolis were completely calibrated to the time/space dials of U.S. occupation.
However, despite curfew the Blackhawk – bound to the sky in circuitous patterns of panoptic centrifuge – is what also keeps the gears of time constantly spun. Looping barely above the earth day and night the war machine’s black glove turns a great balance wheel back and forth upon which the entire city rests. As such, Baghdad is like the militarized pacemaker for endless conflict always oscillating in and out of stability; it is a city tectonically wound over and over again for a perpetual motion War On Terror.
Look at the photo once more though and you may find it’s not even Baghdad at all. Listen carefully. Overhead the Blackhawks are circling. Nearly everywhere now from San Diego to Afghanistan the skies are filled with these propellers and others just like them synchronizing the invisible gear trains of conflict across every time zone. They are the symbolic clockworks of a wartime economy, and this image to me just seems like a giant time stamp for it all.