Expressen reporter Magda Gad has spent much of the past year in Iraq, providing background and information about the escalating conflict there. She knows that her readers and viewers wait for her reports from just outside Tal Afar, west of the major city of Mosul. Tal Afar has been a main stronghold of terrorist sect ISIS since 2014.
Gad reports on the harrowing effects of war on people like 3-year-old Sadjad, who walked all night from Tal Afar with her 3-month-old brother, before finally getting a lift from the Iraqi Army. The two young children just cry, after witnessing a mass killing.
A mother who has sand and exhaustion in every pore in her body explains in panic: “They’re killing everyone, they’re killing everyone! ISIS kills anyone who tries to flee. Men, women, and even little children. They shoot everyone and throw them into mass graves and leave a few on the streets to show people what they do. We’ve been so scared, and the children have been really scared and screamed all night.”
Gad writes the first of that day’s updates, April 10, on her Facebook page, verified by the Swedish newspaper Expressen. The first readers respond within seconds and what began as a brief news update quickly develops into an extensive discussion:
What does it means for the situation over there that the people who have lived in the city since the 14th century are of ethnic Turkish origin? Are the oil fields still under ISIS control, and what does that mean? What can we specifically do to help from Sweden? Which organisations are on location and are reliable?
Many of her readers testify to how they are affected by her real-time reports on Facebook in a way that they have never previously been affected by traditional news channels:
“Just another day,” Helene Stensson wrote. “You describe it as ‘simple,’ but what your words do enable me to put it into perspective. For that I am grateful.”
“I think about the girl in her pretty dress,” Lennart Robberts commented. “A moment of being pretty and having food is obviously a moment of happiness away from the world outside. Could it be that she deliberately shuts the horror out? What happens when that moment ends? How does a small child cope with this awful terror? Thank you, Magda, for your down-to-earth articles amid the horror.”
“You got me to understand, sometimes put tears in my eyes,” wrote Daniel Häggquist. “Thanks to you, no one (myself included) can say that they didn’t know.”
In recent years, Gad has often reported from places that other reporters have avoided due to the risks or lack of interest. Places such as violence-ravaged Honduras, Ebola-struck Liberia, civil war-torn Ukraine, poverty-stricken Romania — and now ISIS-occupied northern Iraq.
Gad is not the type of foreign correspondent who quotes things that were said at press conferences or the latest Associated Press telegrams. Her place is on the ground, among the people. Through their accounts — the heroin addict in the ghetto, the boy in the hospital bed, the soldier in the trench, the child on the front line in Western Mosul — she helps us to understand complicated events.
Her Facebook page is a constantly active forum, on which the reporter welcomes discussions on a daily basis via Facebook Live. And readers, even those who would not usually read foreign journalism, flock to it.
The interaction she has with the readers and viewers characterises her personal, enduring, and intense live reports from the war in Iraq — especially the Iraqi Army and Kurdish Peshmerga troops’ offensive on the major city of Mosul, which was being held by ISIS.
When her colleagues returned home Gad remained to give day-by-day, week-by-week, and month-by-month descriptions of the reality of war — and give a voice to the people living in the war zone. She has done so with almost incomprehensible courage, often with her own life at stake, and with a profound respect for the people she is reporting about.
Throughout her reports, she maintains a unique, continuous dialogue with her readers, viewers, and followers on social media. Her live reports on Facebook, television, and Expressen’s various Web sites — together with the personal tone of her analyses and longer feature articles — have enabled her millions of readers and viewers to get close to reality as things are happening, thereby perhaps also understand the humanitarian consequences of the tragedy unfolding in northern Iraq.