Iraq War at 10: Looking Back at Baghdad, Days After Saddam Fell

March 18, 2013

On March 19, 2003, the United States invaded Iraq, beginning a long war that would kill more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians and 4,400 U.S. soldiers. Photographer Teru Kuwayama captured these scenes of ruin and reflection just after Saddam Hussein was ousted from power.

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Baghdad. Iraqi civilians gather around a car destroyed in an insurgent bombing, 2003. Photo by Teru Kuwayama.

 
In the spring of 2003, I flew into Amman, and drove across the Jordanian border into Iraq. Saddam Hussein’s regime had collapsed a few weeks earlier, and a handful of bemused American soldiers who were stationed at the border crossing shrugged their shoulders and waved my vehicle across into the desert.

I spent the next month in Baghdad, wandering the streets with a toy camera, photographing a visibly traumatized population as it emerged from decades of terror under a sociopathic tyrant—into the chaos of “freedom.”

Scavengers, on the trail of looters, stripped scrap metal from the ruins of ministries, and civilians unearthed mass graves in search of relatives. Checkpoints, fuel lines and piles of uncollected garbage choked the streets.

I accompanied U.S. forces as they extracted truckloads of cash from bank vaults that had survived the looters, and as they transformed Saddam Hussein’s palaces into armored bastions of plywood and concrete.

President Bush would soon declare that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended,” but as the United States would slowly learn over the months and years that followed, it was only beginning.
 

Baghdad. A young girl at play in front of the ruins of the telecommunications ministry building, destroyed by a U.S. airstrike, 2003. Photo by Teru Kuwayama.

 

Baghdad. A female U.S. soldier comforts a young Iraqi girl who has broken down in tears, 2003. Photo by Teru Kuwayama.

 

A U.S. soldier on patrol through the streets of Baghdad at night, 2003. Photo by Teru Kuwayama.

 

Baghdad. An Iraqi civilian holds a portrait of himself as a young police officer in a bygone era when Iraq was a prosperous country, 2003. Photo by Teru Kuwayama.

 

Al-Hillah, Iraq. A Shia woman, dressed in Abaya, moves through a field of body bags. After the fall of the Saddam regime, civilians began to unearth mass grave where Iraqis had been murdered by the regime. For the first time they were able to search for the bodies of their loved ones. 2003. Photo by Teru Kuwayama.

 

A U.S. soldier on patrol through the streets of Baghdad at night, 2003. Photo by Teru Kuwayama.

 

Baghdad. A U.S. soldier moves through the ruins of one of Uday Hussein’s palaces, destroyed in a U.S. airstrike, and later appropriated for use by the Coalition Provisional Authority, in what would become known as the Green Zone, 2003. Photo by Teru Kuwayama.

 

A U.S. Army reservist, who worked in the financial industry in Chicago before being called up, stands in the ruins of a looted Iraqi bank in Baghdad, 2003. Photo by Teru Kuwayama.

 

Al-Hillah, Iraq. Shia Iraqi search through a field of body bags. After the fall of the Saddam regime, civilians began to unearth mass grave where Iraqis had been murdered by the regime. For the first time they were able to search for the bodies of their loved ones. 2003. Photo by Teru Kuwayama.

 

Location unknown, near Baghdad. A car used by journalists drives past a burning oil pipeline that was attacked by insurgents. The Iraqi Christian driver’s crucifix hangs from the rear view mirror, and “TV” is taped to the windshield to identify the vehicle as belonging to foreign media. At that point, coalition airstrikes were a greater fear than banditry or kidnapping. 2003. Photo by Teru Kuwayama.

 

Karbala. A mother and daughter, wounded by flying glass from a car bomb that exploded as they walked to school. The family’s second child was in another room in critical condition with severe head wounds. 2003. Photo by Teru Kuwayama.

 

Shia women, dressed in Abaya, gathered in a field of body bags. After the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, civilians began to unearth mass grave where Iraqis had been murdered by the regime. For the first time they were able to search for the bodies of their loved ones. 2003. Photo by Teru Kuwayama.

 

Baghdad. As a gunfight breaks out, civilians flee from a market where animals are sold, 2003. Photo by Teru Kuwayama.

 

Baghdad. Iraq’s Ministry of Water, burned by looters in the aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, 2003. Photo by Teru Kuwayama.

 

Baghdad. U.S. soldiers hold back Iraqi civilians who have gathered outside a government office where pensions were distributed, 2003. Photo by Teru Kuwayama.

 

Baghdad. The ruins of the Ministry of Education, which was looted and burned in the aftermath of the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime, 2003. Photo by Teru Kuwayama.

 

A Shia woman, dressed in Abaya, holding a skull fragment. After the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, civilians began to unearth mass grave where Iraqis had been murdered by the regime. For the first time, they were able to search for the remains of their loved ones. 2003. Photo by Teru Kuwayama.

 

An Iraqi woman holds her dying infant in a hospital in Baghdad. Medical supplies were running low and the hospital had only a few days’ supply of the medicine that her child required. 2003. Photo by Teru Kuwayama.

 

An American journalist reads an out-of-date tourist guide to Iraq, by the pool of the Al-Hamra hotel in Baghdad, 2003. Photo by Teru Kuwayama.

 

Al Rasheed Street, one of Baghdad’s main commercial thoroughfares, deserted in the days following the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime, 2003. Photo by Teru Kuwayama.

 

A movie theater resumes operations in Baghdad, one of the first businesses to reopen after the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime, 2003. Photo by Teru Kuwayama.

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  • minorkey

    wow, completely uncritical of this illegitimate war. creative time, i can no longer support you.

    • StopBeingSheep

      It’s news not opinion, moron.

      • Marky Mark

        Really kinda like FOX and MSNBC are just news and do not have an opinion either. When you are embedded with soldiers you naturally feel a kinship with them because they are protecting you and tend not to report things that would cast the soldiers in a negative light, this has been well documented in this and other wars. P.S. stop being sheep.

    • clarehurley

      I agree completely with minorkey. These photos are not objective, nor is war automatically “critical of itself.” Even if the photographer tries to avoid owning up to his own perspective with the claim that this is just “what I happened to see while riding into Baghdad embedded with the US troops,” his photos express a definite point of view, as does the text. They implicitly support the Bush administration’s claim – amplified uncritically by the supposedly objective media, including the NY Times – that the US invasion was launched to save the Iraqi people from Hussein’s brutal dictatorship (which the US had actually supported for decades) and to bring them democracy – or was it to get rid of weapons of mass destruction? In any case, all of the pretexts used for the war have been amply exposed as lies in the decade that has elapsed. One has to ask, why are these photos being posted by CT now, if not to shore them up on this anniversary, when support for these wars of aggression is at an all time low, but other “humanitarian wars” are being planned?

      And why is it that whenever the point of view of the artist/photographer is basically supportive of the claims of US imperialism, whether in Iraq, or more recently in the Obama administration’s wars in Afghanistan, Libya, or potentially Syria – this is always called “objective and unbiased” as well as visually “compelling.” But if an artist/photographer condemns the war, the work is labelled “propaganda” as well as artistically compromised by being too “opinionated.”

      That is not to say that none of these photographs communicate the suffering of ordinary Iraqis – I particularly was struck by the one of the woman holding her dying infant – but they do not do so in a neutral context. Reading between the lines of this so-called neutral text, once notices a US airstrike is mentioned only once, whereas the phrase “after the fall of Hussein’s regime” is repeated over and over, as if all this chaos and destruction happened by itself. Furthermore, the only pictures of bodies are of those unearthed from mass graves of Iraqis murdered by Saddam’s regime, but none are shown of Iraqi civilians or even of US troops wounded or killed. Perhaps this was all the photographer saw, but there is also such a thing as the sin of omission.

      Nor were the times “ambiguous at best” as sbmumford claims. They could only be ambiguous to someone still trying to keep the wool pulled firmly down over his eyes to avoid seeing the consequences of what he has lent his support to.

      For those interested in a more fitting assessment of the Iraq war on the 10th anniversary, I suggest:

      Into the maelstrom: The crisis of American imperialism and the war against Iraq
      http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/03/20/dnre-m20.html

      • Marky Mark

        The press who were embedded with the troops were not allowed to or didn’t take pictures of injured US soldiers because they either weren’t allowed to or didn’t because they sort of felt a kinship with U.S. forces who were supposed to be protecting them. The U.S. if you recall also bombed Al Jazerra’s TV studio and later the transmitter killing a reporter and injuring another employee because they didn’t like the message the station was putting out.

  • JJ

    War is critical of itself. The pictures just told a story and the writing provided context. Grow up.

  • http://www.askdiana.net/ Sarah Lee

    so sad to see this pictures. war is very critical. minuteinfo.net at http://minuteinfo.net/

  • sbmumford

    Great pictures. It was an ambiguous time at best, not easy then to make quick generalizations. The photos capture that ambiguity – one can see both hope and fear in the Iraqis’ faces.
    Beautiful picture of the soldier comforting the distressed Iraqi girl – again, no simple message, like ‘US soldier bad’, a cliche that only exists in the minds of those who weren’t there.

  • SE

    What ambiguity was there in Abu Ghraib, Haditha, and leveling of Fallujah? What is the other side of the story about the billion dollars that the Pentagon gave to the torturers of the Iraqi Wolf Brigade? Nearly a million Iraqis died along with 4,500 American soldiers and Marines. Thousands of others were crippled, thousands have commuted suicide, and more will suffer from PTSD for the rest of their lives.

    What two sides were there to an unprovoked, aggressive war based on lies? Who is afraid to call this a crime? Let’s work this ambiguity out in the courtroom where Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Tony Blair, not to mention media propagandists like Judith Miller and Thomas Friedman, can appear in the docket. The minor shills and careerists who fed off the blood of Iraq can be called to speak their piece, too.

    Certainly the Goering and Hess felt there was some ambiguity in their accounts of their actions before the Nuremberg Tribunal. Don’t forget – they were sentenced to death for fomenting of an aggressive war, from which all of their other crimes flowed.