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10 Most Iconic Photographs of the War in Iraq

The War in Iraq has undoubtedly been the most significant conflict of the last decade. Journalists, both those embedded with military units and those who have undertaken their own investigations, have contributed defining and sometimes harrowing images of incidents as they have unfolded. Those images, along with those taken by civilian observers and leaked shots which outsiders were never supposed to see, cemented the war in the minds of the public.

10. Marlboro Man

This powerful image became a symbol of the American soldier in Iraq. He is obviously tired, with eyes still showing a measure of determination, or, for some, resignation. His face is dirty and scarred, his stubble unshaven. The only clean thing in the photograph is his cigarette, with elements of the Marlboro logo faintly visible. The pristine whiteness of the cigarette paper serves only to highlight his battle-dirtied visage by way of contrast. Perhaps the power of this photograph is in the capacity for observers to place their own fears, hopes and worries about the war into his expression, making the Marlboro man a soldier who belongs on all sides of the political divide.

9. "Mission Accomplished"

On May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier and declared the end of major combat operations by US soldiers in Iraq. Behind him a banner emblazoned with imagery of the American flag declared "Mission Accomplished." Since this date, over 4,000 American military personnel have died in Iraq, and over 30,000 have been wounded. Imagery from this speech and the deaths that came in its aftermath provoked a sense of disgust amongst many members of the public at the apparent lack of realism and understanding coming from their Commander-in-Chief.

8. Samar Hassan Crying

This image of Samar Hassan, aged just 5 years old, tugged at the heart of a nation. Her parents had been shot and killed by US soldiers in the 25th Infantry Division. The soldiers were performing a patrol at dusk when they came into contact with the Hassan family, who were traveling by car. Thinking they were being approached by a suicide bomber, the troops opened fire. Samar and five other children in the back seat escaped unharmed. The photographer, Chris Hondros, was denied access to the battalion in which he was embedded after the photograph was published.

7. Coffins Coming Home

The American government has always been loath to release pictures of the transportation of military casualties. Perhaps this is due to respect for their fallen soldiers, but those of a more cynical mind believe that it is to prevent the public from seeing the realities of the conflict. Taken by the Department of Defense, these photos of war dead, in flag-draped coffins on a cargo plane, were only released after Russ Kick, a First Amendment activist, filed a Freedom of Information request.

6. Saddam's Statue Toppled

Early in the conflict, many had high hopes that this war would be a short and principled campaign to bring true freedom and democracy. Soon after the liberation of Baghdad, the statues of Saddam Hussein that the dictator had erected all over the city began to come tumbling down. Local people crowded around with the beautiful architecture of Baghdad highlighted in the background. For many around the world, this was seen to be a symbol of success and proof that the people themselves welcomed the intervention. How such images are viewed now is another matter; it has been reported that the toppling of the statue in Baghdad's main square was actually an American media event, attended by only a handful of locals and overseen by US troops.

5. The Bombing of Baghdad

The War in Iraq began with aerial assault. People all over the world, from every political ideology, were glued to their television screens to watch the attacks unfold. The bombing of Baghdad demonstrated the awesome power and might of the US military. Early in the bombing campaign the only images available were well removed from the destruction on the ground, giving an ethereal quality to the explosions, as smoke rose above the once proud city.

4. Weightlifting in Al-Faw Palace

This image of a US soldier lifting weights in a makeshift gym, surrounded by beautiful Middle Eastern architecture, showed that life goes on, even in the midst of a prolonged conflict. This gym was to be found in Al-Faw Palace, a luxurious building whose construction was ordered by Saddam Hussein. The use of a presidential palace that had been intended to commemorate the victory of Iraqi soldiers during the Iran-Iraq conflict is a biting commentary on how the symbols of the old dictatorship were being used by the American soldiers that had toppled the regime.

3. A "Farewell Kiss"

On December 14, 2008, George W. Bush received a "farewell kiss" he was not expecting. As a press conference in Baghdad was unfolding, Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi threw a "size 10" shoe at the American president. Shouting, "This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog. This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq," the journalist hurled both his shoes across the room. Bush, after successfully dodging the missiles, smirked his characteristic smile. According to witnesses, the journalist was severely beaten by security agents in the wake of this incident, after being dragged out of the conference. He was later sentenced to 3 years in prison for assaulting a foreign head of state.

2. Saddam Hussein’s Capture

As US administrator Paul Bremer so proudly proclaimed at the time, "Ladies and gentlemen, we got him." From April through December of 2003, the location of Saddam Hussein – the dictator who had been responsible for two wars, had oppressed his own people and led a genocidal campaign against the Kurds – was unknown. Finally, on December 13, 2003, he was found hiding in a hole in the ground beside a farmhouse near Tikrit. The well-groomed and polished politician had transformed into a wild-haired fugitive with a thick, unkempt beard. The dictator had become a captive – later to be executed in 2006 – and many Iraqis hoped that they would finally see justice.

1. Abu Ghraib Torture

Although there had been ongoing allegations of torture, rape and mistreatment of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, it was not until 60 Minutes II broadcast a story on the abuse, which included graphic photographs, that the details of these incidents became well known. The explicit nature of the photographs, the incontrovertible proof that they gave to the accusations, and the seemingly callous and evil attitudes and actions of the military police sparked national and international outrage, with many afraid that the images would spark global anti-American sentiment. In response, the US Department of Defense removed 17 officers and soldiers from duty, while 11 military personnel were eventually convicted of charges such as maltreatment, aggravated assault and battery.

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