The images remain fresh even as the memories fade — the blinding flash of "shock and awe" bombing, the square-jawed confidence of an American president leading his people into war, the cowering prisoner trembling on the ground in the face of a small piece of American power.
Fast forward and the images transform like the war itself: the pain of an Iraqi mother's loss, grief-scarred faces of benumbed survivors, terrified soldiers under fire, mutilated bodies of slain Americans hanging from a bridge in a town few Americans had ever heard of.
The Iraq war began on March 20, 2003, to rid Iraq of a dictator and eliminate his weapons of mass destruction. No WMD was ever found. The dictator Saddam Hussein was caught — literally hiding in a hole — tried and hanged.
Yet the conflict dragged on in a grinding litany of bullets, bombs and barbarity. Dusty backwaters like Fallujah, Haditha and Ramadi became household words for Americans. The war was marked by the savagery of televised beheadings, Abu Ghraib prison and IEDs.
By the time U.S. troops left in December 2011, nearly 4,500 Americans and more than 100,000 Iraqis had lost their lives. Hundreds of billions of American taxpayer dollars were gone.
For Americans, the war's end in December 2011 brought relief and for the men and women who fought it, joy at reunions with loved ones.
For Iraqis, the war is harder to forget. Its signs are all around, from shattered bodies of survivors, to ongoing spasms of violence, to the pock-marked buildings still unrepaired.
Ten years after that first attack, Iraq languishes in a state between war and peace. And on the eve of the anniversary, a wave of bombings shook the Iraqi capital, killing at least 65 people and wounding more than 240.
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The text for this gallery was written by AP foreign correspondent Robert H. Reid: https://twitter.com/rhreid
BEHIND THE IMAGES
As the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War approached, six AP photographers — people now based in bureaus from Paris to Taipei — reflected on iconic images they captured related to the conflict. Here's what they had to say about the circumstances surrounding the photos — how they got them, what it was like to be where they were and what was going through their minds at the time.
WALLY SANTANA, AP photographer, Taipei, Taiwan
"I am going to witness an execution," Santana thought amid the dust, extreme heat and smell of burning plastic as he photographed a U.S. soldier aiming his weapon at a man in Mosul, Iraq, who had just been shot in the neck by a soldier while attempting to flee on July 23, 2003.
"I noticed the commanding officer take note of a suspicious person who arrived in a small cargo van behind the crowds. In a flash, the officer yelled to his men and darted on a 200-meter dash toward the man as he slipped back into the crowd. The eight or so soldiers in full battle gear ran flat out, parting the local crowd as they leaped over rows of their barbed wire, yelling for the man to stop."
"As the man jumped into his van and started to speed away down a back alley, the soldier next to me raised his rifle and fired two or three shots through the back window, puncturing the left side of his neck. The vehicle stopped, the man rolled out, with blood gushing, and he pleaded for his life in broken English as he was forced to the ground."
"After moments went by, a medic was called to tend to the wound and the man was taken away for interrogation."
LAURENT REBOURS, AP chief of service for photos, Paris
Two days after Saddam was captured, Rebours photographed a U.S. soldier demonstrating access to the spider hole near Tikrit, Iraq, where Saddam had hidden. Rebours explains what struck him about the scene:
"The silence, because it was in a farm in the middle of nowhere and because everyone — U.S. soldiers and journalists — had the feeling that we were at a stage of an important moment in history."
"The challenge was to find the proper picture to tell the story and when you have in front of you a hole. The best thing is always to bring a human being, and in that case a soldier could provide a kind of scale. How big was the rat hole? Tiny!"
MUHAMMED MUHEISEN, AP chief photographer, Islamabad
Muheisen shares his memories from April 26, 2004, when he shot a photo of an Iraqi man celebrating on top of a burning U.S. Army Humvee in the northern part of Baghdad:
"At the site people were running and screaming, and in such an atmosphere you can never tell if you are welcome — you could be simply beaten by the crowds. I remember from other occasions that Arabic words used to be said about photographers being spies — being bad people — which can get you beaten badly, so you are always afraid to put your feet in the wrong place."
"The other fear is to be in the middle if U.S. troops come by and start shooting to disperse the crowds. So it's never been a safe or a comfortable situation, but the heat of the war and the excitement to be there covering the war takes away this fear."
"I remember the sounds of people screaming, shouting, chanting victory words and the smell of the burning Humvee and the man standing on top shouting 'Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!' ('God is great! God is Great!'). I pointed my camera and took the frame. Suddenly the man noticed me and I could see the anger in his face. It was frightening. He decided to run after me so I had to flee the site running as fast as I could back to our vehicle to leave the place."
MAYA ALLERUZZO, AP photo editor, Cairo
Alleruzzo describes her thought process as she decided how to capture an image of detainees kneeling in prayer at Camp Cropper in Baghdad on Nov. 10, 2008:
"I knew that I would be subject to military review of all of my images that day. Post-Abu Ghraib, the U.S. military and the administration were terribly concerned about images of people in their custody. The challenge was to make photos that would not reveal the identities of the prisoners — this, they said, would be a violation of the Geneva Conventions. I knew I could not screw it up."
"I decided to use shallow depth of field, and in other photos worked with light and shadow, rather than cropping or letting the military censors make decisions for me."
JEROME DELAY, AP chief photographer for Africa, Johannesburg
Delay reflects on his photo of a Saddam statue being toppled in Baghdad on April 9, 2003:
"I almost missed the moment as I was with Alexandra Boulat (a photographer for National Geographic at the time) shooting pictures of looting at the other end of town. So we kind of stumbled upon this on the way back to the hotel!"
J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE, AP photographer, Washington
Applewhite recalls his experience visiting the USS Abraham Lincoln and capturing a picture of President George W. Bush giving a thumbs-up on May 1, 2003, the day Bush declared the end of major combat in Iraq — a speech remembered by many for the "Mission Accomplished" banner than hung from the aircraft carrier:
"I had arrived on the carrier shortly before Bush with the 10-man White House travel pool, that small group of reporters and photographers that go just about everywhere with the president. ... As Bush arrived we were still a little pumped after 'catching the wire,' where our plane was jolted to a sudden halt on the pitching deck."
"Usually the pool is separate from the crowd and can move freely but there were so many Navy guys and additional press already on board for the event that I just remember thinking that I have to be in position, I can't get shut out.
"I recall locking arms with my lifelong friend (and competitor) Larry Downing from Reuters to keep everyone else from squeezing us out. It was far more aggressive and physical than normal. Larry and I have been around the world many times on presidential trips and we have a saying about this kind of scrum: Air Force One will get you the first 10,000 miles — the last 10 yards are up to you. "
This gallery was curated by news producer Caleb Jones in New York: https://twitter.com/CalebNews