The Faces of the Iraq War, Ten Years Later

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March 19 2013 11:23 AM

The Faces of the Iraq War, Ten Years Later

A U.S. Marine with Lima Company, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF), is seen in Fallujah, Al Anbar province, Iraq on Nov. 12, 2004.
A U.S. Marine with Lima Company, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF), in Fallujah, Iraq, on Nov. 12, 2004

Franco Pagetti/VII

Franco Pagetti considers himself to be a lucky guy.

It’s a logical statement coming from a photojournalist who wanted to tell a unique and important story. Pagetti arrived in Iraq a few months before the start of the war and photographed continuously through 2008.

Pagetti’s work during that time, titled Flashback Iraq will be on view at the VII gallery in Brooklyn from March 19 through April 12. The opening of the show coincides with the 10-year anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq.

A soldier of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment “Gimlets,” 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, attached to the 4th Infantry Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, and Iraqi soliders of the 24th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, carries a child during a raid in Abu Ghraib, Anbar province, Iraq on April 6, 2008. The raid began before dawn this morning in which they sought out "high-value" al Qaeda targets involved in kidnapping and murder.  They searched several houses but did not find the suspects they were looking for.
A soldier of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment “Gimlets,” 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, attached to the 4th Infantry Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, and Iraqi soliders of the 24th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, carries a child during a raid in Abu Ghraib, Anbar province, Iraq on April 6, 2008. The raid began before dawn this morning in which they sought out "high-value" al Qaeda targets involved in kidnapping and murder. They searched several houses but did not find the suspects they were looking for.

Franco Pagetti / VII

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Although Pagetti started his career as a fashion photographer (he still shoots for Vogue), he dedicated himself to news photojournalism in 1994 and has covered conflict in places such as Kosovo, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Israel. But it was Iraq where he felt he first encountered “real” war and possibly got his idea of being a “lucky” photographer.

Mehdi Army In Iraq A young Iraqi man is arrested by U.S. soldiers of 1st Platoon Bravo Company, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division in the Shaab neighborhood of the Adhamiya district in Baghdad, Iraq on May 28, 2007. The man is one of several Mehdi Army members taken into custody by the U.S. Military on suspicion of shooting three U.S. soldiers and kidnapping and killing Sunni Iraqis.
A young Iraqi man is arrested by U.S. soldiers of 1st Platoon Bravo Company, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division in the Shaab neighborhood of the Adhamiya district in Baghdad, Iraq on May 28, 2007. The man is one of several Mehdi Army members taken into custody by the U.S. Military on suspicion of shooting three U.S. soldiers and kidnapping and killing Sunni Iraqis.

Franco Pagetti/VII

During the massive U.S. attack on the al Qaeda stronghold of Tall Afar, soldiers of the 1st and 3rd U.S. Special Forces Groups, soldiers of the Blue Platoon, Grim Troop, Sabre Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, and Iraqi special forces of the 36th Commando Brigade and soldiers of the 2nd Iraqi Army Division search for insurgents in Tall Afar, Ninawa governorate, Iraq on Sept. 4, 2005. On days two and three of the attack, the soldiers cleared Shiite Turkoman civilians from their homes in the city's south. Their homes line what U.S. planners dubbed 'Route Corvette'. Soon, combat engulfed the forces' northern advance towards 'Route Barracuda', the gateway to the al Qaeda stronghold in the Sarai district, as insurgents engaged them with sniper fire and RPGs from rooftops and windows along the ancient winding laneways. Civilians not yet cleared were caught in the crossfire, rushing past the battling soldiers even as insurgents were taken prisoner in the midst of the fight.
U.S. soldiers of the 1st and 3rd U.S. Special Forces Groups; U.S. soldiers of the Blue Platoon, Grim Troop, Sabre Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment; Iraqi special forces of the 36th Commando Brigade; and Iraqi soldiers of the 2nd Iraqi Army Division search for insurgents in Tall Afar, Iraq, on Sept. 4, 2005.

Franco Pagetti/VII

On days two and three of the massive U.S. attack on the al Qaeda stronghold of Tall Afar, soldiers of the 1st and 3rd U.S. Special Forces Groups, soldiers of the Blue Platoon, Grim Troop, Sabre Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, and Iraqi special forces of the 36th Commando Brigade and soldiers of the 2nd Iraqi Army Division, clear Shiite Turkoman civilians from their homes in southern Tall Afar, Ninawa governorate, Iraq on Sept. 4, 2005. Their homes line what U.S. planners dubbed 'Route Corvette'. Soon, combat engulfed the forces' northern advance towards Route Barracuda, the gateway to the al-Qaeda stronghold in the Sarai district, as insurgents engaged them with sniper fire and RPGs from rooftops and windows along the ancient winding laneways. Civilians not yet cleared were caught in the crossfire, rushing past the battling soldiers even as insurgents were taken prisoner in the midst of the fight.
Iraqi civilians were caught in the crossfire of a massive firefight between insurgents and U.S. and Iraqi troops in southern Tall Afar, Iraq on Sept. 4, 2005. The civilians rushed past the battling soldiers even as insurgents were taken prisoner in the midst of the fight.

Franco Pagetti/VII

Ali Abdul Hussein, left, Mohammed Abdul Redha, center, and Ahmed Khalaf, right, Shiites loyal to Muqtada al Sadr, stand for a portrait in Baghdad, Iraq on March 2, 2006.  They work in the local office of Muqtada Al Sadr who, after a Sunni mosque was attacked, helped to secure it. The invasion of Iraq broke a community into sectarian halves, at each other?s throats: Sunni and Shiite, who have lived together -- albeit not in perfect harmony -- for 1400 years became mortal enemies, killing each other?s women and children.
From left, Ali Abdul Hussein, Mohammed Abdul Redha, and Ahmed Khalaf, all Shiites loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, stand for a portrait in Baghdad on March 2, 2006. They work in the al-Sadr's local office. The invasion of Iraq broke a community into sectarian halves: Sunni and Shiite, who had lived together—albeit not in perfect harmony—for 1,400 years became mortal enemies.

Franco Pagetti/VII

Pagetti had been reading about Iraq and decided he wanted to start documenting events in the country. He was unable to secure a visa through the Iraqi Embassy, but a chance meeting with a mysterious woman in an antiques shop in Italy proved to be a fortuitous encounter.

“She was the kind of person I never would have thought could have been able to help me,” Pagetti explained. “She was sitting on a sofa, smoking a cigarette, dressed in a way that is not usually like the people I’m spending my time with—a little bit snobbish.”

The woman told Pagetti to give her his passport and that evening called him to come collect it.

“I went there thinking there was no way she could have gotten it, and when I arrived, there was the bloody visa in the passport,” Pagetti said.

During those first months in Iraq, Pagetti hung around with big-name photojournalists, including Jerome Delay, James Nachtwey, and Alexandra Boulat, who gave him helpful hints about photojournalism in exchange for home-cooked Italian meals.

Pagetti didn’t have any assignments from newspapers and magazines at first, so he was able to work independently and to develop his own sense of how he wanted to portray the war.

Pagetti’s focus was—and is a constant in his work—on the people. “I want to see how is war. I didn’t mind if they were Iraqi or American or whatever. As long as they are people. I want to see how they can face a situation like this and how war can affect your life or my life,” Pagetti said.

U.S. Marines of Weapons and Lima Company, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) arrest suspected insurgents during an all-out military offensive in Fallujah, Al Anbar governorate, Iraq on Nov. 12, 2004. Located some 40 miles west of the Iraqi capital, Fallujah has been the epicenter of a resistance that has dogged U.S. and Iraqi forces for over a year. On the eve of November 8th, in an attempt to recapture the city, Operation Phantom Fury commenced and coalition troops pushed into the area from the west and south. Soon, combat engulfed the forces' advance, as insurgents engaged them with sniper fire and RPGs in one of the fiercest battles yet.
U.S. Marines of Weapons and Lima Company, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) arrest suspected insurgents during an all-out military offensive in Fallujah, Iraq, on Nov. 12, 2004. Fallujah had been the epicenter of a resistance that had dogged U.S. and Iraqi forces for more thanr a year.

Franco Pagetti/VII

Supporters of Muqtada al Sadr protest against American occupation in Najaf, Najaf province, Iraq on April 6, 2004.
Supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr protest against American occupation in Najaf, Iraq, on April 6, 2004.

Franco Pagetti/VII

U.S. Marines of Weapons Company, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF), clear civilians from the area during the first day of an all-out military offensive against Iraqi insurgents north east of Fallujah, Al Anbar governorate, Iraq on Nov. 8, 2004. Civilians flee the city under the protection of the marines. Located some 40 miles west of the Iraqi capital, Fallujah has been the epicenter of a resistance that has dogged U.S. and Iraqi forces for over a year. On the eve of November 8th, in an attempt to recapture the city, Operation Phantom Fury commenced and coalition troops pushed into the area from the west and south. Soon, combat engulfed the forces' advance, as insurgents engaged them with sniper fire and RPGs in one of the fiercest battles yet.
A U.S. Marine of Weapons Company, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF), clear civilians from the area during the first day of an all-out military offensive against Iraqi insurgents northeast of Fallujah, Iraq, on Nov. 8, 2004.

Franco Pagetti/VII

During another assignment for Time magazine, Pagetti was asked to illustrate the difference between a Shiite and Sunni. After a lot of deliberation, Pagetti was inspired by a technique he had used as a fashion photographer: double exposure. Since the names of the Sunnis and Shiites are one of the only obvious visual differences between the sects, Pagetti wanted to create portraits of people with their identification cards.

In order to do this, he had to convince the Iraqi soldiers to let him go unaccompanied into each house to ask permission to take pictures of the people with their IDs. The parameters were strict: Pagetti had to enter each house without a bulletproof vest and was given a total of 20 to 30 minutes to get what he needed. “One minute more and they said they would destroy my cameras,” Pagetti said.

Perhaps through luck or respect (Pagetti entered each house without wearing shoes and speaking a little bit of Arabic), he was able to convince around 20 people to pose for the portraits over a month’s time.

“You cannot do your job by yourself,” Pagetti said. “The Iraqi people were helping me do my job, and the Americans were doing the same.”

Afra'ah Nasir Salem al Azawii, Sunni, stands for a portrait in the Adhamiyah neighborhood of Baghdad, Iraq on Jan. 22, 2007. She feels safe living in the Sunni stronghold of Adhamiyah even though she has to wear a veil when she leaves her home. Al Qaeda and other Islamic militias control the area therefore rigid Islamic rules are in place. The invasion of Iraq broke a community into sectarian halves, at each other?s throats: Sunni and Shiite, who have lived together -- albeit not in perfect harmony -- for 1400 years became mortal enemies, killing each other?s women and children.
Afra'ah Nasir Salem al Azawii, a Sunni, stands for a portrait in Baghdad on Jan. 22, 2007. She feels safe living in her Sunni stronghold neighborhood of Adhamiyah even though she has to wear a veil when she leaves her home. Al-Qaida and other Islamic militias control the area, therefore rigid Islamic rules are in place.

Franco Pagetti/VII

Although Pagetti has seen many faces of war, it’s still a difficult concept for him to understand.

“Once in 2010 I went to Arlington [National Cemetery] just for a visit since many soldiers died in Iraq … I was thinking of everything, and my question was: Why should we have so many graves here? For what? I don’t have the answer for this question.”

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