Today is the 15th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, and a look back at photos from that time reveals an increasingly rare way of seeing war.
Photos from the first weeks of the 2003 invasion, taken by photojournalists mostly embedded with military units, painted the picture of a decisively planned war unfolding neatly, and implied a quick resolution. Carefully organized photo-ops over the next two months created a visual narrative of victory, from the sight of a statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Baghdad to US president George W. Bush landing on an aircraft carrier to declare “Mission Accomplished”.
But that supreme confidence was undone by the ensuing months and years of conflict that killed more than 4,000 Americans, and more than 100,000 Iraqis. After Iraq, the US military has increasingly favored drone strikes and special operations missions, rather than sending in ground troops for a military engagements. In turn, pictures from the US’s military engagements abroad have become far harder to come by—and not nearly as flamboyant.
Today’s conflicts are often conducted away from media, with little to no publicly available visual documentation. As strategic and technological shifts have led to fewer service members deployed into conflict areas, they have also created a gulf between what the US does abroad and what its citizens can see. In the future, Americans may look back at Iraq as the final episode in a long tradition of overt military propaganda.
A convoy of 2nd MEF (Marine Expeditionay Force) crosses a bridge over the Euphrates river in the town of Nassariya in central Iraq April 3, 2003.