Framework

Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

Marines fire at insurgents in Fallujah. Ten thousand U.S. troops and 1,000 Iraqis took part in the assault. It was expected to be the largest battle in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A U.S. Marine carries in his right hand a grenade found on the body of an insurgent killed in south Fallujah, where the last of the fighting has been concentrated.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Marines clear a residence as they search for guerrillas and weapons in Fallujah. As the company advanced, insurgents took up positions in the many houses abandoned by their residents.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

American soldiers evacuate a wounded comrade Thursday, July, 31, 2003, from a burning armored vehicle that ran over a mine beneath a freeway overpass in Baghdad. One soldier was killed and three wounded in the attack.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Marine Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller was with the 1st Marine Battalion, 8th Regiment, during the assault on the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah in November 2004. His life was forever altered in the crucible of battle. Filthy and exhausted, he had just lighted a cigarette when an embedded photographer captured this image, which transformed Miller into an icon of the war in Iraq. He now suffers from post-traumatic stress.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

American soldiers establish a perimeter around the Jordanian Embassy in the Al-Zouhor district of Baghdad after a car bomb exploded on the street, killing at least six people and injuring dozens more on Aug. 7, 2003.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Comrades of Army Spc. Joel L. Bertoldie mourn Sunday, July 20, 2003, during a memorial service in Habbaniya, Iraq. Bertoldie was killed by a remote-controlled explosive device that struck his vehicle while on patrol in Fallujah, a hotbed of anti-American sentiment in post-Saddam Iraq. A native of Independence, Mo, Bertoldie, 20, was the father of a 10-month-old son.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Sinco

Salah Hamed, right, cries as he pays a hospital visit to his son, Mohammed Salah Hamed, whose arms were badly injured in the bombing of the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad. Facilities and medical supplies at most Iraqi hospitals were woefully inadequate to deal with the seriously injured, such as the victims of the bombing.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Hasiba Debagh grieves for her 8-year-old grandson, who was killed in July 2003 while standing near American troops assailed by a hand grenade thrown from a passing car in the Yarmouk district of Baghdad. One American soldier and seven Iraqi civilians were also injured.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

An honor guard brings Spc. Daniel Paul Unger's body to a hearse in Exeter, Calif. He was killed in Iraq in 2004 while serving with the National Guard, becoming the first member of a California National Guard unit to die in combat during the war. The former high school baseball player and missionary in youth prisons left for Army boot camp two days after graduation from Exeter Union High School. He said then that he thought God wanted him to the join the military, according to his father, Marc Unger, a Southern Baptist pastor.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Jim Kolkas, right, a VFW volunteer, bids farewell to members of the California National Guard's 1st Battalion, 185th Armored Regiment, as they arrive at the former George Air Force Base near Victorville for a yearlong deployment to Iraq. The Pentagon said that by the end of May 2004, nearly half of the 100,000 U.S. military personnel in Iraq would be Guard or Reserve members.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Sgt. Maj. John Isberter entertains daughter Erin, 2, in a hangar at the former Norton air base in San Bernardino. The last time a California National Guard unit was sent into combat, the occasion was the Korean War.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A member of Charlie Company of the Marines First Division, Eighth Regiment, takes cover behind a street curb as an insurgent illumination flare lights up the darkness during the assault of Fallujah.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Mud covers the boots of a Marine training for an assault of the insurgent-held city of Fallujah.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Jason Carpenter, a member of Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, cleans his bayonet in preparation for an assault on the insurgent-held city of Fallujah.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Marines prepare their tank for the possibility of an assault on the insurgent-held city of Fallujah.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Lance Cpl. David Hunter sits inside a tracked vehicle during training. Biblical passages are scrawled inside the vehicle.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

An American soldier keeps a lookout as a veiled Iraqi woman walks past an armored vehicle during a street-by-street search in central Baghdad. Loudspeakers blared to Iraqi citizens that the operation was to help maintain law and order in a crime-ridden area of the city.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Bedouin children ask for candy and cold water from passing California National Guardsmen on patrol around Camp Cedar II near the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriya.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Boys dive into the Saddam Canal in Nasiriya.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A soldier keeps watch over Baghdad from a rooftop observation post in the Green Zone.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Marines with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, rest inside Fallujah Khulafah Rashid mosque after driving insurgents from the building.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Shiite residents of Sadr City wave guns in August 2003, while dancing to chants of anti-American slogans. U.S. troops had allegedly fired on a demonstration in Sadr City the day before, where a young boy was killed and four others wounded.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

An Iraqi girl looks on as American soldiers try to clear civilians from a street facing a house in Mosul, Iraq, where Uday and Qusay Hussein were killed.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles

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On Sunday morning, Dec. 18, I received a mass email from President Obama, informing me that the last of our troops had left Iraq.

The war is over.

To me, the final figures, reported in The Times, are staggeringly unreal: Nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers died. An estimated 104,000 to 113,000 Iraqi civilians died. The U.S. spent in excess of $832 billion on a war that lasted more than 3,000 days. Approximately 150 journalists died covering the conflict.

Amid the retrospectives and requiems marking the war’s end, I’ve tried to find meaning from my experience in it. Many political pundits say it was all a big mistake and a terrible waste. I try to push these thoughts aside. It has to mean something, at least to all those touched by the war.

Almost daily, images from the war cross my mind, like an endless loop of film.

I remember a woman wailing in grief over her mortally wounded grandson in the streets of Baghdad. The 8-year-old was tagging along behind a squad of American soldiers who came under attack. He was struck by grenade shrapnel and died at the hospital. I wonder if nine years has dulled that grandmother’s anguish. I think about the soldiers I met from places like Tracy, Visalia and Watts and remember families, grieving at funerals across the state. The war produced a lot of tears in many places.

Burned into my mind is the acrid smell of billowing, black smoke from the huge trash fire at Camp Anaconda in Balad, fed by a steady stream of waste, raging around the clock and lighting up the night sky. I remember a USO show for the troops there, featuring Wayne “Mr. Las Vegas” Newton and a merry band of B-listers. It was surreal and entertaining. I wondered how many of the kids even knew who Newton was.

I recall touring the ruins of ancient Ur, the birthplace of the prophet Abraham, whose sons Isaac and Ishmael spawned the great monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam — peoples that have been in conflict for much of the ensuing 2,000 years. Ur was located in the middle of the Italian military base in Nasiriya, and you could get cold beer and wine there.

Sometimes I think of Marine Lance Cpl. Carpenter, sprawled flat beside me in a gutter in Fallujah, where we spent a rainy night under insurgent fire sheltered only by a 6-inch-high curb. What has happened to Maldonado, Fleharty, O’Rourke, Doc Lopez and Muston? We’ve drifted apart, and I hope they are OK. I remember a kid named Gavriel. I took his picture in combat. A short time later, he was killed.

“Let them eat stone soup!” I once heard a soldier exclaim to no one in particular. We had just been enveloped in a booming shock wave and saw the brown and black plume of a large car bomb rising in the distance, over the flat rooftops of Baghdad. It was as if I saw the spirits of the dead swirling in the angry, bubbling cloud. We later learned that more than 30 children perished in the blast. They too were trailing American soldiers, hoping to get handouts of candy from a passing convoy when the car packed with explosives detonated.

A lasting impression is how young the warriors were on both sides. It was shocking to see young men — boys really — sprawled dead in awkward positions on the ground. I remember the scorch of sun-baked armor plating on bare skin, and the smell of decomposing flesh. I photographed ashen tendrils of white phosphorous artillery rounds raining down from the daytime sky. The Pentagon and other U.S. officials first denied, then later admitted that troops had used it against insurgents, but not on civilians, which is forbidden by the Geneva Convention. I drank water made hot by triple-digit temperatures, and swatted away swarms of flies that bred in the corpses littering the streets of Fallujah.

I think of a girl in Mosul, standing at the gate of her home, holding a pet bird and watching American troops clear the streets of Iraqi protesters near the site where Saddam Hussein’s sociopath sons, Uday and Qusay, were cornered and killed. It was very early in the long and arduous war. Maybe she’s all grown up. Same with the group of boys I photographed swimming in an irrigation canal in southern Iraq. By now, they should be young men.

I feel compelled to mark the war’s passing, if only with this post and gallery, reliving and sharing the realities I witnessed and documented in pictures for the Los Angeles Times in 2003 and 2004.

For me, Iraq falls further away. But it’s like the sight of hundreds of tracer rounds streaking in seemingly slow motion, and then fading into the night. You never forget, even though you sometimes wish you could.

See more work by Sinco from Iraq:

The Marboro Marine

Portfolio

4 Comments

  1. December 25, 2011, 1:47 pm

    Nick Ut was a hero for showing the world the horror of war with his photo of a war victim. I think we should question the photo of a smoking American. 5,000 of our brave men have died, yet millions of innocent children have been killed for a war founded on the lies of Bush and Cheney. Lies the democrats and media never really used to stop the atrocities. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4517597.s

    By: intensejoe
  2. December 25, 2011, 2:03 pm

    Thank you… I am from the Larry Burrows generation of photojournos… your coverage is powerful and true… it's too bad these images and your thoughts were not available to the politicians who pushed us into this war with no real reason or rhyme… Our soldiers and our society will pay the price of this FUBAR of belligerence for decades..unless we learn the right lessons from this disaster, we will be doomed to repeat these actions again… Thank you

    By: Mike M. Seattle
  3. December 25, 2011, 8:41 pm

    Heartbreaking. Mr. Sinco's writing is as vivid as his photos.

    By: pkbrady333@aol.com
  4. May 24, 2013, 4:02 pm

    Erina Jackson Famed Quotes.

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