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Iraq war eyewitnesses: The stories behind the images

Several Los Angeles Times photojournalists were among those who risked their lives to chronicle the war in Iraq. The team included Don Bartletti, Bryan Chan, Carolyn Cole, Robert Gauthier, Rick Loomis, Luis Sinco, Wally Skalij and Brian van der Brug. Steve Stroud, The Times’ deputy director of photography, shepherded the process of dispatching the photographers, steering their coverage and ensuring fitting exposure of their work.

BY ANN M. SIMMONS

The war in Iraq, one of the longest and most politically divisive in U.S. history, drew to a close in December 2011, when the last U.S. troops pulled out.

After nearly nine years of conflict, the forces left behind a country free of a dictator but mired in sectarian unrest, limping toward full democracy.

More poignant to the troops is what they took with them: Tens of thousands suffered injury, to the body and the mind, and they carried the memory of their fellow warriors, 4400 of whom met their deaths in Iraq. Upward of 100,000 Iraqis also died.

The campaign to liberate Iraq from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein eventually morphed into a nation-building operation. An insurgency grew, many Iraqis tired of the U.S. presence, and it became increasingly more dangerous not only for members of the American-led military coalition but also for the scores of journalists who swarmed Iraq to bear witness to history.

Several Los Angeles Times photojournalists were among those who risked their lives to chronicle the U.S. participation in the war. The team included Don Bartletti, Bryan Chan, Carolyn Cole, Robert Gauthier, Rick Loomis, Luis Sinco, Wally Skalij and Brian van der Brug.

Steve Stroud, The Times’ deputy director of photography, shepherded the process of dispatching the photographers, steering their coverage and ensuring fitting exposure of their work.

The images are heartwarming, heartbreaking, heart-stopping.

They tell of euphoria as American troops arrived in Baghdad, the capital, buoyed by the cheers of the Iraqi people.

They document the country’s frightening descent into sectarian violence and the sea change in Iraqis’ attitude toward American troops — once praised by many as liberators, then condemned and targeted as occupiers.

They capture the everyday lives of Iraqi civilians as they struggled to navigate the restive post-Hussein landscape, sometimes finding themselves caught in the crossfire.

Some of the photographers were embedded with U.S. military units, a restrictive arrangement but often the only way to be with troops on the front lines.

They saw how soldiers — many in their teens and early 20s — battled, bled and died. Sometimes the front became too upfront and photographers found themselves in too deep.

This series of videos presents searing images that highlight aspects of a war declared officially over by the U.S. on Dec. 15, 2011, but whose impact will continue to be felt for years to come.

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