The Iraq war: Through one photographer's lens

Sean Smith in front of one of his photographs displayed outside the Imperial War Museum North Credit: Guardian News & Media / Sean Smith

A new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum North to mark the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War features photographs taken by award-winning British war photographer Sean Smith.

‘Iraq: Photographs by Sean Smith' features images taken before, during and after the invasion by US-led coalition troops in March 2003.

They focus on how the war affected and shaped the lives of ordinary Iraqi people during the military operation.

Smith arrived in Iraq in January 2003, on assignment for the Guardian Newspaper and was in Baghdad when the invasion began. Since then, he has returned to the country a number of times.

2003

This image shows UD soldiers watching for snipers as their colleagues deal with a burning vehicle blown up by an improvised explosive device (IED).

Six soldiers and an interpreter were killed in the attack.

US soldiers watch for snipers as their colleagues deal with a burning vehicle blown up by an IED. Credit: Guardian News & Media / Sean Smith

Usually when these things happen there are snipers still in the area who will then take shots at anyone who comes to assist. There was a question of whether the people that had let off the device were still shooting in the area.

– Sean Smith
A child recovers a pet rabbit
A child recovers a pet rabbit from his bombed neighbourhood, Baghdad. Credit: Guardian News & Media / Sean Smith
An Iraqi boy dressed as a soldier shows his family’s support for Saddam Hussein, Baghdad, 2003
An Iraqi boy dressed as a soldier shows his family’s support for Saddam Hussein, Baghdad, 2003 Credit: Guardian News & Media / Sean Smith
Boys from Saddam City, a suburb in Baghdad later renamed Sadr City, with weapons and ammunition looted from a government building, 2003 Credit: Guardian News & Media / Sean Smith

2005

In 2005, as the first multi-party elections in fifty years took place, insurgents tried to smuggle explosives into Baghdad to disrupt the voting. US Marines advanced through towns in the region, including Ubaydi, searching for insurgent cells.

All men of military age were detained. They had material sprayed on their hands to reveal whether they had handled explosives or gunpowder. Families were split up and loudspeakers were barking commands. Some of the detainees came back and some did not.

– Sean Smith
Residents of Ubaydi flee their homes, as US Marines occupy their town, 2005
Residents of Ubaydi flee their homes, as US Marines occupy their town, 2005 Credit: Guardian News & Media / Sean Smith
A young boy appears distressed as US forces stand nearby Credit: Guardian News & Media / Sean Smith
An Iraqi woman caught up in fighting between insurgents and Coalition troops, Ubaydi, 2005
An Iraqi woman caught up in fighting between insurgents and Coalition troops, Ubaydi, 2005 Credit: Guardian News & Media / Sean Smith

2006

This image won Photograph of the year at the 2006 Press Photographer's Year awards.

It shows US Marines taking detainees in for questioning as part Operation 'Steel Curtain', which aimed to break up insurgent cells located on the Syria Border.

US Marines taking detainees in for questioning
A local boy playing in the river as an Iraqi interpreter looks on, Hawijah, 2006 Credit: Guardian News & Media / Sean Smith
Woman are seen holding weapons
Woman are seen holding weapons in Tikrit Credit: Guardian News & Media / Sean Smith

Ten years on, Smith said of the conflict:

Any war is brutalising for people either side. I'm not a pacificist but I think you need to think very carefully.

Before the outset, the Iraq War was doomed to failure. Each time I went back to the country it was inevitably unravelled. The invasion has had a damaging effect in America and the UK, not just in Iraq.

Is the world a better place post invasion? Is the threat of terror over?

It will haunt everyone for years to come.

Sean Smith
Sean Smith said he would love to return to Iraq. Credit: Guardian News & Media / Sean Smith
  • Iraq: Photographs by Sean Smith, will be displayed the Imperial War Museum North until 2nd February 2014.