Photographer Chris Hondros: How I captured Iraq

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Ahead of the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq this month, Chris Hondros, who has taken pictures throughout the conflict, offers a photographic essay on the changing story of a troubled land. He talks to Chris Green

New journalists have observed the Iraq war as intimately as Chris Hondros. A staff photographer with Getty Images, the 37-year-old first arrived in the country in March 2003, crossing the Kuwaiti border alongside invading forces. Over the last five years, he has returned to Iraq 11 times, photographing the conflict and witnessing the key developments first-hand, from the deposition of Saddam Hussein to last year's troop "surge".

When he arrived, Hondros knew very little about Iraq. "Like a lot of journalists, my feelings about the war have evolved," he says. "I had a reasonable amount of support for [invasion] at first, and thought Saddam Hussein was a dictator. But like so many, I've been dismayed and shocked by the level of violence there, and the intractability of the whole thing, and the complete ineptitude of the follow-up to the war itself."

In March 2003, as Hondros rode with the invading US army through southern Iraq, the country's descent into a bloody chaos of roadblocks and car bombs seemed an impossibility. He recalls photographing row after row of cheering people (1), and presuming that the whole country was united in welcoming the occupying forces.

"I didn't understand the Sunni-Shiite division in Iraq," he explains. "The whole US march into Baghdad from the Kuwait border through the south was through Shiite territory, and they were just happy to be rid of Saddam. At the time it was easy to oversimplify the elation that we saw there: we thought that these 'Iraqis' were celebrating the arrival of the Americans, when actually it was only the Shiites who were celebrating."

Hondros remained in Iraq throughout the spring, capturing images (2, 3) that appeared to symbolise a successful invasion and the end of Saddam Hussein's regime. "The standing government of the country was being deposed physically by the American military, and something else was going to rise in its place," he says. He was also keen to cover the less-reported aspects of the conflict, resulting in his picture of a woman belonging to the small Mandaean Sabian religious sect being baptised (4), taken less than a mile from Baghdad's Green Zone in 2004.

In the early part of 2005, Hondros spent most of his time in Sadr City, eastern Baghdad, taking pictures of the Shiite population exercising their right to vote (5). Hondros now sees Iraq's elections as another example of Western ignorance about the way Iraqi society functions.

"People voted almost entirely on ethnic lines: Shiites for Shiites and Sunnis for Sunnis," he says. "Our idea of democracy presumes that individuals are voting according to their individual desires. But in Iraq, people went to their mosques on the days leading up to the elections, and voted or didn't vote based on what their religious leaders told them to do. So the election process was fundamentally flawed."

One picture, for which he won the prestigious Robert Capa Gold Medal, was taken in the northern town of Tal Afar in 2005. An Iraqi girl is shown covered in blood, in the moments after nervous US soldiers shot and killed both of her parents after they had refused to stop their car (6). The couple's six children, who were sitting in the back seat, all survived. It was one of the first images of an accidental civilian killing to emerge, and Hondros regards the pictures as among his most important achievements.

"Thousands of Iraqis have been killed in these kinds of incidents: it's incredibly common. But although it happens every day, it's rarely photographed. It's only one aspect of the war, but in this case I hope my pictures helped people to understand how these things unfold."

In 2006, Hondros sensed a change in the way the occupying forces were perceived. Whereas many Iraqis had previously been "fairly tolerant" of the periodic disruptions caused by passing patrols, now even the most pro-American were growing tired of the repeated house-to-house searches carried out by US soldiers (7). With the war creating fewer headlines, Hondros set out to show the juxtaposition of the continuing conflict with the everyday lives of Iraqis (8).

"The critical thing at that time was trying to show the ongoing nature of the war, and how it was mixing up with the civilians," he says. "But I also knew that these things had to be incorporated into as few pictures as possible in order to get them published. So the more of those elements that I could squeeze into a single image, the better."

Last year, Hondros witnessed the effects infamous "troop surge", which the Bush administration hoped would make the country more secure. Far from improving the situation, he says, the surge simply threw a load of inexperienced soldiers into a volatile environment (9).

"It was a chaotic situation," he says. "American soldiers would see a group of suspicious-looking guys running around, take shots at them and then follow the blood trail and arrest them. ... It was all-out combat in some areas of Baghdad."

Hondros is reluctant to talk about how the war has affected him. "It has shaken me in a lot of ways. But I've seen similar things in other parts of the world. All I'll be able to say is that I went and covered what was in front of me, and did what I could to help people understand what was happening – even when I didn't really understand it myself."

Suggested Topics
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

(Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

Sales Engineer - Cowes - £30K-£40K

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Sales Engineer - Cow...

Web / Digital Analyst - Google Analytics, Omniture

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Sales Perfomance Manager. Marylebone, London

£45-£57k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice