AP PHOTOS: A look back at 10 years of war in Iraq

Thursday - 3/21/2013, 12:00am EDT

The Associated Press
Associated Press

The images remain fresh even as the memories fade -- the blinding flash of "shock and awe" bombing, the square-jawed confidence of an American president leading his people into war, the cowering prisoner trembling on the ground in the face of a small piece of American power.

Fast forward and the images transform like the war itself: the pain of an Iraqi mother's loss, grief-scarred faces of benumbed survivors, terrified soldiers under fire, mutilated bodies of slain Americans hanging from a bridge in a town few Americans had ever heard of.

The Iraq war began on March 20, 2003, to rid Iraq of a dictator and eliminate his weapons of mass destruction. No WMD was ever found. The dictator Saddam Hussein was caught -- literally hiding in a hole -- tried and hanged.

Yet the conflict dragged on in a grinding litany of bullets, bombs and barbarity. Dusty backwaters like Fallujah, Haditha and Ramadi became household words for Americans. The war was marked by the savagery of televised beheadings, Abu Ghraib prison and IEDs.

By the time U.S. troops left in December 2011, nearly 4,500 Americans and more than 100,000 Iraqis had lost their lives. Hundreds of billions of American taxpayer dollars were gone.

For Americans, the war's end in December 2011 brought relief and for the men and women who fought it, joy at reunions with loved ones.

For Iraqis, the war is harder to forget. Its signs are all around, from shattered bodies of survivors, to ongoing spasms of violence, to the pock-marked buildings still unrepaired.

Ten years after that first attack, Iraq languishes in a state between war and peace. And on the eve of the anniversary, a wave of bombings shook the Iraqi capital, killing at least 65 people and wounding more than 240.

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Follow photographer David Guttenfelder on Twitter: https://twitter.com/dguttenfelder

Follow photographer Maya Alleruzzo on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mayaalleruzzo

Follow photographer Jerome Delay on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jeromedelay

Follow photographer Evan Vucci on Twitter: https://twitter.com/evanvucci

Follow AP photographers on Twitter: http://apne.ws/XULOIG

The text for this gallery was written by AP foreign correspondent Robert H. Reid: https://twitter.com/rhreid

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BEHIND THE IMAGES

As the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War approached, six AP photographers -- people now based in bureaus from Paris to Taipei -- reflected on iconic images they captured related to the conflict. Here's what they had to say about the circumstances surrounding the photos -- how they got them, what it was like to be where they were and what was going through their minds at the time.

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WALLY SANTANA, AP photographer, Taipei, Taiwan

"I am going to witness an execution," Santana thought amid the dust, extreme heat and smell of burning plastic as he photographed a U.S. soldier aiming his weapon at a man in Mosul, Iraq, who had just been shot in the neck by a soldier while attempting to flee on July 23, 2003.

"I noticed the commanding officer take note of a suspicious person who arrived in a small cargo van behind the crowds. In a flash, the officer yelled to his men and darted on a 200-meter dash toward the man as he slipped back into the crowd. The eight or so soldiers in full battle gear ran flat out, parting the local crowd as they leaped over rows of their barbed wire, yelling for the man to stop."

"As the man jumped into his van and started to speed away down a back alley, the soldier next to me raised his rifle and fired two or three shots through the back window, puncturing the left side of his neck. The vehicle stopped, the man rolled out, with blood gushing, and he pleaded for his life in broken English as he was forced to the ground."

"After moments went by, a medic was called to tend to the wound and the man was taken away for interrogation."

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LAURENT REBOURS, AP chief of service for photos, Paris

Two days after Saddam was captured, Rebours photographed a U.S. soldier demonstrating access to the spider hole near Tikrit, Iraq, where Saddam had hidden. Rebours explains what struck him about the scene:

"The silence, because it was in a farm in the middle of nowhere and because everyone -- U.S. soldiers and journalists -- had the feeling that we were at a stage of an important moment in history."

"The challenge was to find the proper picture to tell the story and when you have in front of you a hole. The best thing is always to bring a human being, and in that case a soldier could provide a kind of scale. How big was the rat hole? Tiny!"