Photographers' Blog

The future of Iraq

By Shannon Stapleton

When asked, “What do you see for the future of Iraq now that the United States military is leaving the country ?”, 12-year-old student Kharar Haider replied, “I don’t think we will have more problems and it is better than when Saddam was here. We have no heating or light in school. I don’t think that is going to get better.”

Upon arriving in Baghdad on Dec. 1st of 2011 for my first time in Iraq, the question that I couldn’t get out of my mind as we made our way through a maze of military checkpoints was “What will be the future of Iraq after we leave?” If security was this tense now, I could not imagine what was going to happen after the U.S. troops finally pulled out of this war-torn country.

Thoughts of a new sectarian war among the various factions involved in a power struggle over the government dominated my outlook on the future of Iraq. The threat of suicide bombings, mortar attacks or kidnappings for Iraq’s people created a sense of paranoia that I couldn’t possibly imagine living with on a daily basis. I was eventually going to be leaving the country on a military embed. The Iraqis who told me about their hopes for the future would stay behind.

When asked, “What do you see for the future of Iraq now that the United States military is leaving the country?”, fishmonger Saad Moslem replied, “Iraq is more stable now. I hope everything is going to be fine. All depends on God. In my neighborhood there is no electricity, no water. We have to buy water to drink. Hopefully nothing will happen.”

So I decided in my daily work to ask that same question of the people who were going to be part of this moment in history:

One last time in Afghanistan

One of the responsibilities of Reuters picture coverage in Washington, besides the White House, Capitol Hill and the State Department, is the Pentagon. As the top-level cabinet secretaries travel overseas, Reuters, along with other agencies The Associated Press, Agence France Press and Getty Images cover these trips on a rotational basis.

In the 4- ½ years serving as Secretary of Defense under two Presidents, Robert Gates’ made his 12th and final trip to Afghanistan this week, primarily to thank the troops for their service one last time. Fortunately for me, it was Reuters’ turn to embark on this historic journey. As we circled the earth clockwise via Hawaii and Singapore and eventually onto Brussels for a NATO Summit, Gates touched down in Kabul on June 4th and began three days of extensive travel around Afghanistan, via Blackhawk helicopter, C-17s and Osprey aircraft over the scorching desert in the south and mountainous east of the country.

As a Washington-based photographer more accustomed to mundane political assignments where making a great and memorable picture is akin to creating a “silk purse out of a sow’s ear”, I relish the chance to mix it up and cover the “real world” outside the Washington beltway. Yes, the Secretary of Defense trips are insanely long (11 days this time) and force you to work in some difficult environments, but I love them because you are given a little more access behind the scenes and are generally allowed almost as much freedom to move around as the Secretary’s own Pentagon photographer, the only other on the trip. In getting the best pictures, access is everything.

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