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Visions of the Decade: One Night in Tal Afar, 2005

Visions of the Decade: One Night in Tal Afar, 2005

© All photos by Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Among the photos readers of PDNOnline voted as among the most influential photos of the decade was this series taken in 2005  by Chris Hondros as he accompanied a US battalion in Iraq. Below, Hondros shares the story of what happened after the images were published around the world, and the fate of the boy injured in the incident.

TAL AFAR, IRAQ – JANUARY 18, 2005:  US Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division out of Ft. Lewis, Washington approach a car while a wounded boy tumbles out after shooting it when it failed to stop and came toward soldiers despite warning shots during a dusk patrol  in Tal Afar, Iraq.   The car, which held a frightened Iraqi family, was riddled with bullets and the mother and father were killed.  Their five children survived in the backseat, one with a non-life threatening flesh wound.

An Iraqi boy is treated for a flesh wound in the back.

A terrified Iraqi girl screams after her parents were killed.

 Iraqi children cry after their parents were killed.

  A terrified Iraqi girl screams while a soldier checks her for wounds after her parents were killed.

Five years later, Hondros says he’s received emails and letters about the images from people around the world, but his feelings about the photos are “mixed.”

I think some well-meaning people imbued the pictures with expectations they couldn’t possibly live up to, like ending the war in Iraq or even being of much help to the orphans themselves.  Yes, the family’s oldest boy, 12-year-old Racan, was seriously wounded in the incident and was indeed flown to the United States for medical treatment as a result of the outcry these pictures prompted.  But then he was returned back to Iraq at his family’s behest, and a few years later, tragically, he ended up getting murdered by insurgents in his new home.  We don’t know if the attack was tied to the high-profile incident and to his receiving medical care in America.   But I suspect that it was.

“When I give talks or lectures people often ask me my personal feelings about war, usually I dodge the question.  Sometimes I say that I don’t expect my pictures to stop wars, but rather I hope they help citizens to understand what going to war means.  On that level at least I think the Tal Afar pictures fulfill my goals as a photographer; for they shine a rare and unsparing light onto war’s brutal-yet-routine realities.  And people should know about them.

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  1. viewing these images again still pisses me off so much. causes me to see red. the rage and hatred i feel toward the usa, its war criminals and oil stealing bastard corporations, politicians and military makes me wish, just for one day, i had the power and might to cause them extreme pain and then wipe them from the face of the earth.

    and the majority of the evil bastards behind this Crime Against Iraq and its People are still running around free, and rich to boot.

  2. Does it make you as mad as images from suicide bombers walking into a packed mosque , or market, or an ice cream shop? Just curious, honestly.

  3. Pisses you off? Enough to cause you to act, or just pine about it online? Pick up a weapon and join the fight. But when an American soldier tells you to stop, don’t keep going and blow them off, or suffer the same fate as the stupid, arrogant Eyeracky bastards in the pics. Its serious business, war. Your ‘rage’ is a pathetic attempt to cover your feelings of helplessness due to stupidity or more than likely, cowardice. Wake up stupid.

  4. Thanks to you for this essential info. Where I can get more information about this writting? I have a presentation incoming this week and your writting is related with it.

  5. Seria tão difícil perceber quão estúpida é qualquer guerra?, que o ódio inspira mais ódio, que nenhum preparo, trainamento, motivo ou causa, restabelece a paz e preserva a vida e inocentes. Que motivos espúrios pode justificar este momentos terríveis de sofrimento e dor pessoal de cada soldado e criança nestas fotos. Pelas palavras finais de Hondros (in memorian), “for they shine a rare and unsparing light onto war’s brutal-yet-routine realities. And people should know about them.” são apenas “flatus voicis”, vazias para vocês?

    Na guerra, ou se tem sangue na garganta ou nas mãos. E não há vencedores.

    It would be so hard to see how stupid is no war?, that hatred inspires more hatred, no preparation, TraInIng, reason or cause, restore peace and preserve life and innocent. The spurious grounds that could justify this terrible moments of suffering and personal pain of every soldier and child in these photos. For the final words of Hondros (in memoriam), “They are rare and shine the light onto unsparing war’s brutal-yet-routine realities. And people Should Know about them. ” are only “flatus Voices, empty for you guys?

    In war, or have blood in my throat or hands. And there are no winners.

  6. I downloaded this blood spattered little Iraqi girl, terrified and grief stricken many yrs.ago as it made such an impression on me.This shall always be a symbol of human greed with impunity.Millions of civilians are always caught up in the futility of global warring.This conflict specifically to control energy resources of the middle east.
    With “liberators” not even able to comfort this child.
    I hope & trust this image shall haunt them forever & ever.
    Chris we all owe you a great debt.

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