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Brian Palmer is a New York-based photographer, writer, and filmmaker who documented three trips to Iraq from 2004-2006. A contributor to Newsday, Fortune, The Village Voice, and The New York Times Magazine, among others, Brian was also a CNN correspondent and Beijing Bureau Chief for US News & World Report.

Soldiers in Iraq
3.31.06
Politics and Economy:
Producer's Notebook: "Embedded" in Iraq
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Brian Palmer

Journalist and filmmaker Brian Palmer shares his experiences in Iraq

Photo Essay


Since the war began, I've spent over four months in Iraq as an "embedded" journalist on three separate trips. Most recently I joined the 1,200 Marines and sailors of Battalion Landing Team 1/2 for four weeks in Anbar Province, one of the most dangerous in Iraq.

My purpose was to report what I witnessed and to struggle to make sense of it, both for myself and for the public at large. I decided to concentrate on video rather than still photographs, in the hopes that moving pictures would capture the immediacy of the marines' experience better than anything else. It was, and continues to be, one of the biggest challenges I've ever faced.

When I returned to Iraq I was quickly reunited with Lance Corporal Seamus Bryan - whose guileless, smooth-as-a-plum face screams, "Kid." The 20-year-old Sarasotan signed his enlistment papers - rather, his parents did - at 17, as a high school senior. This kid also saved my life.

Bryan recalls grabbing me by the back of my flak jacket and propelling me toward a bunker during a mortar attack last year in Iskandariya that killed a Marine and wounded eight. That was Bryan's first mortar attack and mine as well.

Back in the comforts of Brooklyn, New York, this encounter, along with many others, constantly resurface as I reflect on my time in Iraq. I still struggle to make sense of it all and the more I experience in Iraq the more clarity seems to elude me. Below are some excerpts from my blog, where I attempted to capture the experience of living with a group of young American Marines in Iraq ...

I marvel - and sometimes cringe - at the Marines and their strenuous daily efforts to impose rigid American paradigms on this shattered and foreign city and country. A sniper shoots at Marines returning to the firm base from a four-hour patrol, as happened a few days ago. No one sees him, so the Marines round up all the MAMs - military-age males - in the vicinity of the shooting, cuff them, and then interrogate them through a non-Iraqi translator with a loose grasp of English, and whose heavily accented Arabic locals must strain to understand. The grunts treat the "PUCs" - persons under control - rudely and roughly, wrestling them to the ground and cursing them, but they don't hit the men. I feel as if I am watching a bunch of teenagers executing an arrest after watching a season of Cops or Starsky and Hutch reruns. It seems absurd and counterproductive, and such behavior appears to me to bruise Iraqi hearts and minds, not heal them ...

For the most part, the relationship between Iraqi soldiers and American grunts is uneasy. It cannot honestly be called a partnership. The IA is almost completely dependent on the Marines. Americans have literal power over them - bigger and more lethal weapons; aircraft, artillery, and armor; robust stocks of food, vehicles, and logistical support; functional high-tech communications; vastly superior training; and stable institutions with deep reserves of human capital like the Marine Corps itself ...

I look into the disfigured faces of the dead men and try to humanize them, to imagine who they might have been. I know nothing about them, about their lives or their cause. Understanding something, anything, about them, I think, might make me feel something about the terrible carnage around me. I struggle to conjure images of sons and daughters and wives, but I can't. The Marine's bullets, the dead men's eerily unreal gray skin and frozen expressions, plus my own ignorance make it impossible.

For more on Brian Palmer's experience embedded with the 22nd Marines visit his blog.

Send questions for Brian Palmer to NOWWeb@thirteen.org.

We will post some of his responses on NOW's website next week.

View a photo essay from Palmer's time in Iraq.

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