photo and recollection by Zoriah Miller
In the summer of 2007 I was based at a tiny Joint Security Station (JSS) in Baghdad’s Ghazaliya neighborhood. It was infamous at the time for being extremely violent and still plagued with roaming death squads and insurgents, and prone to bombings, rocket attacks and sniper fire.
The JSS was a small cluster of Iraqi homes that had been “requisitioned” by the U.S. Army and was being shared by both U.S. and Iraqi military forces. The homes had an otherworldly feel about them, with their large columns, front lawns and ornate interiors. There was something [[special? calming? bizarre?]] about this small taste of luxury in the middle of a war zone; a palace with windows packed with sand bags, whose roof was home to snipers and .50 caliber machine guns.
It made me wonder what it had been like a few years before — who lived there, what where their lives like and how different those lives were from those of the troops occupying the space beneath its roofs.
I happened to be living in the home, embedded with U.S. troops on July 4, which is America’s Independence Day. There was a different feeling in the air leading up to this day and everyone seemed almost happy. An armored convoy of tanks and fighting vehicles rolled up in the morning and delivered a barbecue feast, which was closely guarded until the afternoon. When the baby-pool was blown up and filled, and the non-alcoholic beer was being distributed, a soldier and I noticed the writing on boxes of food: “U.S. Beef — Military and Prison Grade ONLY.” We laughed and pointed it out to a few others, whose reactions ranged from amused to infuriated.
This photo was taken that evening, after we had eaten a nice meal and played football (soccer) with the Iraqi soldiers. As we all stood around talking and munching on Fica’s (the Iraqi equivalent of Lay’s Potato Chips) the calmness of the night was shattered by an explosion directly above our heads. We all hit the ground and began to scramble. Then we heard laughter. The soldiers had come up with a few fireworks and when they ran out they dug into their supply of flares and shot them out of the grenade launchers on their M-4 assault rifles. I set my camera up and caught this long exposure.
(Technical: This was shot wide, at 16mm with an 8-second exposure at f/2.8. My ISO rating was 500. No tripod was used, just a portion of a brick fence to prop up the camera and a rock underneath the lens to give it a good angle.)