Two hours into the celebration, after the children had finished scurrying about the garden, the adults had gossiped under the portico and everyone had indulged in a buffet of hummus and kebabs, Washington Post photographer Bill O’Leary clambered onto the roof of the villa serving as The Post’s bureau in Baghdad.
“Let’s take a group photo,” he beckoned.
And so they gathered. The interpreters, drivers and guards. Their wives. Their sons and daughters. Sixty-eight in all, standing between two palm trees under a gray autumn sky.
It was 2003. U.S. troops had entered Baghdad that April, and although Saddam Hussein was no longer in power, the Americans had not yet delivered upon grand promises to rebuild the nation. Most in O’Leary’s frame had no electricity at home. Looters roamed their streets. Many had not been to a party in years — they hadn’t had the means to entertain while Iraq’s economy was smothered by a trade embargo.
But as the shutter clicked, they smiled. Some thought back to their carefree childhoods, before years of war and suffocating sanctions. Others allowed their minds to wander ahead. The day’s gaiety seemed a harbinger of more joyous times.
After the photo session, the youngsters resumed playing table tennis and bouncing balloons into the air. “They are so lucky,” one of the drivers declared. “They will get to grow up in an Iraq free of war.”
Rajiv Chandrasekaran traveled across the U.S. and reconnected with eight of the Iraqi staffers (listed in the photo above) who worked for The Washington Post’s bureau in Baghdad. They risked their family’s safety and their own lives helping an American news organization during the war in Iraq. Read the full story here.