mobile-bannertablet-bannerdesktop-banner
An explosion rocks a building in the palace complex of Saddam Hussein, during the U.S. 'Shock and Awe' air raids which marked the beginning of the occupation in Baghdad, Iraq, April 21, 2003. The complex on the banks of the Tigris later became what is now known as the Green Zone and houses both the Iraqi legislation as well as key U.S. installations.
An explosion rocks a building in the palace complex of Saddam Hussein, during the U.S. 'Shock and Awe' air raids which marked the beginning of the occupation in Baghdad, Iraq, April 21, 2003. The complex on the banks of the Tigris later became what is now known as the Green Zone and houses both the Iraqi legislation as well as key U.S. installations.Franco Pagetti—VII
An explosion rocks a building in the palace complex of Saddam Hussein, during the U.S. 'Shock and Awe' air raids which marked the beginning of the occupation in Baghdad, Iraq, April 21, 2003. The complex on the banks of the Tigris later became what is now known as the Green Zone and houses both the Iraqi legislation as well as key U.S. installations.
In the days after coalition forces entered Baghdad, Iraqis toppled and defamed  statues of former President Saddam Hussein April 12, 2003.
A body of a man killed by a US Army sniper, Baghdad, Iraq. April 10, 2003
A wounded Iraqi man in Baghdad hospital after airstrikes in the days following the U.S. bombing of Baghdad, April 4, 2003.
During a sandstorm, Iraqis stand in front of wreckage of a building in the days following the U.S. bombing campaign, Baghdad, Iraq, March 26, 2003.
Iraqis  loot government buildings and Saddam Hussein's Presidential palaces, April 11, 2003, Baghdad, Iraq.
A gilded chair sits in the middle of Saddam Hussein's Palace, destroyed earlier by intensive U.S. aerial bombardment, Baghdad, Iraq, April 12, 2003.
PAG070623IRQ1071.jpg
Soldiers search for militants who were targeting U.S. forces in Baghdad, Iraq, April 12, 2003.
Mourners at a cemetery, Baghdad, Iraq, April 2, 2003.
U.S. soldiers raid a home where they arrested two al Qaeda supporters in Samarra, Iraq, Sept, 28, 2007. This is the last mission for the 'Smash Platoon' before returning to the U.S.
US soldiers search a house for a suspected insurgent. After finding nothing of interest, they reimbursed the family for the damage incurred by grenade attacks,Tal Afar, Dec. 7, 2005.
Soldiers of the 1st Battalion search house to house for insurgents in the Mula'ab disctrict in Ramadi, an insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad, Iraq, March 05, 2005.
Residents watch as Iraqi police inspect the wreckage of a suicide bomb near the home of a prominent Shiite political leader, Baghdad, Iraq, Jan. 18, 2006. Two policemen were killed and five were wounded.
The battle of Fallujah
The battle of Fallujah
During a house to house search for insurgents in Ramadi, a boy cries as his father is taken away by U.S. soldiers, March 07, 2005.
Iraq 2007
A woman holds her child outside her home in the al Doura district of Baghdad, Iraq, June 5, 2007. As sectarian tensions increased, life in Doura became increasingly dangerous when Iraqi National Policemen, former members of the pro-Shiite Badr Brigades, set up a check point outside the neighborhood and began shooting Sunni civilians, including women and children.
Soldiers from the 2nd Platoon 'Smash Platoon', 82nd Airborne Division, perform a target raid in Samarra, Salah ad Din province, Iraq, Sept, 28, 2007.
Sahar Ashour Nema, a Shi'ite refugee in Baghdad's al-Shulla neighborhood. She and her family were driven out of their home by their Sunni neighbors. Two years earlier her husband was killed by Sunni terrorists, Baghdad, March 2, 2006.
After the attack on a Sunni mosque. these Shia men loyal to Moqtada Sadr, helped protect it, Baghdad, Iraq March 2, 2006.
A double exposure photo of a Sunni woman  and her identity card in the Sunni Adhamiyah neighborhood of Baghdad, Iraq,  Jan. 21,  2007. During the height of the civil war, as the city divided along sectarian lines, a Sunni or Shia name appearing on an identify card could result in death sentence.
A double exposure portrait of a Sunni student with his identity card in the Sunni Adhamiya neighborhood, Baghdad, Iraq January 22, 2007.During the height of the civil war, as the city divided along sectarian lines, a Sunni or Shia name appearing on an identify card could result in death sentence.
A Shi'ite woman in her home, Baghdad Feb.15, 2007. Where Iraqis of different faiths once mixed and lived next to each other, as the country erupted into civil war, people of different faiths rarely associated with former neighbors.
A mortar struck this van, killing five people in the Sunni Adhamiya neighborhood of Baghdad, Iraq, Jan. 31, 2007.
The reality of 10-months emtombed in a concrete hole hits home as a small band of US hostage negotiator specialists, led by Navy SEAL Dan O'Shea, conducts a lightening inspecton of the farmhouse deep in insurgent-controlled territory south of Baghdad where American contractor Roy Hallums was imprisoned. Because of unceasing insurgent activity in the area the US Embassy Hostage Working Group's on-site investigation began with a Blackhawk helicopter insertion of the five-man team in a field adjoining the hostage-taker's house. O'Shea led the his fellow hostage negotiator Erik Rye, a bomb disposal expert and two army camermen used to document the crime scene quickly into the compound, giving enough time for a speedy recovery of evidence as Abrams tanks and Apache attack helicopters menaced nearby to provide cover. Before their hasty helicopter extraction from a pre-arranged rendez-vous point, the hostage specialists recorded: how the seal on Hallum's compartment was poured with concrete which was only infrequently broken open by the kidnappers to pass food and water before being concreted over again; that insurgents had returned and maintained the site in the TK weeks since Hallum's TK rescue; and that patrolling US forces had been within metres of the farmhouse, if not actually standing on the floor above Hallum's hell-hole, only a week before the rescue, the first successful Special Forces rescue of a western hostage. These exclusive pictures show the harrowing 4.5 ft high and 6ft wide dimensions of the concrete hole where Hallum survived for TK days.
During the massive U.S. attack on the al Qaeda stronghold of Tall Afar,  Iraq, U.S. Special Forces engaged in heavy combat with insurgents who launched RPGs from rooftops, Sept. 4, 2005.
Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion search a home in the town of Al Arasa, located on the outskirts of Muqdadiyah, Diyala province, Iraq on Oct. 6, 2007. The area, approximately 56 miles (90 kilometers) north of Baghdad, is a known al Qaeda stronghold.
A mother cries for her seriously ill daughter at the local hospital, which was closed after insurgents attacked it, in the al Qaeda stronghold of Muqdadiyah, Diyala province, Iraq, Oct. 3, 2007.
A body rests on a gurney at the Yarmouk hospital morgue in Baghdad, Iraq on July 26, 2006. People make a pilgrimage here every day in search of lost relatives that have disappeared during the night. In the previous night, 19 bodies were found in different neighborhoods throughout the city as a result of the sectarian bloodshed that is plaguing the country.
Large bronze heroic statues that once decorated Saddam Hussein's al Salam (peace palace) palace sits in ruins in Baghdad, Iraq, July 13, 2006.
Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion Alpha Company rest between home searches on the outskirts of Muqdadiyah, Diyala province, Iraq, Oct. 6, 2007. The area, approximately 56 miles (90 kilometers) north of Baghdad, is a known as al Qaeda stronghold.
Baghdad  Iraq October 17  2008
Power and satellite cables crowd the space between apartment complexes near Karada Jauwa, a traditional trade and market place in the Karada neighborhood of central Baghdad, Iraq, Oct. 16, 2008.  Karada, had been one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Baghdad just a few months earlier with daily car bombs and mortar attacks.
An explosion rocks a building in the palace complex of Saddam Hussein, during the U.S. 'Shock and Awe' air raids which m
... VIEW MORE

Franco Pagetti—VII
1 of 35

How One Photographer Aims to Make Sense of the Iraq War

More than a movie about Italian photographer Franco Pagetti’s work, the short documentary Shooting War (23 minutes) is a lesson in practicing critical visual literacy. Beyond the photographer himself, several people chime in, including Alice Gabriner, International Photo Editor at TIME who assigned the VII photographer to cover the war in Iraq from 2003 until the end of 2008, and Sara Farhan, a History Ph.D. candidate at York University in Toronto. As the three of them deconstruct Pagetti’s images, layers of meaning are progressively revealed, and several questions regarding the coverage of the conflict emerge.

“Everybody can look at a picture and bring a complete different meaning to it,” believes Aeyliya Husain, the movie’s director. “The notion that you don’t need captions because photography is a universal language is a lie. Without language attached to them, any of these photos could be misinterpreted or used as propaganda. And also, the back-story could be entirely forgotten. Take that photo of Alan Kurdi; it moved millions, and ten years from now, it will be the one people remember. But, I fear that the events that led to this image, that led to the refugee crisis will be lost.”

This fascination for the duality of images – their power to profoundly impact viewers as well as their limitations – drove Husain, who is Iraqi and lives in Toronto, to reach out to photographers who had covered the American intervention in her homeland. The intent: to interrogate the role photos played in our understanding of the situation in the country. She settled on Pagetti because of his unique perspective: “On the one hand, as someone who disagrees with the invasion, he wasn’t pandering to the United States’ position. Yet, at the same time, since he was embedded with the American army, he wasn’t photographing from an Iraqi point of view either. He stood somewhere in the middle,” she says.

Not only this, but his work also exposes the theatrics of wars. “The bombs they dropped on the so-called ‘green zone’ during the first three days, from March 21 to March 23, 2003, were incredibly scenographic," says Pagetti. "There were producing a lot of flames. I felt like I was watching a Hollywood war movie. Once the images of those strikes had graced every magazine cover, the American army seemed to change their style. Bombs were still exploding, but all you would see is some smoke. It was as if the initial strikes were intended for the TV, to show how powerful the United States were." And then, the fighting on the ground began.

Iraq 2007U.S. soldiers arrest a group of suspected Madhi Army members, including this man, in the Shi'te district of Shaab, Baghdad, Iraq, May 28, 2007. The men were accused of kidnapping and killing a Sunni man.  Franco Pagetti—VII for TIME 

These tensions are explained through commentary on two of the thousands of pictures he produced over the course of six years. The first shows an Iraqi man kneeling against a wall in his home, surrounded by American soldiers holding him at gunpoint. Reminiscent of Goya’s painting “The Third of May 1808” – in which captives are facing a firing squad – the image convey the violence of the moment, while the guns’ flashlight resemble a theater spotlight, giving it a surreal feel. In the documentary, Pagetti muses about what the photograph reveals about who – the servicemen – or what – the firearms – holds power, while Farhan considers what it says about the deliberate targeting of able-bodied adult men. The second image focuses on a young boy wailing as his father is taken away by American soldiers to be interrogated. “Though there’s no physical destruction, no shooting, no wounded, there’s emotional destruction,” reflects the veteran photojournalist. This kid will remember that day forever. He knew he was losing something important. He was seeing the collapse of the stability of his future.”

Throughout his time in Iraq, Pagetti was hoping to humanize the conflict taking place in what seems to many in the Western hemisphere as a faraway land, in a bid that the public would care more. In many ways, the short documentary continues that work by providing the audience with the tools to interpret what they see in his images.

Franco Pagetti is a photographer based in Italy. He is represented by VII Photo.

Alice Gabriner, who edited this photo essay, is TIME's International Photo Editor.

Laurence Butet-Roch is a freelance writer, photo editor and photographer based in Toronto, Canada. She is a member of the Boreal Collective.

TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.