As I continue research into my archives, I rediscovered images I took in Feb.-March 1991, of an EPW camp for Iraqi prisoners, somewhere in south-central Iraq.
(For my more current work, check out my new New York Times story: "Running With the Big Boys" at the "At War" blog.)
My first glimpse of Iraqi POWs probably came on Feb. 25, 1991, in this grainy image taken from the driver's seat of a Humvee as we crawled along MSR Texas on the invasion's second day.
By the time we reached our destination with the XVIII Airborne Corps TOC, the war was over. On one of our day trips, we encountered the EPW camp. While the Geneva Conventions forbid photography of prisoners, we were allowed to take pictures as part of our documentation duties with the XVIII Airborne Corps history office.
From the expressions of the prisoners, I think it's doubtless that they were well-treated, probably in better conditions than they had been living in before then.
From their mismatched uniforms and overall lack of gear, it was difficult to see these men as any kind of 'soldiers.' They were not, however, members of the elite 'Republican Guard.' I assume they were conscripts, forced to fight and happy to surrender first chance they got.
Our own gear seems archaic compared to the turtle-shell armor and high-tech gear soldiers of 2012 carry around. Our flak jackets might have stopped light shrapnel, but not much else. Our LBEs were unweildly, and the straps got in the way of everything. The M-16 was heavy and awkward, and the poor sling design made it difficult to carry at-the-ready.
It was a POW camp, with all the rules. But I doubt anybody wanted to escape. The war was over - instead, the prisoners were happy to pose for pictures and give thumbs-up cheers of "Bush Number One!" as in President George Bush.
On the other hand, they weren't dumb. Their war was over, at least for that day, so why make trouble.
I don't know the religious background of the prisoners. The south was dominated by Shiites, and these prisoners overall good spirits makes me think they already opposed to the Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein, and were assuming we'd finish the job in another month.
If they were 25-years-old in these pictures, they'd only be 37 in 2003, still in their prime as far as fighting age. After all, two Iraqi sergeants major I met in 2009 had been in the Iraqi military in both 1991 and 2003, and plenty of US soldiers were veterans of both conflicts. So maybe these men met up with us again - hope it had the same result for them.
UPDATE: And to see more present-day images from my three trips back to Iraq as an embedded photojournalist from 2007-09, please check out my current Kickstarter project!