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Rehabilitating victims of Iraq violence

Veteran photojournalist Spencer Platt just returned from Iraq and took time to share images and his perspectives with us. Platt has been covering Iraq since the American-led invasion in 2003. His understanding and compassion for the people he photographs is apparent by looking at his work.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Samera Kamal, 10, participates in a class with other young victims of Iraq violence at a program operated by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) on July 28, in Amman, Jordan. Samera, who is from the Iraqi city of Fallujah, was severely burned following a car bomb when she was walking to the market. MSF has been running a reconstructive-surgery program for war-wounded Iraqis since August 2006. The program, which helps Iraqis irrespective of age or ethnic/religious background, has thus far attended to roughly 1,500 cases. MSF was forced to pull out of Iraq in 2004 due to the escalating violence in the country. Following the years of violence in the country, the state of medical care in Iraq is poor. There is a chronic shortage of doctors and nurses and much of the country's hospitals are using outdated and damaged equipment.

JW: What significance does photographing a story like this have for you as someone who has seen firsthand the events play out in Iraq over time?

SP: I have been covering Iraq since the American led invasion in 2003 so there are many memories and strong feelings associated with the country for me. I tend to see Iraq through the kaleidoscope of sadness and violence that I have witnessed over the years and it is sometimes hard for me to see the beauty that is present if you only look for it. It is a difficult and complex country and as a photojournalist,  you need to be brutally honest about what you are seeing. And with all you are witnessing, the photographer must recognize what [story] demands to be covered and viewed by a Western media audience that has preconceived ideas about Iraq.

In many ways the photojournalist is a window into Iraq for millions of news consumers who will never set foot in the country; for me that is a huge responsibility to get the story right and to keep it balanced. My primary concern is to keep Iraq in the news, to not let the world forget about it or the millions of Iraqis whose lives have been altered by American foreign policy.

I think we as Americans have a responsibility to keep informed about the country and start on the path of a new relationship, a post-war relationship with the Iraqi people. What I can say from my experience on this last trip is that Iraqis have a general fondness for America and Americans. While it would be naive to say they have gotten over the war I can say that many are ready to forge ahead and open a new chapter in their country`s history.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Makki Ali, 58, participates in physical therapy at a program for victims of Iraq violence, on July 28. Ali was injured in Baghdad in a truck bombing near an American base.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Khaled Hashem, 35, participates in physical therapy at the Red Crescent Hospital for victims of Iraq violence, on July 28, in Amman, Jordan. Hashem was shot in the thigh after American soldiers fired randomly in a street during an attack in 2007.

JW: How did you find the story?

SP: I have had a good relationship with the NGO, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), for over a decade now. It is a relationship that is unique in the sense that they appreciate the exposure that a media organization like Getty Images can bring to an issue and I profit from the access they provide me on some of their projects.

My friend, Michael Goldfarb, who works in the MSF New York office, knew that I was in Iraq and suggested I visit their reconstructive surgery project on my way out of Iraq. It had been something we had discussed years ago, so I was happy that it could finally work out. I think it was a good counterbalance to some of the other issues I covered in Iraq in that it gave a personal narrative to the violence and emphasized that. With all the talk of a military draw down, for many Iraqis the legacy of the war will be forever present.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Falah Hindi participates in physical therapy at a program for victims of Iraq violence, where Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) operates a reconstructive-surgery clinic, on July 28. Hindi injured his leg in a car bombing in Baghdad.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

The hands of Khitam Hamad, 12, bear scars as she participates in a class with other young victims of Iraq violence on July 28. Khitam, who is from the Iraqi city of Fallujah, was severally burned following a car bomb when she was walking with her sister.

JW: Out of the images you took, which stands out or resonates with you above the others?

While it was emotionally difficult to shoot some of the pictures, I would continually remind myself that this doesn’t need to be a depressing story. As a photojournalist, I think we have to always offer our viewers a little bit of hope, a ray of light. The image of the young girl Sonor Darweesh encapsulates this idea for me. While her face is severely disfigured due to a car bomb, she seems to have transcended these wounds in that her personality is that of a curious and shy seven year old girl. She looked right at me and gave me a smile, a smile that serves as a rejection of the values and ideas that fuel the hatred of extremists.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Sonor Darweesh, 7, of Kirkuk, Iraq smiles while participating in a class with other young victims of Iraq violence, on July 28. Darweesh was injured in an explosion which killed her sister.

Check back for more of Platt's and other photographers' dispatches from around the globe, or get a feel for what it's like to be behind the lens here.