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What We Are Leaving Behind in Iraq
A Photo-Essay produced by Alice and Lincoln Day
Featuring the story and photography of Michael Fitzpatrick

Michael Fitzpatrick is a former U.S. Army Sergeant, deployed in Iraq from March 2004 to March 2005 and then again from October 2006 until January 2008. The 5-year stretch he was there gave him an unusual opportunity to view changes over time in the environment and activities of the American military. Stationed about 12 miles northeast of Baghdad, his duties extended to several patrol bases that operated out of different cities.

Fitzpatrick says that before he went to Iraq, he imagined it would look somewhat like the countryside of rural Northern California where he grew up. News agencies had not prepared him for the dire poverty of the people or the toll that war had exacted on the houses, the infrastructure, the farms, and the land. Everywhere there were damaged buildings and trash littering public places. As he traveled around on patrols he says he kept looking for a place that was clean and well maintained, but never found one.

He was particularly horrified by the scale of military equipment, ordnance, and dangerous munitions that were left lying around, a threat to the safety of American soldiers and to Iraqi children and adults alike. He felt strongly that Americans should be made aware of what was going on: that “they knew how to destroy, they didn’t know how to restore.”

To record what he saw, Fitzpatrick took some 3,000 photos that became the inspiration and basis for this 19-minute photo essay. These provide visual testimony to what has happened and continues to happen to the environment in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan in consequence of sustained foreign military presence. He sums up his deep concerns about the environmental damage that we are leaving behind in this way: “And remind them that all this stuff is just sitting around out there, on everyday land, accessible to anyone. I just walked up on all this stuff and took pictures.”

Fitzpatrick is currently a student at the State University of California (Chico), specializing in philosophy and English language and literature. The Days met him after a screening at the University of their film, Scarred Lands and Wounded Lives --The Environmental Footprint of War. Michael thought that this film captured much of what he had experienced during his Iraq deployment. He turned over his entire “photo library” to the Days to use as they chose. In June 2010, their production team interviewed him on film talking about his impressions of Iraq and then, over the next 6 months, used a selection of his photos to produce this photo-essay.