Print and Image by Dimiter Kenarov, for the Pulitzer Center
4:00 AM: Under the quarter moon, in the high beams of their armored vehicles, US soldiers are gearing up for the most important day of the Iraq War. Seven years ago, this month, the United States and its "Coalition of the Willing" invaded in a bid to oust Saddam Hussein and seize his cache of weapons of mass destruction. When WMDs turned out to be a mirage, bringing democracy to Iraq became the war's new raison d'être. Seven years after the beginning of the war, on March 7, 2010, the reality of Iraqi democracy is put to the test.
Light streaks the eastern horizon. The ghosts of date palms and eucalyptus trees come out of hiding. Somebody adjusts the straps of his Kevlar. Humvees and MRAPs are growling, impatient like hungry dogs. Then the troops gather in a circle for their mission brief and prayer. "Guys, today is the most important day you're gonna have," says Captain Barr, a man with the countenance of a child. Faces are serious, lost in thought. So this is it. The Big Day. If everything goes well today, we will all finally get to go home. When the convoy rolls out, the only thing missing is a marching band and a cheerleader twirling a baton...