People are more scared of cameras here than they are of guns. I always wonder if the Americans’ fear of journalism and journalists has actually kind of become the Iraqis’ fear of journalists and cameras. I can’t even carry a camera down the street these days without someone from the Iraqi military stopping me and harassing me. I showed up at a car bomb scene and it started getting so violent. They would push you, smack you. Someone took a piece of metal and swung it at me. I mean, I have been slapped. It’s been insane. In 2005, there were several suicide bombings, one after another, one day in Karbala. We hear the bombs going off and myself and the reporter, of course, our initial reaction is to take pictures. I wasn’t with the military. I was dressed in an abaya. That’s just how I deal with it, and it was horrible—the bombing scene, blood everywhere and people being carted off in wheelbarrows with no legs and just like hell. I started taking pictures and before I knew it I was lifted off the ground and pinned against a wall, and there was one person and he was screaming at me and I remember the look in his eyes like, “He’s going to kill me, he’s going to just fucking kill me,” because they are just so upset, they just saw tons of people reduced to nothing. And there was one person doing this and suddenly there were just fifty people doing that to me. That whole mob mentality. And luckily, I was with a reporter who spoke Arabic and he told them, “She’s my wife, she’s my wife, you have to respect her.” And slowly, that humanized me to some extent; so slowly, after a lot of talking, they let me go. That was probably the scariest thing that has ever happened to me—“You have a camera, you are the reason why this is happening, so we are attacking you.”

It wasn’t that way in 2003 or ’04. I remember people wanting me to take pictures of car bombs because they were like, “This is freedom, this is what the Americans are bringing to Iraq!” And then, suddenly, the media became the problem and I don’t know how or why that happened exactly. After talking this mob down, the reporter and I walked away and it took another half hour to get my cameras back, which we did, which is unbelievable. There was some kind man in the crowd who helped us. And then we walked away and the guy who initially grabbed me found us again and I was like shaking at this point, I couldn’t, I couldn’t think. And he grabbed us and he was like, “I understand now, you’re journalists, you must take pictures of this.” And so he grabbed us and he took us around for an hour, and made me take pictures of every little piece of flesh. Or like a tooth. Or an eye. Or brains. Which is just as traumatic almost. I was like, “No one is going to use these pictures,” and I am taking pictures of all the little tiny bits of body parts, under the supervision of this guy who almost killed me. It was just the craziest thing. To this day, I hear a bombing and I barely go out to cover it.

No Regrets
The military really is a guy culture. And they almost don’t know what to do with us [women] when we embed with them. And you’re stuck in like, supply closets, living by yourself. Or with some FOBs that are actually dangerous. I have had to live in tiny, half-fallen shacks. Far away from where all the men are, no sand bags, in the middle of nowhere. I mean, it’s tough for women in Iraqi culture, too. I’ve had men slap me and tell me, “Woman, no.” Actually, quite a few times I have had [American] guys on embeds flat out tell me, “You’re a woman, you shouldn’t be here.” Female soldiers aren’t allowed on the front lines. But we are. We’re the only women on the front lines of any war. It’s kind of incredible. And as a photographer, we’re right there up front. I have had to earn the trust of people. I have to prove myself to be hardcore, that I can actually do it. I have probably more experience than most of the guys. But also, they won’t respect you if you completely give up your femininity. So you can’t be like completely butch. I am just kind of a shadow or something.

Michael Kamber is a contract photographer and writer for The New York Times who has chronicled many of the world's major conflicts over the last decade. His interview with Bruce is part of his forthcoming book, the working title of which is Uncensored: A Photojournalists' Oral History of the Iraq War. It is due out in 2012 from the University of Texas Press.