Simulating Iraq

Claire Beckett

2006 - 2017

California, United States

“Simulating Iraq” examines the depiction of Arabs and Muslims within American military training. I made these photographs on military bases inside the United States, in training environments which replicated the places where American troops would be deployed. This project questions how we Americans interact with and understand our place in the world. These training environments take on an amalgamated identity, not American, not Iraqi, not Afghani. The military may see them as replications of specific places—say Helmand Provence, Afghanistan—but I understand them as spaces of their own. The setting depicted here is that of the “Other,” of the non-White, non-Christian, non-Democratic.

Prior to becoming a photographer, I served with the Peace Corps in Benin, West Africa. There I lived in a village of comingled Christians, Muslims and Vodun practitioners. The peaceful coexistence of these groups presented a starkly different understanding inter-religious relations than that which I saw in post-9/11 America. In Benin I also witnessed the American invasion of Iraq. Filtering the wars through the lens of my local friends, who questioned me endlessly about why my country was killing innocent civilians, I developed a political consciousness about America in the world that has shaped my work ever since.

With this project I want to draw attention to the problematic depiction of “cultural others” in military training, and to challenge their implicit assumption of American cultural superiority. The project also includes ephemeral materials created by the military for the purpose of teaching troops about the languages and cultures of Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East. I’m interested in their expression of both American imperial power and individual soldier’s efforts to learn about the cultures in which they deploy. In 2021 this work takes on a new urgency as we grapple with historic systems of oppression that shape our world.

The photographs in this series were made with a 4”x5” view camera and are printed 30”x40.” The work also exists as a yet-unpublished book comprised of 50 photographs.

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  • Civilian Afghan-Americans playing the role of Afghan villagers

  • Civilian Joshua Osborne playing the role of an Iraqi civilian

  • Medina Wasl Village

  • Army Specialist Gary Louis Sims playing the role of a member of Al-Qaeda in Iraq

  • American civilians playing the role of Iraqi village women

  • Marine Major John Cowait playing the role of a warlord holding a terrorist training camp

  • Jabal Town

  • Army Specialist Gary McCorkle playing the role of terrorist “Jibril Ihsan Hamal"

  • Above Medina Jabal

  • Civilian Afghan-American women playing the role of Afghan villagers

  • Civilian Krista Galyean playing the role of an American Marine injured in an IED blast

  • Shi'a Mosque

  • Butcher shop

  • Sargent Ariel Combs, the lead insurgent in Tiefort City

  • SPCs John Griffin and Bobby Kirby playing the roles of members of the Madhi Army

  • Civilian Joshua Wood, playing the role of an Iraqi civilian

  • Civilian Jill Marie Jamie playing the role of Iraqi civilian “Izdahar Kadeem Shihab"

  • Marine Lance Corporal Joshua Stevens playing the role of a Taliban fighter

  • Sgt John Sexon, LCpl Cameron Stark and LCpl Joshua Stevens playing the role of Taliban fighters

  • Tiefort City Church (formerly the Jabal Mosque)