From the outskirts of the Holy city of Najaf, an American anti-tank missile is fired at an Iraqi defensive position. A cloud of debris and smoke erupts into the air.
Sitting on the bonnet of a Humvee, a young lieutenant from the 101st airborne brigade whoops with pleasure.
“That’s for 9/11, that’s for WMD, mother*******!” he screamed.
I knew him quite well by now, we had been embedded with the 101st for weeks, and I was to stay with them for three months.
I walked over to him, and I said: “Mate, Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11 and I’ll bet my house there aren’t any weapons of mass destruction (WMD).”
“Bullshit man,” he replied. It wasn’t of course, and they never found any WMD.
Within 24 hours the same lieutenant and his entire company were forced to take a knee, turn their weapons upside down, and then slowly retreat from a baying mob of Shia men who had taken to the streets to protect their city and the holy “Mosque of Ali”, one of the most important shrines to Shia Muslims, from American forces.
I filed my story, and through a crackling satellite phone spoke to Sky’s then head of news Nick Pollard. He was as astonished as I was that the American forces, within days of the start of the war, were forced to retreat from Najaf.
I thought it at the time, but 20 years on I can see that one incident was effectively a metaphor for a campaign conceived on dodgy intelligence, pushed through with hubris; a campaign that ultimately brought death, destruction, and chaos to Iraq.
The likely intentional doctrine of allowing chaos while dismantling the structures of the state, dreamt up by the then US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and the then Vice President Dick Cheney, condemned Iraq to violence, and economic and political turmoil ever since.
I remember us filming as the American soldiers watched on while civilians rampaged through Iraqi military bases, taking home thousands of weapons, and countless rounds of ammunition – the same weapons that would be used against American forces in the coming years.
I’ve covered many wars in the intervening years, I’m in Ukraine now, but what happened in Iraq for a long time at least made my work much more dangerous.
The military embed is out of fashion now, but 20 years ago it allowed journalists to see first-hand what was happening on the ground and to report it live.
I didn’t have a problem being embedded, and my work was never censored, in fact none of the soldiers ever looked at it. I was happy because I knew Sky News had non-embedded colleagues roaming around Iraq, and teams in Baghdad.
But those of us who were embedded with the military, were identified as being part of the military, and as such were a target. Through the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan I remained a target to the militias, and to the Taliban as a result.
Later in Syria, and then again in Iraq with the rise of Islamic State – a terror group born from the 2003 war in Iraq – journalists were seen as fair game for ransom, or symbolic murder.
Before Iraq, covering wars in Chechnya, Georgia, Congo, and Liberia to name a few, we were free to cross lines and report both sides of the story.
Slowly we are returning to that general position, although the war in Ukraine is such that crossing the lines is an impossibility, but Sky News can at least still report from both Kyiv and Moscow.
I’ve never seen anything so completely immoral and unethical as the American administration’s handling of post-war Iraq. Where we are now with western moral judgement utterly diminished, and authoritarian leaders simply able to dismiss truth and facts as lies, and operate with virtual impunity, I believe can be traced back to the start of the Iraq war in 2003.
Twenty years on from then, and 20 plus years on from Afghanistan, I’d argue that the west hasn’t really achieved very much, but it has failed a lot.
And hundreds of thousands have died in the process.