AP PHOTOS: Iraqis seek tattoos to cover scars of war

BAGHDAD (AP) — The tattoos across Saad Khudeir's body conceal the Iraqi soldier's scars and reveal his unseen wounds.

The face of his fiancee, who was killed in a car bomb near his Baghdad home in 2008, looks up from his right arm. Four years later, a suicide bomber rammed his army convoy in Fallujah, leaving burns across 70 percent of his body.

He survived both bombings, but was left with gruesome scars.

"People stared at me, and sometimes I felt they were scared of me at the swimming pool," the 36-year-old said.

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Iraqis seek tattoos to cover scars of war
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Iraqis seek tattoos to cover scars of war
In this Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018 photo, Iraqi soldier Saad Khudeir displays his tattoo on his body to cover scars of the burns he suffered from a car bomb, in Baghdad, Iraq. In 2008, Khudeir lost his fiancee and suffered burns on his body when a car bomb went off near his home in Sadr City, a district on the eastern side of the capital. Four years later, he endured burns in nearly 70 percent of his body when a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into his convoy in the then restive city of Fallujah.(AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
In this Monday. Oct. 22, 2018, Iraqi soldier Saad Khudeir displays his tattoo on his body to cover scars of the burns he suffered from a car bomb, in Baghdad, Iraq. In 2008, Khudeir lost his fiancee and suffered burns on his body when a car bomb went off near his home in Sadr City, a district on the eastern side of the capital. Four years later, he endured burns in nearly 70 percent of his body when a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into his convoy in the then restive city of Fallujah.(AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
In this Wednesday. Oct. 24, 2018, Iraqi soldier Saad Khudeir displays his tattoo on his body to cover scars of the burns he suffered from a car bomb, in Baghdad, Iraq. In 2008, Khudeir lost his fiancee and suffered burns on his body when a car bomb went off near his home in Sadr City, a district on the eastern side of the capital. Four years later, he endured burns in nearly 70 percent of his body when a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into his convoy in the then restive city of Fallujah.(AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
In this Wednesday. Oct. 24, 2018, photo, Iraqi soldier Saad Khudeir displays tattoos on his leg to cover scars of the burns he suffered in a car bombing, in Baghdad, Iraq. “People stared at me and sometime I felt they were scared of me at the swimming pool,” Khudeir, 36, told The Associated Press, recalling how he decided to cover up his scars to for a better appearance. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
In this Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, Iraqi soldier Saad Khudeir displays his tattoo on his body to cover scars of the burns he suffered from a car bomb, in Baghdad, Iraq. In 2008, Khudeir lost his fiancee and suffered burns on his body when a car bomb went off near his home in Sadr City, a district on the eastern side of the capital. Four years later, he endured burns in nearly 70 percent of his body when a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into his convoy in the then restive city of Fallujah.(AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
In this Wednesday. Oct. 24, 2018, Iraqi soldier Saad Khudeir displays tattoos on his body to cover scars of the burns he was injured in a car bomb, in Baghdad, Iraq. In 2008, Khudeir lost his fiancee and suffered burns on his body when a car bomb went off near his home in Sadr City, a district on the eastern side of the capital. Four years later, he endured burns in nearly 70 percent of his body when a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into his convoy in the then restive city of Fallujah.(AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
In this Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, photo, Iraqi soldier Saad Khudeir displays his tattoo on his leg covering scars of the burns he suffered in a car bomb attack, in Baghdad, Iraq. The tattoos run all over his body. They are not only to hide his war scars, but also to document his emotional ones.(AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
In this Wednesday. Oct. 24, 2018, photo, Iraqi soldier Saad Khudeir displays a tattoo on his leg to cover scars of the burns he suffered in a car bombing, in Baghdad, Iraq. “I don’t want just to cover my wounds, but also to tell the story behind my physical and emotional ones,” he said. “Through Christian icons, I want to say that there is no difference between Muslim and Christians, and the flames explain the fire still raging inside me for my loss,” he added. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
In this Tuesday. Oct. 23, 2018, photo, a man gets a tattoo on his arm in a tattoo studio in Baghdad, Iraq. One tattoo shop owner said he receives an average of 20 persons a year who want to cover their scars with tattoos, a nearly 30 percent increase from last year.(AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
In this Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, photo, an Iraqi soldier Saad Khudeir displays his tattoos that cover scars of the burns he suffered in a car bombing, in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
In this Tuesday. Oct. 23, 2018, photo, Zuhair Atwan displays tattoo of his brother, who was killed in sectarian violence, in a tattoo studio in Baghdad, Iraq. The Arabic sentence on his arm reads, "Oh life, where is my brother? Your absence hurts me, oh Abbas." (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
In this Monday. Oct. 22, 2018, Iraqi soldier Saad Khudeir displays his tattoo on his body to cover scars of the burns he suffered from a car bomb, in Baghdad, Iraq. In 2008, Khudeir lost his fiancee and suffered burns on his body when a car bomb went off near his home in Sadr City, a district on the eastern side of the capital. Four years later, he endured burns in nearly 70 percent of his body when a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into his convoy in the then restive city of Fallujah.(AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
In this Wednesday, June 8, 2016 photo, Sgt. Ahmed Kamel, 26, of Iraq's elite counterterrorism forces, rests during the midday heat at a battle position on the southern edge of Fallujah, Iraq. He has three tattoos: the name of his brother, Saadi, who was killed by the Mahdi Army in 2008, the name of a comrade, Namar, who was killed fighting the Islamic State group; and the Iraqi flag. A senior Iraqi commander declared that the city of Fallujah was "fully liberated" from Islamic State group militants on Sunday, June 26, 2016 after a more than monthlong military operation. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
In this Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, photo, Iraqi soldier Ziad Emad gets a tattoo on his arm to cover the wounds he suffered in the battle to oust the Islamic State group from Mosul, at a tattoo studio in Baghdad, Iraq. Aboud Abbas, who owns a tattoo studio, said he receives an average of 20 persons a year who want to cover their scars with tattoos, a nearly 30 percent increase from last year. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
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So over the next four years he spent some $2,500 on tattoos, which now cover most of his body. There is a cross and a staircase, and above it a man representing Jesus flanked by two angels. There are flames and Japanese letters.

"Through Christian icons, I want to say that there is no difference between Muslims and Christians," said Khudeir, who is a Muslim. "The flames express the fire still raging inside me for my loss."

Years of war and unrest have inflicted physical and emotional scars on countless Iraqis. Aboud Abbas, who owns a tattoo studio in Baghdad, said around 20 people have come in this year asking for tattoos to conceal their scars, a 30 percent increase from last year.

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Associated Press writer Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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