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With well over a year before American forces pull out of Afghanistan, the conflict there drags on. Every month in The Big Picture, we feature a selection of recent images of events there, from the soldiers and insurgents at war, the people longing for peace, and daily life and culture in the country of 29 million. Afghanistan remains among the world's poorest nations, and struggles with issues not found in other places, like an ongoing fight against polio. Afghanistan still supplies about 90% of the world's opium, a major cash crop in a country with few viable exports. Gathered here are images from April, 2012. -- Lane Turner (33 photos total)
Afghan policemen are mirrored in glass from a broken window as they stand guard outside the building where Taliban fighters launched an attack in Kabul on April 16, 2012. A total of 36 Taliban militants were killed as they mounted a wave of attacks across Afghanistan. (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)

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ashurabombing900.jpg
The 2012 Pulitizer Prize for Breaking News Photography
© Massoud Hossaini of Agence France-Presse

Tarana Akbari, 12, screams in fear moments after a suicide bomber detonated a bomb in a crowd at the Abul Fazel Shrine in Kabul on December 06, 2011. 'When I could stand up, I saw that everybody was around me on the ground, really bloody. I was really, really scared,' said the Tarana, whose name means 'melody' in English. Out of 17 women and children from her family who went to a riverside shrine in Kabul that day to mark the Shiite holy day of Ashura, seven died including her seven-year-old brother Shoaib. More than 70 people lost their lives in all, and at least nine other members of Tarana's family were wounded. The blasts has prompted fears that Afghanistan could see the sort of sectarian violence that has pitched Shiite against Sunni Muslims in Iraq and Pakistan. The attack was the deadliest strike on the capital in three years. President Hamid Karzai said this was the first time insurgents had struck on such an important religious day. The Taliban condemned the attack, which some official viewed as sectarian. On the same day, a second bomber attacked in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Karzai said on December 11 that a total of 80 people were killed in both attacks. Published December 7, 2011.

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The New Year began violently in Afghanistan, with three bombings killing 13 people in one day in Kandahar. In addition, the French Defense minister told soldiers he backed US efforts to open peace talks with the Taliban, and President Obama was in talks about defense priorites as the US military readied for challenges from China and Iran while downplaying any future counterinsurgency efforts like the ones in Afghanistan or Iraq. Meanwhile, the foreign troop withdrawal process continued, as more responsibility was transferred to Afghan security forces. The goal is a complete withdrawal by the end of 2014. -- Lloyd Young (41 photos total)
Afghan policemen march during the transfer of authority from NATO troops to Afghan security forces in Chaghcharan, Ghor province, west of Kabul, Afghanistan on Jan. 4. The security responsibilities of Chaghcharan, the provincial capital of Ghor province is handed over from the NATO forces to Afghan security forces. The process of taking over security from over 130,000-strong NATO-led ISAF forces by Afghan troops would be completed by the end of 2014 when Afghanistan will take over the full leadership of its own security duties from US and NATO forces. (Hoshang Hashimi/Associated Press)

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The United States and allied forces have been in Afghanistan for over ten years, an occupation that approaches the 2014 deadline for a full withdrawal of those forces. As the transition draws closer, problems with security, the economy, and cultural mores are growing even more apparent. Included in this monthly look at Afghanistan are images that highlight these issues, as well as images that point to a more hopeful future. The activist group YoungWomen4Change prepares posters demanding women's rights even as the horrific torture of 15-year-old Sahar Gul, who refused her husband's family's demands that she become a prostitute, came to light. Also included here are images of another Afghan girl, 12-year-old Tarana Akbari, who witnessed the terrible suicide bombing in Kabul that killed at least 80 Shiites during observances of the Ashura holiday. The bombing has raised fears of renewed sectarian violence. -- Lane Turner (37 photos total)
A man feeds pigeons in front of the Shrine of Hazrat Ali, or Blue Mosque, in Mazar-e-Sharif on December 22, 2011. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

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As the War in Afghanistan passes the 10-year mark, the effect of the American withdrawal is already being felt among civilian aid workers, raising anxieties that Afghanistan will be abandoned and that gains will be quickly reversed. Even President Hamid Karzai asked nations at a conference in Germany recently to continue aid to his country for another decade. The United States, which provides two-thirds of all development assistance in Afghanistan, slashed its $4 billion aid budget to $2 billion in the 2011 fiscal year. The budget for 2012 may be cut further. In this post we continue our monthly visit to the country of Afghanistan, its residents and our troops. -- Paula Nelson (47 photos total)
An Afghan woman, holding her baby, walks through a busy street in Kabul, Dec. 5, 2011. A major international conference on December 5 sought ways forward for Afghanistan after the withdrawal of NATO combat troops in 2014. The boycott of two crucial players,Pakistan and the Taliban, dampened hopes of success. The one-day gathering brought around 100 national delegations and aid organizations to the former German capital Bonn. (Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images)

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A man pushes goods past protective blast walls in front of a church on November 30, 2011 in Baghdad, Iraq. Iraq is transitioning as the U.S. military continues its withdrawal from the country by the end of December following the war that began in 2003. Iraqi security officials maintain that they are fully prepared for [...]

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BAGHDAD — In downtown Baghdad, a police headquarters has been painted two shades of purple: lilac and grape. The central bank, a staid building in many countries, is coated in bright red candy cane stripes. Multicolored fluorescent lights cover one of the city’s bridges, creating a Hawaiian luau effect. Blast walls and security checkpoints stick out because they are often painted in hot pink.

Baghdad has weathered invasion, occupation, sectarian warfare and suicide bombers. But now it faces a new scourge: tastelessness.

Iraqi artists and architecture critics who shudder at each new pastel building blame a range of factors for Baghdad’s slide into tackiness: including corruption and government ineptitude, as well as everyday Iraqis who are trying to banish their grim past and are unaccustomed to having the freedom to choose any color they want.

“It’s happening because Iraqis want to get rid of the recent past,” said Caecilia Pieri, the author of “Baghdad Arts Deco: Architectural Brickwork 1920-1950.” “They see the colors as a way of expressing something new, but they don’t know which colors to use. The Arab mentality is that you have to be the owner of your building, and you do what you want with it. But there are no government regulations like in Paris or Rome. It’s anarchy of taste.”

For decades, Saddam Hussein’s government ruled over aesthetics in Iraq’s capital with the same grip it exercised over its people. A committee of artists, architects and designers approved the color of buildings as well as the placement of shrubs. With many beige brick buildings, and color used sparingly — most often on mosques — the city’s appearance was uniform and restrained.

But the committee, like Mr. Hussein’s government, fell apart after the United States invasion in 2003. Some years later, when Iraqis started rebuilding as the violence declined, there was no central arbiter. Bright colors started appearing, and places like the Trade Ministry were done up in pink, orange and yellow.

 Shades of Change in Baghdad

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A block, half restored, is painted with bright colors and designs as part of the city's effort to rebuild Baghdad. Iraqi artists and architecture critics blame the city's tackiness to the everyday Iraqis who are trying to banish their grim past and are unaccustomed to having the freedom to choose any color they want. (Ayman Oghanna/The New York Times) #

 Shades of Change in Baghdad

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The Central Bank of Iraq is refurbished in a red and white pattern as part of the city's effort to rebuild Baghdad. (Ayman Oghanna/The New York Times) #

 Shades of Change in Baghdad

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Blast walls outside the Trade Ministry are painted with bright colors and designs as part of the city's effort to rebuild. (Ayman Oghanna/The New York Times) #

 Shades of Change in Baghdad

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Hussein Ali al-Khafaji, left, and Ra'ad Saadi stand outside Khafaji's art gallery in Baghdad, March 12, 2011. Iraqi artists and architecture critics blame the city's tackiness to the everyday Iraqis who are trying to banish their grim past and are unaccustomed to having the freedom to choose any color they want. (Ayman Oghanna/The New York Times) #

 Shades of Change in Baghdad

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The new National Bank of Iraq headquarters is painted with bright colors and designs as part of the city's effort to rebuild Baghdad.(Ayman Oghanna/The New York Times) #

 Shades of Change in Baghdad

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The Samaraii Hospital is painted with bright colors and designs. Baghdad has weathered invasion, occupation, sectarian warfare and suicide bombers. But now it faces a new scourge: tastelessness. (Ayman Oghanna/The New York Times) #

 Shades of Change in Baghdad

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Plastic flowers line a checkpoint in Baghdad. (Ayman Oghanna/The New York Times) #

 Shades of Change in Baghdad

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A police headquarters in Baghdad's Karrada district is painted in two shades of purple as part of the city's effort to rebuild Baghdad. ŇItŠs happening because Iraqis want to get rid of the recent past,Ó said Caecilia Pieri, the author of ŇBaghdad Arts Deco: Architectural Brickwork 1920-1950. ŇThey see the colors as a way of expressing something new, but they donŠt know which colors to use. The Arab mentality is that you have to be the owner of your building, and you do what you want with it. But there are no government regulations like in Paris or Rome. ItŠs anarchy of taste.Ó (Ayman Oghanna/The New York Times) #

 Shades of Change in Baghdad

9

A sports injury and physiotherapy center is painted with bright colors and designs as part of the city's effort to rebuild. For decades, Saddam HusseinŠs government ruled over aesthetics in IraqŠs capital with the same grip it exercised over its people. A committee of artists, architects and designers approved the color of buildings as well as the placement of shrubs. With many beige brick buildings, and color used sparingly Ń most often on mosques Ń the cityŠs appearance was uniform and restrained. (Ayman Oghanna/The New York Times) #

 Shades of Change in Baghdad

10

The Trade Ministry is painted in pink and orange as part of the city's effort to rebuild Baghdad. Iraqi artists and architecture critics blame the city's tackiness to the everyday Iraqis who are trying to banish their grim past and are unaccustomed to having the freedom to choose any color they want. (Ayman Oghanna/The New York Times) #

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