The Massachusetts Democrat told a group of college students this week that people who do not study and do their homework were likely to "get stuck in Iraq." Kerry has since apologized, saying he botched a joke meant to be about President Bush.
The photo shows eight soldiers holding a white sign with heavy blue letters spelling out, "Halp us Jon Carry - We R stuck hear n Irak."
The photo has appeared in newspapers and on television newscasts and Web sites. It was apparently first posted on the Web by radio host Charlie Sykes of WTMJ-AM in Milwaukee on Wednesday. It was provided by a listener, the station said.
Capt. J. Elaine Hunnicutt, a spokeswoman in the Joint Operations Center in Iraq, confirmed in an e-mail that the soldiers in the photo were from the Minnesota Guard and that commanders see it "as a humorous response."
The photo surfaced on the same day as Kerry's statement in which he apologized to "any service member, family member or American who was offended" by remarks deemed by Republicans and Democrats alike to be insulting to U.S. forces in Iraq.
The 2004 Democratic presidential nominee also said he sincerely regrets that his words were "misinterpreted to imply anything negative about those in uniform."
The war of words started when Kerry was talking to a group of students about education.
"If you make the most of it and you study hard and you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq," Kerry said Tuesday.
That's not what he meant to say, he said. A spokeswoman says this was the prepared text:
"Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush."
Thursday, in Mississippi, Republican Sen. Trent Lott said he felt for Kerry as the remark hit the headlines. "I almost felt like calling John Kerry and saying, 'John, apologize and go home,"' said Lott.
In December 2002, Lott lost the chance to regain his position as majority leader after saying at Sen. Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party that the country "wouldn't have had all these problems over the years" if it had elected Thurmond president in 1948. Thurmond was a strong segregationist at the time.
Kerry, who is not up for re-election, retreated from the national campaign spotlight as Democrats worried about the controversy with the midterm elections just days away.
"No one wants to have the 2004 election replayed," said Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, commenting earlier in the week.
A congressional candidate in Iowa said swiftly he no longer wanted him to appear at a scheduled rally. Kerry abandoned plans to attend events in Minnesota and Pennsylvania.