FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Iraq in Fragments

In the years since the invasion of Iraq, many documentaries have attempted to record its consequences: the violence; the occupation; the plunder. The focus has ranged from the anthropological to geopolitical, just as the production has varied from the bland to the spectacular. With the urgency of the political reality taking preeminence, the myriad documentary renderings have hitherto failed to present a sustained portrait of life in occupied Iraq. Iraq in Fragments–the distilled product of more than two years and 300 hours of filming–is James Longley’s splendid contribution towards filling this void.

The title, like the rest of the film, is open to interpretation: it could be a description of present day Iraq disintegrating into Sunni, Shia and Kurdish fragments; of the internal fragmentation of the Iraqi society; or the three fragments from which the film is constructed. What distinguishes the film from all others, is the hypnotic intimacy that puts the viewer into the heads of Longley’s subjects. The stunning cinematography and the profound subjectivity add depth to this masterful work of art.

Muhammad of Baghdad, the first part, follows an 11-year-old Sunni orphan who apprentices for a mechanic while struggling at school. Despite the abuse he has to endure at work, Muhammad continues to look up to the boss, whose frequently cruel treatment is interspersed, at times, with avuncular generosity.

Sadr’s South, the second part, follows Sheikh Aws al-Khafaji, a 32-year-old member of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Hawza movement as he organizes local elections to preempt the American orchestrated electoral charade designed to give legitimacy to appointed surrogates. Hope, apprehension and fear, in a backdrop of slow burning rage. The insistent beat of the self-flagellation in an Ashura procession could be the rhythm driving the inexorable march of history that carries the Shia, with their new found confidence, towards the dominance long denied them; here is a People asserting its identity in bloody rituals long suppressed under Saddam’s imposed secularism.

Kurdish Spring, the third part, follows two families in the almost idyllic setting of Koretan, near Erbil, straddling the contradictions of the promised “liberation and progress” with the tangible reality of their daily lives, yet to see the promises materialize. An appropriately bleak motif is lent the story by the dark billowing smoke of a brick factory. The deep friendship between the children of the two families develops oblivious to the developing circumstances, even as unemployed men–able bodied, “with big moustaches”–find it harder to ignore as they are turned away from the brick factory empty handed.

In his superb use of Cinéma vérité techniques, Longley has developed an impressionistic portrait rich in moving detail. By spending endless hours following his subjects without inserting himself into the narrative, he allows their stories to develop organically. The occupation itself receives a second billing where all the references to it are passive. It is clear, however, that the occupation has added another layer of complexity to lives already disrupted by the crippling privation of two brutal regimes: Saddam’s; and the US-UK imposed sanctions.

The film’s greatest achievement is perhaps also its biggest weakness: the film’s intimate focus and the virtual absence of the occupation–except in the occasional ruminations of subjects–fails to take into account its all encompassing embrace. It is the saturated, often dazzling, hues of the beautifully shot images, as much as the endless grays of the narrative that perhaps account for its appeal, which transcends ideological boundaries. The film, in the end, is vague enough that it could serve to reinforce views whether for, or against the war. This might ensure a wider audience for the film, but contributes little to the understanding of what afflicts the subjects, so beautifully humanized in the film.

The immorality of the invasion and occupation of Iraq is unquestionable; there are non-controversial standards–the Nuremberg laws for instance–to judge it by. For all its brilliance, the film scrupulously avoids articulating a position on the occupation. For this–while it deserves each one of the awards it has receieved, not to mention those, like the Oscar, which it may receive in the future–it remains a compelling work of art, rather than an instrument of political change.

MUHAMMAD IDREES AHMAD is a researcher at Spinwatch. His regular commentaries appear on The Fanonite

 

More articles by:

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad (@im_pulse) is a Lecturer in Journalism at the University of Stirling. He is the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative war.

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador   Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail