Wednesday, November 8

Hopeless Iraq

Rachel Calton despairs as a telling documentary asks the right questions

There was not much to lighten the tone of this hour-long documentary into the new generation of Iraqi youth, many of whom have lost members of their parents’ generation to Saddam Hussein’s sadistic regime, and who are now having their dreams of freedom thwarted by an occupation that is failing to fulfil its promises of freedom and democracy.

In The Death Squads (Tuesday Channel 4, 11.05pm) a reporting crew and local journalist, who refuse to be named for the film, go outside of the green zone into the lawless Iraq that has come into being, risking the kidnapping and killing frequently carried out by criminal gangs, to document the lives of young people for whom this is their reality.

The fall of Suddam has given way to civil war, in which teenagers are too busy dodging car bombs, fearing military occupation and grieving relatives lost to the violence, to see anything but a future of trauma, and revenge.

Many, already too politicised to care about school are taking up arms, joining the Sunni insurgent cells and Shia militia. Seventy per cent of children no longer go to school; many have taken a different path since the occupation.

Of the young professionals, 40 per cent at least have fled, and those who continue to provide services do so in the constant face of danger. One doctor takes the journalist with him on a daily routine in accident and emergency, he knows of colleagues who have been called out on home visits which have turned into kidnappings. Medical supplies are almost out, and with each critical case comes a barrage of death threats ‘if you let them die I will kill you’. His fifteen minute journey home now takes two hours due to military road blocks. Many patients he treats for trauma, something he is untrained to do. So far, he continues to struggle through each day.

Teenager Kamal is trying to continue running his mobile phone business, after 13 car bombs have exploded outside of his stall. He gets nervous whenever a crowd forms, and his customers don’t hang around to browse for long. His business faces another set-back when his mobile top-up card suppliers are kidnapped for their goods.

However resilient these people are the conditions seem futile.

And as one of them points out, money and buildings can always be replaced, the brains of a country can’t.

With not even basic services available to many families, let alone education or jobs, and most living in fear in the anarchy of the militia and criminal gangs that have flourished, nobody on this documentary is thanking the military occupation they live under, however well meant it may be.

One family; husband and boys, return to a mother and wife they left to fend for herself for a year when they were all put into Abu Ghraib prison, after being accused of being an insurgent cell. Under command, they fly a white flag outside their home, but continue to live in fear of the American base they live in sight of.

The only upside to this whole documentary is the fact that while the rest of the media focuses its attentions on whether Saddam will face the noose or a bullet, following his death sentence relating to a small batch of crimes against humanity carried out 24 years ago, that pale against the huge catalogue he earned, and he refuses to remorse over, this programme at least has its attention in the right place.

Whatever happens to our hate-figure is irrelevant.

His brutal regime has been toppled, what will arise in its place is what should be occupying us now.

The collective opinion of those documented is, their lives are worse. Out of this is arising a fresh new generation of anti-western feeling.

Executing Saddam Hussein isn’t going to make a hero of anyone, and I guess that is what we should be worrying about.

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