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The Iraq War Is Finally Getting Some Proper Scrutiny – From a TV Program



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Once Upon a Time in Iraq is the most searing anti-war documentary I have seen. In five parts on Mondays on BBC2, it is not bangs, screams and tears. The searing is not visceral. It is intellectual. In among the footage of the 2003 war, we hear simply the calm narrative of people whose lives were traumatised by the conflict, who witnessed the gut-wrenching obscenity of two great democracies using death and destruction to pursue their leaders’ political agenda. It shows that the morality of power projection has not advanced since the middle ages. A corpse is still a corpse.

Now at least we get to hear from the victims. The director, James Bluemel, approached the war not through those who ordered or opposed it, but through the recollections of the ordinary civilians, soldiers and reporters who experienced it. They were not war’s actors, they were its consequences. They leave us to draw our own conclusions.

Through the narrative we thus grow to know Waleed Nesyif, a teenager once in love with all things American, who cheered the invasion. He then visited what had been a family living in the desert, utterly obliterated by three invasion gunships. We see American soldiers standing by while looters tear apart downtown Baghdad. A soldier says he was told to protect only the oil ministry. We hear Um Qusay, a dignified elderly woman, who welcomed Saddam’s going but then had to face its appalling consequence, the rise and rule of Isis.

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