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Sonia Nettnin Film Review: About Baghdad

Film Review: About Baghdad

By Sonia Nettnin

''About Baghdad'' is a cinematic collage of narratives from the Iraqi people after the fall of Saddam Hussein. In July 2003, InCounter Productions filmed over seventy hours of footage, which documents life under U.S. Occupation.

Sinan Hanoon, an exiled Iraqi writer and poet, teaches Arabic language and literature at Dartmouth University. In May 1991, he left Iraq. Through interviews with the people, the film shows his return to Baghdad where the people “…carried the burden of the injustices of the world.

The film is about the peoples’ views and their living conditions. Most of the people are candid. Some people were afraid to talk in front of the camera. The predominant opinion is they are glad Saddam is gone. Yet, the people have a wide spectrum of views about the occupation. Most of the people find life with shortages in water, electricity and fuel extremely difficult. For most of the people, the oppression is unbearable.

For example, people wait in long lines for gas. A canister of fuel is 15,000 dinars Every day, people worry about looting. In the main commercial area, Al-Rasheed, stores close by one in the afternoon. By four-thirty, Al-Rasheed is a deserted street. Women cannot step onto the streets for fear of abduction. People are frustrated and looting is common. .

“They say Baghdad fell,” one girl said. “But Baghdad did not fall – Baghdad was occupied.”

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During the U.S. invasion, U.S. forces dropped a chemical bomb on the Academy of Fine Arts. Then, people stole the air conditioners. The footage shows rubble.

At the College of Arts University of Baghdad, there is more rubble. Except the rubble are not just stone blocks, but 30,000 books – including rare and authentic art – destroyed. One young woman said she lost her brother, and she comes to the college only to have her tragedy compounded.

The Department of Audio – Visual Arts burned to the ground. Buildings around these areas are on the verge of collapse, with floor levels folding over at the corners. In Al-Rasheed, bombs buried the national library.

During the invasion, a tank put holes in the mental hospital, which had 1,020 patients. The U.S. soldiers thought it was a military camp. However, tanks did not protect the hospital afterward. People looted it and the patients left the hospital. In the Al-A’Zamiyal District, people did not receive compensation for their demolished homes.

In Jamila, an industrial area, old machinery makes economic competition difficult. With Freedom came lawlessness, one engineer said. People are left to their conscience for law and order.

Parts of the city look like a nightmare. Then, it grows worse in the hospital where dehydrated babies are skin and bones. Sanctions caused severe shortages of medicine. One mother could not breastfeed her newborn because she caught yellow fever from dirty water. Severe malnutrition and protein deficiency are rampant in the babies who struggle for life in incubators. People feel helpless, especially in the chaos.

They talked about Saddam’s mass graves and punishment. In 1982, Al-Dijayl saw the execution of hundreds of their men. When some of the men attacked Saddam’s 300-car convoy, he punished the entire town by executing people, destroying the main road and left palm trees horizontal. Men gather in a center and commemorate their loved ones. Photos stream the walls. For 35 years, people suffered under the B’ath Regime. Several men describe the torture.

When one man was a little boy, Saddam’s soldiers yelled “Ice cream!” When a group of boys arrived, the soldiers put them in a room and threw hot water on them. Soldiers took prisoners to the desert where they carried logs and water on their heads. Sometimes they did not feed them. In prison, soldiers threw lice on them. There were so many lice, the people dripped blood. One man shows scars from acid and rubber sticks. Patches of white skin line his dark legs. Soldiers wrapped pieces of cloth soaked in alcohol around peoples’ toes. Then, they set them on fire. Soldiers attached electric clamps were attached to ears. Sometimes, soldiers tortured the men in front of their families.

Arabic writing on a wall reads: “Iraq will be ruled by Iraqis.” Another person wrote: “It is in incumbent upon Iraqis to build a democracy.” Heated debates about history and who is responsible for the violence take center stage in a conversation between Hanoon and a taxi cab driver. In a crowd, a man yells out: “The student has left. The master has come this summarizes everything…the people are the victim.”

The film is honest and it is an experience. Viewers see people who live under years of constant pressure from dictatorship, sanctions, war, and occupation.

I enjoyed the singing of traditional Iraqi maqamat songs by Amer Tawfiq. The performances on oud and qanun by women musicians were touching because of their artistic and emotional expression. The shot of the canary singing in a cage struck a chord that reverberates beyond the film.

Anyone who has the opportunity should see the film not only for awareness, but for the pure beauty of the Iraqi people.


November is Chicago’s Arab Heritage Month, with day and evening events. The Gene Siskel Film Center in cooperation with Arte East and the Arab-American Action Network Arts Council sponsored the film’s showing.


Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.

Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.

She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.

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