“These are such bad times….”
The documentary My Country My Country examines a crucial period in the life of an Iraqi man, Dr. Riyadh as elections in Iraq approach in January 2005. Riyadh–a Sunni–runs as an Islamic National Party candidate for the Council of Baghdad. The film begins in 2004 and concludes just after the elections, and the film’s main focus is Riyadh, his family and the role the election plays in their lives.
Riyadh, a quiet man, works at a free medical clinic in Baghdad. When the film begins, Riyadh’s attitude towards the elections seems to be determined, but then this shifts to quiet despair as the election day draws closer and daily life in Iraq becomes increasingly more difficult. In his modest family home, the periodic sounds of nearby explosions rip through any semblance of normal family life, and electricity is sporadic. Riyadh’s wife and children are reluctant for him to participate in the election for fear of reprisal, but Riyadh insists it’s his duty.
My Country My Country is fascinating, and the camera captures some intensely troubling moments. There’s footage of Riyadh as he approaches Abu Ghraib prison where prisoners clamour for his attention and shout their names and how long they’ve been held–often without hearings. While these prisoners demand release and justice, Riyadh finally retorts with the reality “we are an occupied country with a puppet government.” Riyadh seems particularly disturbed when he sees children who are prisoners–one boy is nine years old, and Riyadh asks the American military escort why this child is incarcerated at Abu Ghraib. He is told that the child is “dangerous” and while he doesn’t offer a retort, Riyadh’s disgust is evident.
Particularly fascinating are scenes of Riyadh’s family gathered around a small television set as they absorb details of the news–they are obviously extremely disturbed by the footage of the Fallujah assault. Scenes like these bring home to the viewer just how difficult the Occupation and the Iraqi Civil War is for those forced to experience it every single day.
Apart from the focus on Riyadh and his family, the film also covers various aspects of the election–American military officials as they brief personnel on security for the elections, for example. And in other scenes there’s an obvious moral dissonance between the military officials and the Iraqis–especially when one American tries to explain to his glum Iraqi audience that they’re going to be part of a big “show.” That somewhat unfortunate turn of phrase has rather obvious multiple layers of meaning–something that seems to escape the American officer. In another scene, which shows the empty streets on election day, one American soldier states that it’s as though the Iraqis are treating the day like a “holiday.” And this is in direct contrast–or blatant denial–of the extreme danger voters were threatened with if they voted. Other scenes follow Australian contractors as they purchase weapons and employ Kurds for the elections, and of course, these scenes subtly underscore the politics of the Civil War. The focus on Riyadh–rather than the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq–might lead one to say that My Country, My Country is an inherently non-political film, but the scenes here are too damning for that. Directed by Laura Poitras, My Country My Country is in English, Kurdish and Arabic with English subtitles.