Tag Archives: Iraq

Why We Fight (2005)

 “They want to spread democracy around the world on the point of our bayonets.”

Using footage from Eisenhower’s farewell speech to the nation, director Eugene Jarecki’s documentary film Why We Fight includes the departing president’s warning: “we have been compelled to create a permanent armament industry of vast proportions. We must not fail to comprehend its grave implications.” Eisenhower, according to interviews with family members, struggled with the growing Military-Industrial Complex, and as an old soldier, he was alarmed by its explosive expansion following WWII. The film examines the roles of all the players in the war food chain–from those who make the bombs, those who design the bombs, those who drop the bombs, those politicians who make the decisions to drop the bombs, and those contractors who profit so well from carnage. On the other side of the coin, the film also includes footage of the results of so-called “precision guided missiles” (and as it turns out, they can be wildly inaccurate), and this includes some fairly gruesome photos of the morgue in Baghdad.

why we fightOn another level, the film examines the background stories of two people touched in different ways by the war in Iraq. There’s a very sincere New Yorker, Wilton Setzer, a retired policeman who lost his son in 9/11. At first, he sought revenge for his son’s death, and like many Americans, he somehow connected the war in Iraq to the bombing of the Twin Towers. Setzer was flabbergasted when he heard Bush admit on television that there was “no connection” and his sense of clear outrage is shattering as he realizes that both his grief and patriotism have been exploited. Another thread follows the story of William Solomon, a young man who decides to enlist in the army following the death of his mother. One of the most interesting observations the film makes about enlisting is that “self-interest” is used to gain recruits, while paradoxically they are then expected to pay the ultimate “self-sacrifice.”

The most powerful statement the film makes, however, is the complete, startling emotional and moral disconnect of those involved with the war-machine of the Military-Industrial Complex. The film interviews humble assembly line bomb makers, and one woman who charmingly says she’s rather be “making toys” for Santa Claus, agrees she’d rather not think about the ultimate goal of the bombs she helps make. Similarly, pilots interviewed gently smile as they recall how proud they felt to be involved in the first air strike in the war on Iraq. Even a weapons designer–a woman forced to flee the debacle in Vietnam, is now ironically employed to design and create weapons that are crafted for maximum destruction. The film follows the war food chain through the huge corporations that benefit from war, the lobbyists, congress and the politicians who need to feed the voters at home with jobs from the Military-Industrial complex.

Undoubtedly, the film is so good because director Jarecki calls upon such a range of participants. Those interviewed include Richard Perle from the so-called New American Century Project, McCain, Gore Vidal, and various military advisors and historians. Lt. Gen Kwiatkowski who resigned from the Pentagon when she could not stomach the disinformation campaign that raged prior to the invasion of Iraq sums it up beautifully: “Why we fight? Because not enough people are standing up and saying I’m not doing this anymore.”

Leave a comment

Filed under (Anti) War, Documentary, Political/social films

Dreams of Sparrows (2005)

 “Baghdad is hell.”

The documentary The Dreams of Sparrows is the first film from Iraqi filmmaker Hayder Mousa Daffar. Daffar states, “I wanted to show the world what life was like in Iraq.” Those fortunate enough to stumble across this film certainly gain at least a brief, painful glimpse of daily life in Iraq.

dreams of sparrowsDaffar and his associates interview a number of Iraqis and travel to several locations. Most of those interviewed are optimistic about Saddam’s removal from power–although a few interviewed Iraqis start swearing when they hear the name ‘George Bush’. But as the film wears on, months go by, and optimism changes to despair as the daily conditions worsen. Those standing in long lines for petrol are interviewed, and the mood isn’t pretty. We see glimpses of life in a private girls’ school in Baghdad, a temporary shelter for the homeless, a Sadr City insane asylum, and a Palestinian refugee camp. Palestinian refugees were welcomed by Saddam, but were turfed out of their homes after the U.S. invasion. When the film was made in 2003, these Palestinian refugees had spent 8 pitiful months in tents. One man asks, “Where is the democracy and the freedom?”

Members of the General Union of Writers in Iraq present their philosophical interpretations of the current situation, and one man explains the insurgency as an inevitable consequence, “When you provoke a people against their leader, you will start a revolution.” There are even a few shots of U.S. troops. Some are protecting a petrol station–others are seen storming a home, and still others are seen chatting with Iraqi children.

The Dreams of Sparrows has its amateurish moments, but overall it’s a fascinating glimpse at a tragic situation. The film begins with a cheesy reenactment (just like those appalling history reenactments), and while it’s understood what the filmmaker is trying to say–the film would have been a lot better without the reenactment. A word of warning–there are a few graphic scenes involving humans and animals. The film takes us to the site of mass graves in Fallujah, and dead and starving animals are a common occurrence in the film. In English and Arabic.

Leave a comment

Filed under (Anti) War, Iraqi, Political/social films

Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers (2006)

 “Why do they have Cadillac Escalades in Iraq?”

While American and Iraqi families continue to bury their dead and comfort their wounded, the HUGE companies who continue to profit from the extended fiasco in Iraq are laughing all the way to the bank. Yes, those bank deposits in the billions keep rolling in, and shares in companies such as Halliburton and KBR keep skyrocketing. It’s odd, isn’t it, that one slice of the American population (i.e. those in the military) are told to continue to sacrifice, while the CEOs take home fat multi million dollars salaries. Robert Greenwald’s documentary, Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers makes it clear exactly who is cashing in on the slaughter, maiming, and destruction, and it isn’t pretty.

iraq for saleA large portion of the film takes a look at the relatively lowly civilian contractors employed by various companies in Iraq, and then interviews the families of those killed over there. The survivors of those killed–and injured–in Iraq–are understandably bitter as they argue that their loved ones were knowingly placed in dangerous situations by Halliburton, for example. Too large a portion of the film focuses on this aspect of things, and that was unfortunate.

Another section of the film focuses on the civilian contractors employed to interrogate–which is a euphemism for torture–prisoners at Abu Ghraib. While several low-ranking soldiers have been court-martialed for the treatment of Iraqi prisoners, the film reveals that there’s NO accountability for contractors who “interrogate” and kill in the process. They simply walk away from the situation. Various interrogators are interviewed–as well a translator who argues that the translators employed are often not proficient in the language, but that there’s no evaluation of language skills.

The very best–and strongest part of the film focuses on the nitty-gritty details of some of the financial abuse taking place in Iraq. One civilian who was employed by Halliburton breaks down when he explains that contaminated water (tested for malaria, typhus, and giardia) is knowingly given to the troops. Another soldier explains how Halliburton charges $99 for washing a bag full of dirty clothes. And details are given of the burning and destruction of $80,000 vehicles that lack a spare tyre or an oil filter, for example. No oil filter–no problem–just destroy the old vehicle and bill the taxpayers for a new one! Apparently, the system of “cost plus” encourages these companies to run amok with expenses. And that’s underscored by the luxuries the executives of these companies reward themselves with every chance they get.

The documentary also traces the crony system that thrives between the politicians and the companies who are reaping billions off the blood of others. Dollar amounts running into the billions flash on the screen as company after company rake in the profits. This is beyond scandalous–it’s downright criminal. When is someone going to pull the plug on this thievery? And I’ll add my own experience of bills from the war–a friend’s unit stationed in Iraq was given a satellite phone and guess who is going to get the 4 million dollar phone bill?

Leave a comment

Filed under (Anti) War, Documentary, Political/social films

The Prisoner or How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair (2006)

“You’re only as good as your intelligence is.”

The Prisoner or How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair concerns Iraqi journalist Yunis Abbas who is arrested, along with his brothers, by American forces in Baghdad in 2003. Abbas was accused of conspiring to kill Tony Blair. After his arrest, he was carted off to Abu Ghraib where he remained for 9 months. Those at the scene filmed the arrest, and the arrest was so cheesy, I thought it had to be some sort of reenactment. No, these were real scenes, and it’s not something that makes you feel proud. As the film continues it’s impossible to connect what happens to Abbas to high-sounding words such as “freedom” and “democracy.”

Once in Abu Ghraib, Abbas, who’d already been tortured under Sadaam Hussein’s regime, finds himself the object of interrogation yet again, and even after it’s quickly established that Abbas has “no intelligence value,” he isn’t released. Instead he’s placed in Camp Ganci along with all the other low-profile prisoners. The conditions at the camp are appalling. Since the camp is vulnerable to attack, many prisoners are killed by insurgent attacks, and even more prisoners are killed while rioting against the deplorable conditions.

By presenting the case of one man, the film personalizes the travesty of Abu Ghraib. Abbas was innocent of the charges brought against him, but instead of being granted his “freedom” he was stripped of all rights to any sort of hearing. I don’t know how anyone recovers from this sort of experience, and the only thing that tempers Abbas’s ordeal is the humanity of some of the individuals he met at Camp Ganci. Abbas remembers some of the American soldiers he met who treated him with kindness, and an interview with Benjamin Thompson, who served in the army at Camp Ganci is included in the film.

The film raises so many questions not only about Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, but also about the continued occupation of a country where American and British forces are not welcome. The experiences of one very mild-mannered, eloquent, intelligent man echo long after the film concludes, and by putting a human face behind the headlines, the film succeeds with its low-key approach. I heard on the radio that an insurgent attack of U.S. run Camp Bucca killed six detainees, and left fifty wounded (June 2007). This is exactly the sort of thing Abbas describes. Directed by Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker, Abbas’s monologue is punctuated with cartoon drawings. At first, I found this a little annoying, but after a while, it seemed to fit with Abbas’s surreal, Kafkaesque experience.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary