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About Baghdad, and us

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The time is July 2003, just a few months after the end of the American invasion of Iraq. The scene is chaos and devastation--Baghdad's Academy of Fine Arts is a pile of rubble, children in a hospital suffer the most disturbing kind of dehydration, and storefronts are in ruins. Poet Sinan Antoon is an Iraqi-American Michael Moore, sticking a microphone in front of anyone he can find, whether they're the head of the Chamber of Commerce or an unemployed worker on the street; an artists or a lunatic; a schoolgirl or a teacher; a former Republican Guard or a U.S. soldier. All are passionate. They talk about 30,000 library books and dissertations destroyed; the pain of a town whose men, women and children were imprisoned and tortured at Abu Ghraib prison for an attempted assassination attempt on Saddam; how angry they are that the U.S. supported Saddam as 700,000 Iraqis were killed in the Iran-Iraq war, but then didn't support the people who wanted to rise up against him after the Gulf War. It's amazing there's any fight left in these people after what they've been through in the last 30 years.

There are many insights to be gleaned from the documentary About Baghdad, which the Independent is sponsoring in its Triangle premier next week--the elegance and urbanity of Iraqi culture, the depth of pain endured under the weight of sanctions imposed after the first Gulf War, and that Iraqis are desperate to take hold of their own future. They just want U.S. occupiers to leave so they can have their country back.

One truth stands out: After the unimaginable physical and psychological torture Iraqis endured for decades under Saddam Hussein, the United States had an opportunity to be seen as liberators. Instead, we have replaced Saddam in earning the people's enmity. It's not a question of whether the U.S. merely lost the opportunity it created after ousting Saddam's regime. Their feelings are inescapably tied to the way the war was conceived and executed--for our own purposes, and without regard for them.

We can only imagine what these same people think now, a year after the film was shot, when it is soldiers in U.S. uniforms putting electric clamps on prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

We have radiant, resilient and rousing local activist Rania Masri to thank for bringing these voices home. She lives in Raleigh and is a fellow at the Institute for Southern Studies, where she is organizing their campaign against U.S. war profiteering in Iraq. Somehow, in her spare time, she managed to work with eight other filmmakers to make About Baghdad.

Masri was born in Lebanon, lived in Bahrain, went to high school in North Carolina and got her B.S. from N.C. State in 1993, a masters in environmental management from Duke in 1995, and a doctorate in forestry from N.C. State in 2000. But political activism is her passion.

"Politics is part of our life. It is part of all our lives," she says. "Some of us admit it, and some of us deny it. I come from a family that admits it."

You can read this week about her work on the film. And information about showings of About Baghdad is in our Act Now calendar.

In a literary cafein Baghdad, a man talks about the who the Iraqi people really are:

"Our reality is much deeper, better and more sublime." After seeing About Baghdad, you'll understand.

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