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About the project

March 2003 – March 2013. Ten years of war seen from Iraq and elsewhere on a webdocumentary that is updated daily to May, 1 – the day that George Bush declared the “Mission Accomplished”.

What do we know about Iraq? What images does it conjure up? A birthplace of writing, gold (the black sort), a primetime war, an ousted dictator and, today, the occasional blurry, blood-stained news.

The verbosity that once gushed from Western media has dried up and the lingering impression surrounding Baghdad today is one of everyday but faraway chaos. But what do we know – really – about Iraqis’ daily lives today, 10 years after the second Gulf War began? What do Shiites, Sunnites, Kurds and Christians have to say about their aspirations, sufferings, doubts and hopes? That was what we wanted to hear and see. This webdocumentary is all about what they have to say, in their video stories, their photos and their interviews.

The goal is to get the facts straight from the source and home in on an undeniably less “West-centred” perspective than usual.

Columnists from three partner European dailies – Le Monde, die Süddeutsche Zeitung and The Guardian – have contributed to this picture. International experts help to unravel its complex history and the geopolitical stakes down the road. Last but not least, we also called press photographers and newspaper illustrators to the witness stand.

At the end of the day, the goal is to understand a decade in Iraq, enlightened by the people who made it happen.

This project ties in with the series that started with Afghanistan in 2011, which you can enjoy (or enjoy again) on our website.

The nine sections

Things seen. We asked a woman director, Katia Jarjoura, to tell us about “her” Iraq in a series of “pillboxes” that captured the moment in and around Baghdad. These 10 snapshots add up to the story of her month-long stint in Iraq in 2013.

Iraq, my country. Iraq through the eyes and lenses of seasoned or starting-out young directors. They each share their own take on their country, and allow us to see common Iraqis and their remarkable testimonies.

Trip diary. A 10-episode, commentary-free road movie by a French-Iraqi journalist Feurat Alani who travelled that country from North to South.

Images of Iraq. The principle is simple: 5 Iraqi photographers and 5 foreign photographers tell us about 10 snapshots from their files, providing 100 living angles adding up to a 360° perspective.

In exile. They left their country to start their lives anew across the world. We met these “Iraqis afar” and brought back 10 portraits of men and women with troubled stories.

Iraq 2.0. Did Wikileaks change the course of Iraq’s history? How is the country that invented writing living with the 2.0 revolution today? That is the question we try to answer.

The newspaper kiosk. Our partner newspapers Le Monde (France), The Guardian (UK) and Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany) provided a series of articles spanning the decade from 2003 to 2013 in Iraq.

Pen strokes. A great drawing is worth more than a bad speech and a good old platitude beats a poor presentation. 10 caricature artists from around the world tell us about 10 years of Iraqi news.

Background. Interviews with experts, articles and letters are just about everything you need to present Iraq and its history? The goal is not to say everything there is to say: it is to provide the keys to understand a complicated picture. That is our message here.

 

Partners

theguardian

Founded in 1821, The Guardian can no longer be described as just a newspaper. Under Guardian news and media, one of the UK’s most successful media companies, its flagship guardian.co.uk has become one of the world’s most visted news websites. In addition to the contents of the print edition, there are specialised sections on the arts, sports, travel, the media, as well as multimedia content (documentaries, podcasts) produced by staffers, offering what must be one of the most complete English-language news services. Owned by the Scott Trust, the Guardian is generally considered to be the centre-left title of reference. Though close to New Labour, it’s tradition of editorial independence means that it is often highly critical of the government.

lemonde

Left-leaning Le Monde, self-proclaimed “newspaper of reference”, is the planet’s main French-language daily, with 35,000 copies distributed abroad. Despite being considered an evening paper since its foundation in 1944, it wraps daily at 10.30 a.m and is on the streets of Paris by midday. In order to widen its readership and soften its longstanding reputation for austerity, the template and contents have been modernized, made more spacious and reader friendly. With over 40 million visits monthly, lemonde.fr is the number one news website in French, featuring articles from the paper edition and hosting a large number of blogs. It also includes regular news updates, slideshows and video content.

sueddeutsche

Founded in Munich in 1945, this “intellectual newspaper of German left-wing liberalism” is the one nation’s daily mainstay. The SZ, renowned for its independence, is also famed for its Streiflicht, a daily front-page column that offers an ironic take on current events, as well the main feature on page 3. Much of this broadsheet is given over to coverage and analysis of national and international news. Some of the articles on the website are enhanced with SZ-produced videos. It also devotes a special site for the younger generation: jetzt.de.

 

Credits

ARTE GEIE – Information department

Director: Marco Nassivera

Editors in chief ARTE Reportage: Philippe Brachet, Uwe Lothar Müller

Online editors: Donatien Huet, David Zurmely

Production: Sandrine Heitz, Cécile Thomas, Caroline Kelsch

Translation: Éclair Group

Mixing: Marc Gigoux, Thierry Weil, Michel Puls

Music: Nahawend, by Fawzy Al Ayedy. Album: Oud Aljazira. Label: Buda Musique/Musiques en balade. Year: 1999.

Website made by FCINQ

“Trip diary”

Direction: Feurat Alani. Montage: Santiago Avalos. ARTE GEIE/Baozi Production – December 2012

“Things seen”

Direction: Katia Jarjoura. Montage: Wissam Charraf. ARTE GEIE/Baozi Production – January 2013

“Irak, my country”

Direction: Abdul Rahim Mackie, Ahmed Taleb al Sultan, Ali al Hadithy, Malik Alawi, Omar Yassine. ARTE GEIE/Baozi Production – January 2013

Direction: Namer Ablhed Huna, Awat Ali, Soran Qurbani, Ismaeel Omar Ali, Haval Salah Ali. Picture, sound, montage: Dhafir Ali Mashy, Ali Muhamed Ramzan, Hemn Zahir, Koshish Bakr, Anwar Ahmed,  Kerîm Muhamedi, Mensûr Elyasî, Jêhat Barîs, Ranj Abdulla, Kurdo Ahmad, Habib Kadri, Evan Aziz, Farman Ali. Alterdoc – 2010-2012

 

Qaislaz Zubaidi is eating lunch with his family in a pleasant park on the banks of the Tigris. He asks me to join him and we watch as a pair of scullers from the Iraqi Rowing Union sweep past on the river’s brown current. Zubaidi, 47, is in real estate and successful by the look of him. He is a member of the Shia sect; 10 years ago, he was an officer in the defeated army of Saddam Hussein, his city newly under US occupation.

“I didn’t give up until 11 April, two days after the fall of Baghdad”, he says smiling. “There were only four of us left. The radio had gone silent. There was no communication. No one to ask for orders any more. We sat down and decided things had come to a dead end. So we left. I didn’t feel relief or anything; I just felt negligent for abandoning my post. Then I got home to chaos and looting.”
Zubaidi talks without bitterness. He tells me he is happier these days and hated his time in the army. “Under Saddam, the state intervened in everything. We were ruled with an iron fist. In those days, I couldn’t afford fruit and didn’t have a car. Now everything’s reversed. We have freedom. We can buy what we like.”

“But”, he continues, “we don’t have stability. The politicians here behave grotesquely. They are climbing on the people’s shoulders to benefit themselves and I blame them too for the sectarian instability that we have here again.”

We chat a little longer. It is only after leaving Zubaidi and his family that I think about arriving in Baghdad on the day the city fell – 9 April 2003. I remember how, although I’d seen many US and British soldiers over the days of the US-led invasion, by the time I arrived in the capital, Iraqi soldiers such as Zubaidi were gone, their uniforms abandoned in little piles on street corners. In the southern city of Basra, which had fallen a few days earlier, the only Iraqi fighters I came across were the bodies outside the university that locals had covered with carpets. It has taken me 10 years to ask an Iraqi soldier what defeat felt like.

I missed the start of the invasion of Iraq. I was on the wrong border at the wrong time, but I quickly caught up. Reporting for the Observer, travelling independent of the invading US and British forces, I found myself by chance walking into Basra on the day it fell to coalition forces. I followed a British paratroop column I’d run into on the road, waiting to enter the city. Travelling with a couple of colleagues, we continued when the paratroopers stopped and reached the Shatt al-Arab waterway on the city’s edge. On the banks, we found a parade of eerie figures, statues of soldiers with fingers pointing towards Iran.

A few days later, the evening Baghdad fell, I was on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital, driving past burning buildings, US tanks and the scattered bodies of Saddam’s paramilitaries – fedayeen – and civilians. That night was spent in the grounds of the blue-domed mausoleum built by Saddam just a year before to commemorate Michel Aflaq, founding father of the Ba’ath party. We were invited to stay by occupying troops of the US 3rd Infantry Division after an awkward incident in which they almost killed us.

For four years I kept returning, to cover the first elections and then the first wave of sectarian killings that started in the Baghdad suburbs. In time, sectarian conflict would sweep across Iraq, introducing an era Iraqis call the sectarian war, which pitted the Shia militias that had infiltrated the police against their Sunni rivals. Al-Qaida got involved, bombing Shia shrines and pilgrimages, fuel queues and weddings. Over three years, from 2005 to 2008, whole neighbourhoods were “cleansed” and tens of thousands killed.

My last two trips, in 2007, were to report on the US military “surge” in Baghdad, when President Bush increased troop numbers in an effort to stabilise the city. This was the beginning of the end of the worst of the sectarian killings. I twice found myself in convoys hit by Sunni jihadi-militant bombs. The first time, in the city of Baquba, four Iraqi soldiers were killed. The second, on the way back from the town of Tal Afara, a car bomb detonated in front of the US armoured vehicle I was travelling in. It seemed time to take a break.

The first thing I notice, walking around Baghdad today, is that there are street vendors with their drums of embers preparing and selling masgouf – grilled carp – on almost every pavement. Ten years ago, if you could find it at all, the national dish was only available in the restaurants in Abu Nawas Street, which catered to the old elite. One of the vendors explains that the proliferation of artificial ponds for rearing carp has brought down the price. What was once expensive has become available to all.

Driving around one afternoon, an Iraqi friend points out a poster hanging from a lamp-post for the provincial council elections in April. “See that”, he says. “It reads ‘my province first’. In Arabic, the word for province is ‘muhafatha’.” He giggles. “If you remove the ‘alif’ [the long Arabic 'a' after the 'h'] it reads ‘my wallet first’.” A wag, he tells me, has already made this amendment on Facebook.
Later, when I visit the human rights activist Hanna Edwar, she will tell me that while her country may now have the appearance of democracy – elections and political parties – it lacks the functional realities. It is beset by corruption, nepotism and an often scant regard for the rule of law.

The most visible sign of the corruption afflicting Baghdad is the state of the pavements. On every block, you can find a section dug up and waiting to be shoddily relaid by contractors who – so the story goes – bribe local politicians for contracts to renew the streets almost every year, whether it’s required or not.

Still the city has improved. The Baghdad I left behind five years ago was a grim place. Even short journeys out of the Hamra hotel, which would be bombed twice and now is almost derelict, were dangerous. I recall one evening sitting there and watching a fireball erupt as a neighbouring hotel was hit. There were random checkpoints and militia in the streets, boys on motorbikes who, if they saw a foreigner, would phone in the tip for money.

These days, Baghdad can be a vibrant place, its parks crowded and its restaurants busy. There are new shopping centres under construction. You see Range Rovers and Lexus sports cars. One day, I saw a cyclist in full Lycra on a Bianchi racer, powering through the traffic. But the sprawling, less well-to-do neighbourhoods, such as Ghazaliya, Dora and Saidiya still feel angry and tense. The concrete walls and armed checkpoints, put up during the American occupation at the height of the sectarian violence, remain in place. They still function to control the population, limiting access in some neighbourhoods to a couple of exits that can be easily sealed off.

And although the private security contractors who would fire warning shots to clear the traffic are gone, and US soldiers no longer patrol the streets, Humvees and armoured vehicles remain on every corner, repainted and manned by Iraqi soldiers and police. There are still killings related to corruption and politics almost every day – not on the same scale, not civil war any more, but a steady drip-drip.

The same tall concrete blast walls still surround the green zone, the name US officials gave the city centre area, with its palaces, government homes and foreign embassies, to differentiate it from the dangerous red zone outside. In places, the walls have been painted on, but that does not change what they are: fortress walls built to protect the buildings inside from the bombs that still target them from time to time. I go looking for the people I came across during previous times in Baghdad. And I find no one who has been left unscarred by the last decade.

The newspaper kiosk

Baghdad 10 years after Saddam

Posted on 26.04.2013

In March 2003, the US-led coalition invaded Iraq and Baghdad fell soon after. The Observer’s foreign affairs editor was there to witness it – and the appalling sectarian violence that followed. Now, he returns to find a changed city and, below, speaks again to some of the ordinary Iraqis who lived through it.

By Peter Beaumont, “The Observer”, 17 March 2013

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The Guardian

Founded in 1821, The Guardian can no longer be described as just a newspaper. Under Guardian news and media, one of the UK’s most successful media companies, its flagship guardian.co.uk has become one of the world’s most visted news websites. In addition to the contents of the print edition, there are specialised sections on the arts, sports, travel, the media, as well as multimedia content (documentaries, podcasts) produced by staffers, offering what must be one of the most complete English-language news services. Owned by the Scott Trust, The Guardian is generally considered to be the centre-left title of reference.