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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

 

Basra, 27 January – Upon arrival in Basra, I realise that my guide book is out of date. It says “Basra is the Venice of the Orient”, praising the city’s first-class hotels and modern spirit. Basra may once have been the “Venice of the Orient”, but today’s Basra is a grim place. The promenade along the Shatt al-Arab River is as empty as the whitewashed pedestal that used to feature still images of Saddam Hussein’s favourite generals during his reign. The asphalt paving the city’s streets is cracked and crumbling, with debris gathering in the potholes. Poverty oozes from the houses, with ragged children playing between piles of rubbish as British military patrols drive by. Once the curfew starts at 8 p.m., the only sounds on the street are gunshots and police sirens.

The only source of colour in Iraq’s second-largest city comes from the plethora of election campaign posters. 111 political parties, electoral lists and alliances are up for parliamentary election this coming Sunday, and every available space in Basra is plastered with calls to get out and vote or portraits of the candidates. The face on electoral list 169, the “Ayatollah list”, is that of religious leader Ayatollah Al-Sistani, whose platform is unsurprisingly theocratic. Electoral list 285 represents the political party of transitional Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who was appointed to the position by the occupying US force. Promoting his strongman image in front of the local police precinct, the poster only shows Allawi’s eyes peering ahead in cold, strained determination. This image coincides with his campaign promise and slogan: “Strong leadership and security for the nation”. Even the notice board at Basra’s university is covered in election campaign posters and flyers with slogans ranging from “Your vote is Iraq’s future” to “Stomp your enemy’s power into dust”. So many election posters compete for the attention of those passing by that one student’s “Lost” notice for his treasured English-Arabic dictionary is covered up completely.

This is electioneering in Iraq. Under the supervision of the occupying American and British forces, 14 million Iraqis are poised to vote for a National Assembly and 18 regional parliaments in Iraq’s first free elections since the fall of Saddam Hussein in March of 2003. The new National Assembly will select the President and the Prime Minister. It is also responsible for writing a new national constitution. If all goes well, the constitution will be finished and put before the Iraqi people for a national referendum by the end of the year. If they approve it, new elections will be held and nothing else can stand in the way of Iraq’s democratic future. At least not in theory.

In practical terms, this allegedly free election may go down as the most unusual and extraordinary election in the history of democracy. Initiated by the US occupying force and welcomed by Iraq’s Kurds and Shiites, it is nevertheless opposed by nationalistic Sunni rebels, former Saddam cronies and Sunni internationalists with ties to al-Qaeda. The rebels are busy threatening anyone who dares to vote, shooting electoral inspectors and tossing bombs. A full four days before voting is set to begin, all of the polling stations are already barricaded for protection. The fear is that for the “Sunni Triangle” as well as Basra, Sunday and the election will bring an orgy of violence. US President George Bush has called for “the courageous Iraqis” to vote, adding that they should “… fight the terrorists. You have no alternative for the future”.

Yet putting aside Bush and courage for the moment, many actual candidates in this election are keeping their names a secret. The complete roster of names were only released by the electoral commission three days prior to the election, and none of the candidates campaigned openly in Basra. The campaign here is only evident in the posters and television adverts. Despite all this, in the words of one man: “Everything begins with the first step, including democracy. And this election is the right step.”

Professor Achmed Schihab’s office is not far away from the notice board with the election ballots. The professor is busy correcting an exam, covering it in red notes. The only prediction he can make for the upcoming election is that it is difficult to make predictions about it. He comments further: “Everything said about the election, both negative and positive, is relative. The simple fact is that the election and the new government won’t resolve all of the problems. That will take time.”

According to the international commentators on TV and in the newspaper columns, Iraq’s power struggle is between three distinct communities: the Kurds in the north, the Sunnis in the centre and in the west of the country and the Shiites in the south. The short take on the situation contends that Shiites and Kurds were oppressed under Saddam. Together they make up 80 percent of Iraq’s population. Saddam gave preferential treatment to his own Sunni community, and now the Sunni fear that they will become Iraq’s oppressed minority has driven them to violence. They see the Shiites as Iran’s “Trojan horse”, set on nothing less than the establishment of a theocracy in Iraq based on the Iranian system.

While it is indeed true that Kurds and Shiites make up the nation’s majority, as Professor Schihab points out, “not every Shiite is pro-Iranian. I’m a Shiite. But I don’t see an ayatollah regime as a solution”.

British kaffeeklatsch

Basra’s occupying British force doesn’t have the solution either. While British Consul General Simon Collis has indeed invited candidates to his office in one of Saddam’s former palaces on the river promenade for what is being referred to as a “political kaffeeklatsch”, the only politicians invited are already known to be in favour of the elections. So, over tea, coffee and pastries, the 20 invited candidates and tribal leaders all seem to be reading from roughly the same script, repeatedly asserting that “… regardless of whether they are Shiite or Sunni, all Iraqis want to vote”.

Those political figures opposing the elections pass up the Consul General’s coffee break. Sheik Yusuf al-Hassan, a cleric at Basra’s most important Sunni mosque, comments saying, “at Friday prayers I preach that elections held under occupation are illegitimate. We Sunnis will not recognise this election”. Cloaked in a gold-grey robe, the sheik sits in his office full of theological literature. All his assembled wisdom has brought him to the conclusion that “Islam is a religion of peace. But anyone supporting the occupying force is our enemy. The power struggle in Iraq is not between different ethnic or religious groups. It is an issue of whether one accepts the presence of the Americans or not”.

Perhaps it is true that thinking simply in terms of ethnic or religious categories doesn’t reflect the reality on the ground in Iraq. But there is evidence enough to draw conclusions different from those of Sunni Sheik al-Hassan. One journalist from Basra predicts an unanticipated scenario emerging from Iraq’s coming election, with “two different camps: one with a conservative, religious base and the other with a liberal, secular, pro-American viewpoint”. The journalist suggests that in secret, many Iraqis, both Sunnis and Shiites, approve of the current head of state Allawi, despite the fact that he is a puppet of the US. The same journalist has no qualms about predicting the outcome of the election, asserting that “… Allawi guarantees us at least a bare minimum of security and he gets along with the Americans. Regardless of whether the new government is dominated by Shiites or Sunnis, it will be pro-American. And the new Prime Minister will be Allawi”.

“Everything begins with the first step, including democracy. And this election is the right step” – says a British soldier in Basra.

The newspaper kiosk

Fear and Voting in Lost Places

Posted on 08.03.2013

Iraq faces its first free elections since the fall of Saddam Hussein. It takes courage to cast your vote in a country bracing itself for an orgy of election violence.

By Tomas Avenarius – “Süddeutsche Zeitung”, 28 January 2005

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About the author
Süddeutsche Zeitung

Né à Munich, en 1945, le “journal intellectuel du libéralisme de gauche allemand” est un grand quotidien de référence du pays. Réputé pour son indépendance, la SZ se distingue par sa célèbre “Streiflicht”, chronique d’humeur paraissant chaque jour sur la une, et sa page 3 de grands reportages. Le traitement de l’information nationale et internationale y tient une large place. Certains articles du site web sont enrichis de vidéos signées SZ. Un site spécial est également dédié aux jeunes, jetzt.de.