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Several weeks ago, 60 Minutes aired an interview with a comparably prosperous Iraqi doctor who was glad the Americans had come and unequivocal in his judgment that Iraqis were better off without Saddam. Yet he went on to bemoan the current situation in his country. He criticized the American army's post-war policies and worried that our failure to provide safe environments for common people to live and work was breeding terrorism and fanning the flames of anti-American hatred. The morning after the broadcast, I discussed this show with a friend of mine who is planning on voting for George W. Bush. He criticized the show as "liberal propaganda" and dismissed the doctor's observations as the "selected opinions" of a single man.

I am sure my friend will soon point with contrasting approbation to Voices of Iraq, a new documentary by producers Eric Manes, Martin Kunert and Archie Drury that promotes a much more optimistic assessment of current circumstances in Iraq. My friend will point to the documentary's "fair and balanced" approach, and will conclude that we are on the right track. I will respond that the film is "Republican propaganda" employing a completely unscientific sampling. And though more voices are heard, they still stand as "selected opinions." This said, I happily admit that I find hope in Voices of Iraq, not hope that we are currently on the right track but hope that in invigorating human resilience and with proper leadership something good might yet emerge from the current mess.

Voices of Iraq proclaims itself "written and directed by the Iraqi people." The film came into being as a result of 150 digital video cameras being distributed by the producers in the spring of 2004 to people throughout the country, from the Shiite marshlands that Saddam drained as an act of genocide in the south, to the Westernized areas of Baghdad to the prospering Kurdistan cities in the north. The method of distribution is nowhere described. How did the producers select who got them? Nor does the film or its makers' production notes tell the viewer how the resultant footage was collected. The press kit does state that the producers ultimately received more than 450 hours of footage which they have edited into this 80-minute feature. We have no idea what was left out or what process was employed in determining what to include in the final film.

Bush supporters will defend the film's "balance" by pointing to several references to the scandals at Abu Ghraib prison or a segment that shows a young man arguing things are worse now than under Saddam, that people don't feel safe in their homes, or another passage with a young girl saying that the American army forced her family out of Falluja and that they had to walk all the way to Baghdad. But the great majority of the film, and almost all of its last hour, is devoted either to witnesses like the one who proclaims, "Things are better than under Saddam even if we die of hunger," or witnesses who detail the vicious homicidal rule of Saddam and his sociopath sons.

This film nowhere includes the venomous faces and angry voices of those who hate, it nowhere addresses the popularity of Muqtada al-Sadr, it makes no references to the black-hooded soldiers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. If we were to take Voices of Iraq as a true picture of contemporary Iraq we would believe that most people are happy and hopeful, that most women are Westernized, educated and professional, that Islamic fundamentalism has few adherents, that religious and ethnic tolerance is widespread, that with only the most minor qualifications most people support continuing the American occupation, and that the suicide bombings, mortar attacks and other violent acts of the insurgency are inconsequential annoyances rather than true threats to an enduring peace and establishment of civilized law and order. Count me among those who aren't convinced. Still, I am not sorry I saw this picture. What I liked about it was the beautiful faces of Iraq's young people, particularly its children. I couldn't help but be struck by the native optimism of youth. However hellish the world in which they live, children still look to their parents for love and comfort. They still play. Miraculously they laugh and speak earnestly of what they want to be when they grow up. Bush and his spokesmen repeatedly imply that questioning the war in Iraq is an affirmation of Saddam and a betrayal of the Iraqi people. Nonsense. Whether or not we should have invaded Iraq when we did and the way we did, we have screwed up the war's aftermath. The gorgeous faces of the children in this film don't erase that fact. And in the interest of those children, why should we entrust those who have done it wrong to finally to get it right?

click to enlarge Voices of Iraq's ability to put a more positive face on the Iraqi people under American occupation is tempered by a questionable selection of inteviewees.
  • Voices of Iraq's ability to put a more positive face on the Iraqi people under American occupation is tempered by a questionable selection of inteviewees.


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