In the second of Ghaith Abdul-Ahad’s series of three films he visits Baghdad’s killings fields on the edge of Sadr City. The scene of thousands of sectarian murders over the last three years, it is a desolate and evil place: “Only the killers and the killed ever come here” says Abdul-Ahad. Here in the thousands of unmarked graves lie the victims of the Shia militia gangs.
GHAITH ABDUL-AHAD (VOICEOVER): People argue about how many Iraqis have died since 2003. Even conservative estimates say that 90,000 Iraqis have lost their lives. This is one of the faces of death in Baghdad. This cemetery here used to be a park. It was converted into a graveyard just two years ago, converted because people can’t leave their areas for normal burials. And so this place is a kind of makeshift cemetery. There have been more than 3,000 people buried here in the last two years. Sitting on the edge of his son’s grave, I meet Jamal Abbas. For me, the story of how his son Omar died sums up everything that’s gone wrong in Iraq. Omar was a Sunni. He had a best friend called Ali, a Shia. They’d been friends for years, and in 2006 they went out for a meal not far from the graveyard. A Shia death squad arrested both of them and asked them their names. Ali was spared because of his name; Omar was shot dead because of his. “We are peaceful people. Everyone is welcomed here,” Mr. Abbas tells me. Like Omar, most of the dead here were killed in the shops outside their houses, on the way to work, or coming from work because of their names or their family names. Baghdad is a city full of grief. But at least the dead here can be mourned properly, with dignity. There’s another more horrific graveyard in Baghdad that I want to show you, a place where only the killers and the killed go to. It has entered into the Iraqi mythology as the infernal modern-day Baghdad.
ABDUL-AHAD (ON CAMERA): It’s on the edge of Sadr City. It’s the place where the militias would shoot and kill their victims and be buried there by the locals. The graves would be marked by a piece of junk metal, by wood, by a stick, by a spoon.
ABDUL-AHAD (VOICEOVER): It’s a large stretch of wasteland, a rubbish [inaudible], called [inaudible]. This is the place where militiamen bring their kidnapped victims. In this place they kill them and dump the bodies here.
ABDUL-AHAD (ON CAMERA): Each one of these metal bits that we see around here marks a grave, the grave of the people who were killed on the area over there.
ABDUL-AHAD (VOICEOVER): Look at these pieces of metal and of junk. They are the gravestones of the unknown dead.
ABDUL-AHAD (ON CAMERA): The whole area smells of death. It stinks. The stench of death is there. These are shallow graves, and they mark them. Dogs are there.
ABDUL-AHAD (VOICEOVER): They have no mourners and no ceremony. We see just one name among these improvised gravestones: Ahmad Safi. He died on June 6, 2007. Above his name, there’s a verse from Koran, which reads, [Arabic]—God’s promise will be fulfilled.
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