Baghdad: City of Walls, Pt. 3: City of the dead

April 21, 2009

From a Sadr City graveyard to the orphans of the conflict, what legacy will the poison of hatred and violence bequeath Baghdad? Ghaith Abdul-Ahad reports in the third film from his City of Walls video series

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From a Sadr City graveyard to the orphans of the conflict, what legacy will the poison of hatred and violence bequeath Baghdad? Ghaith Abdul-Ahad reports in the third film from his City of Walls video series


Story Transcript

GHAITH ABDUL-AHAD, THE GUARDIAN: After weeks of negotiations, I finally get the go-ahead. I’m on my way to an evil place, a militia deathbed that’s never been filmed before. 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 a wood, by a stick, by a spoon. It’s the last stretch of wasteland, a rubbish tip called ["el-SED-tet"]. This is the place where the militiamen bring their victims. In this place, they kill them and dump the bodies. 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. Look at these pieces of metal and of junk. They are the gravestones of the unknown dead. 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. They have no mourners and no ceremony. We see just one name among these improvised gravestones: Ahmad Safi. He died on 6 June 2007. Above his name, there’s a verse from Koran, which reads, "[Arabic]"—"God’s promise will be fulfilled." What legacy will all the poisonous violence of the past six years leave behind? There’s already a generation of young kids who have grown up knowing nothing but war and a lot of children who have been orphaned by the war. A mile or so from the killing fields of ["el-SED-teh"], there’s an orphanage in Sadr City the ["KUH-fuh-luh-lee-yuh-TEEN"].

CHILDREN (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): May God’s prayers be upon the prophet. May God speed up the return of Imam al Mehdi. May God’s curse be upon his enemies.

ABDUL-AHAD: It’s funded by Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia. They look after 700 young orphans here. Most of them were orphaned by the invasion and the civil war that followed. It’s a good orphanage. The children are clean and well fed and well indoctrinated by the mullahs’ propaganda.

CHILDREN: Truthful is the messenger of God. Truthful is the prophet of God. Truthful is the beloved of God.

MAN (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): The Sadr office opened for school. They have been really generous to us, especially their social care committee.

CHILDREN: The whole universe is ruled by God. Everything you have, you have from God.


ABDUL-AHAD: It was here that I met Hussein, eight years old. His father was a policeman killed by a car bomb. Even though the Americans have nothing to do with his father’s death, Hussein told me he blamed the United States. I asked him about the day his father died.

HASSEIN (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): I know my Dad had to die one day, but it was just too soon. He was in the hospital for three days, and then he died.

ABDUL-AHAD (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Did you go and see him in the hospital?

HASSEIN: Yes, I saw him.

ABDUL-AHAD: How was he?

HASSEIN: His head was shaved because he had a wound on his head.

ABDUL-AHAD: When you see Americans, how do you feel?

HASSEIN: I don’t want them here. God willing, they leave. We don’t want them here. See what they have done to us? We can’t go out. Many people are dead because of them.


ABDUL-AHAD (ENGLISH): I also met Amar, seven years of age. He witnessed the death of both his parents, killed when his house was hit by a bomb—or "disk of fire", as he called it. He too blamed the Americans.

AMAR (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): The Americans, when I see them, I run inside.


AMAR: Yes.


AMAR: I feel scared.

ABDUL-AHAD: Why are you scared of the Americans?

AMAR: I feel scared.


AMAR: They might kill me.

ABDUL-AHAD: You’re scared the Americans might kill you?

AMAR: Yes.

ABDUL-AHAD: Did you hear that the Americans killed someone?

AMAR: The Americans threw that disk of fire onto our roof, and it burnt our house.

ABDUL-AHAD: Did the Americans burn your house?

AMAR: Yes, they threw the disk of fire.

ABDUL-AHAD: Did an airplane bomb your house?

AMAR: Yes, they threw a disk of fire onto it.

ABDUL-AHAD: Nick threw it onto the house, and it got burned?

AMAR: Yes. It was a rented house.

ABDUL-AHAD: So that’s why you are scared of the Americans?

AMAR: Yes.

ABDUL-AHAD: How do you know that the Americans threw that disk and burnt your house?

AMAR: Because I was there! I was awake downstairs while the others were sleeping.

ABDUL-AHAD: How did you know there was a fire?

AMAR: I was watching the TV and there was a fire. I woke everybody up and they escaped. But my mommy was upstairs, and Mommy couldn’t come down. But the others all did.

ABDUL-AHAD: And your daddy?

AMAR: Daddy got down the stairs.

ABDUL-AHAD: Then he went back?

AMAR: Yes. They took them to the Al Kindi Hospital. Mommy died first; then Daddy died the next day, in the morning


ABDUL-AHAD (ENGLISH): What words would ever help Amar and Hassein to make sense of their loss? Of course the Americans are blamed for everything here in the orphanage, but these children’s tears, the rubbish tip in ["el-SEH-deh"] full of its rotting corpses, seem to sum up the inferno that modern-day Baghdad has become. I decide to leave my city before my heart breaks too. When I return a few months later, many things seems to have changed—on the surface.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.