Contextual Content

Baghdad: City of Walls

In the first of Ghaith Abdul-Ahad’s extraordinary series of films to mark the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war, he investigates the claims that the US military surge is bringing stability to Iraq. By travelling through the heart of Baghdad he exposes how, by enclosing the Sunni and Shia populations behind 12ft walls, the surge has left the city more divided and desperate than ever.

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Story Transcript

Courtesy: The Guardian

VOICEOVER: I came to investigate the American military’s reports that violence was falling in Baghdad, that life in the city is improving, that the US surge has transformed the city. But it has taken me a month just to organize safe passage through my city. It’s a journey that would be impossible for a foreign journalist. What I found contradicts all the official reports: Baghdad is a city where one street is at war with the next, where the people are more desperate than I’ve ever seen them. It has been transformed into a city of walls. There are twenty miles of walls slicing up the Sunni and Shia ghettos, each wall over 12 feet high. They are the main reason why the casualties have fallen, not because peace is on its way. In Adhamiyah, I meet a member of the Sunni militia, and he tells me, “I cannot move behind that square over there. If I did, I would be killed. It’s a prison here.” Then I’m taken by car to the very front line. This wall is a place where no foreign television crew could visit. They would be kidnapped within minutes. And even for me, an Iraqi, it has taken two weeks to arrange safe passage here. I used to eat my sandwiches here with my friends after school. Now there is no one. There is not an American soldier in sight. I want to go to the other side of the wall. It should take a couple of minutes to just walk across this bridge. Instead it takes me four hours. I have to switch cars, use different ID cards, and at Shia checkpoints, I put on the rings that the Shia militia like to wear.

PASSENGER IN CAR: Put down the camera.

VOICEOVER: Here a Shia militia man tells me if a cat is confronted by a dog, it gets out its claws. This looks like a typical, busy Baghdad market. But I needed a local commander to guarantee safe passage.

REPORTER: I can’t speak in English [inaudible].

VOICEOVER: And within minutes this man approached me. He was angry. “You must tell the truth,” he says. He demands that I follow him. “Five years of war, and we live like this?” he says. And this is what he wants to show me: the stinking open sewer outside his house. The neighbors come out. They tell him to calm down, but I don’t blame him. Imagine what this must be like to live in in the heat of a Baghdad summer. I reassured him that this is why we were here, to hear his story. “Tell the world,” he tells me. “I want the world to see how we live here.” She came up to us suddenly out of nowhere, begging. It’s a common sight these days in Baghdad. Fifty-four thousand people are homeless in the city. She told us she was a Sunni driven out of her home in a Shia area, a refugee in her own city. Her son, Saad, had been killed by the Mahdi Army two years ago, and she had no support. “I’ve been living like this for six months,” she says. After crossing my city, I went to the one place where I’ve always felt at peace, Karrada. I grew up here. This is my favorite café, where I used to come as a student, one of the only places to chill in Baghdad. Two days after I was here, two bombs exploded nearby and 68 people died. In my three weeks back home in Baghdad, 179 people were killed, and no Baghdadi ever mentioned the surge to me.

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