Of the many who have died from unnatural causes in modern-day Iraq, I often think of two of my own uncles who were killed approximately two decades apart. In 1981, at the age of 31 and with a baby on the way, my maternal uncle was targeted and arrested as a political dissident under Saddam Hussein’s regime. My family never heard from him again. His body, like countless others, was never recovered. In 2004, my paternal uncle who had been a vocal advocate of an Iraq free from dictatorship had his life cut short by the liberators. Driving across a bridge in Baghdad with my cousin sat next to him, he was accidentally caught in crossfire between Americans and Al-Mahdi Army on either side. He was shot in the kidney and died in hospital hours later, his family receiving nothing more than an apology. Shit happens in war, right? These are just two stories which present a stark visualisation of some of the dramatic directions the country has been pulled in. Over a year ago I wrote an article for The Platform describing how Iraq has fallen victim to the loss of its own memory, each wave of conflict veiling the last, each tale lying namelessly in a mass grave. That’s why for an Iraqi diaspora exhausted by reductive explanations and statistics, the telling of those tales is a welcome change – but they have certainly been few and far between. Who tells those stories is equally important.
<div class="well"><i>Baghdad Central</i> (English/Arabic). Based on the novel by Elliot Colla, written by Stephen Butchard, directed by Alice Troughton. Euston Films, 2020. Broadcast on Channel 4 in February 2020.</div>
It was with this at the forefront of my mind that I learned of the series Baghdad Central, a six-episode crime thriller set in the immediate aftermath of the Iraq War of 2003 in the transition to a ‘New Iraq’. The Brits and Americans are very much still in town in this television drama, which follows the story of Muhsin al-Khafaji (Waleed Zuaiter), a former Baathist police officer approached by coalition forces to join them as a detective. Desperate to support his daughter Mrouj, who relies on dialysis, and quietly looking for his rebel daughter Sawsan, Muhsin accepts the job. The series has been compared to Homeland – in which Zuaiter himself plays a terrorist – offering just enough suspense to keep viewers going, assisted by a talented cast from various non-Iraqi Arab backgrounds, as well as a familiar backdrop, no doubt influenced by Iraqi producer Arij al-Soltan.