Iraq In Fragments
Photographed, edited and directed by the American filmmaker James Longley over a two year period following the US invasion of Iraq in April 2003, this haunting documentary doesn’t take the familiar perspective of the occupying forces. Instead it goes behind the media headlines to explore everyday life in this war-ravaged country from the vantage point of ‘ordinary’ Iraqis.
The title is reflected in the film’s triptych structure, with the first chapter ‘Mohammed of Baghdad’ focussing on a fatherless 11-year-old Sunni boy in the capital, who works for a brutish garage mechanic. The second section ‘Sadr’s South’ portrays followers of the Shia religious leader Moqtada al-Sadr in the holy city of Najaf, who is shown violently enforcing Islamic law by assaulting market traders allegedly selling alcohol. The concluding segment ‘Kurdish Spring’ deals with a Kurdish farming family near Arbil in the north, where an elder predicts that Iraq itself will be divided into three parts, whilst an unseen voice replies ‘How can you cut a country into pieces? With a saw.”’
Along with the remarkable access gained by Longley to his subjects, what makes Iraq in Fragments so distinctive is its impressionistic and at times lyrical imagery that’s captured on high-definition video. We come to expect the worse, so that when clouds of billowing black smoke are revealed to be emanating from brick ovens, we feel temporarily relieved. Somehow a semblance of everyday life is maintained, yet, as a passer-by so presciently observes of the foreign occupation, ‘If it is like this in the beginning, what will the end be like.’