Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Dreams of Sparrows

(Iraq, 2004)

I have a multiple choice quiz for you:

The decision to invade Iraq was:

(A) A master stroke in the war on terrorism.
(B) The worst military decision since Hitler invaded Russia.
(C) A great boon to the Iraqi people.
(D) The Vietnam War, Part Two.
(E) What is Iraq?

In other words, no matter what you think about the war in Iraq, unless you answered (E) and don’t think at all, you should see this movie. It’s the only way you’re going to see what’s happening on the ground there. You think you’re informed, but you’re not. The big news organizations, from CNN to CBS to the NYT, are cowering in their bunkers. They don’t go out on the street; they don’t dare to. They say “Reporting from Baghdad,” but it’s a joke. They might as well have stayed in New York. Where they are reporting from is their hotels and compounds. What little news we’re getting is gathered by paid Iraqi stringers (also known as cannon fodder), and they are being killed at a rate of about 12 per month. None of the network honchos will risk their precious, pampered necks out in the countryside, and barely dare to venture out even in the cities. To see the streets of Iraq, you’ll have to see a movie like this.

The director, Haydar Daffar, is an Iraqi, and he begins filled with enthusiasm at his chosen project: to document the changes in Iraq after the “end of combat operations,” as proclaimed by GW Bush. All he has is a few friends and a few video cameras. He begins on the day Saddam is pulled out of his spider hole. He thinks things are going pretty well. One of the people he recruits to run the cameras is so enthused about Bush that he carries the president’s picture in his wallet. “I love this man as much as I love my father!”

The enthusiasm is hard to maintain. He interviews citizens, many of whom think things are going well, one or two who still think Saddam was a great man and should come back. But more think things are going far too slowly. He visits a girls’ school where the well-dressed students are working out their feelings by drawing the bombings. Just down the road orphans and Palestinians are living in garbage.

You can, of course, arrange footage to make any point you want to, but I feel this man is being honest. You can see things going downhill every day. One of his co-producers, a woman, has this to say around the middle of the film: “It is not better or worse. The occupation is bad and Saddam is bad.” In other words, we’re glad to be shut of the bastard … now when are you going home? Failing that, what is so goddam hard about getting the electricity back on, the trash picked up, and why are we, sitting on an ocean of oil, having to wait five or six hours for gasoline that may not be there? It’s all falling apart.

They go to Fallujah, which is hardly there anymore. Then one of the producers, Sa’ad Fahker, a man who had a high opinion of Bush a year ago, is gunned down in his car by Americans in a case of mistaken identity. You couldn’t write a script like that. At the end, Daffar just sets up his camera and talks to it for a while. He is a man in despair. Nothing has gone the way he thought. I imagine the people in the White House are feeling about the same way right now, having won the war with absolutely no plan as to what to do afterward … but they’re a lot more comfortable with it. And if you haven’t guessed, my answers to the quiz were (B), (D), and, I hope, (F) the grade history will give to the Bush administration. Not that it will be any comfort to all those dead American soldiers and many more dead Iraqis.