Iraqis eye the future of their country in \'Whose Peace will it Be?\'

Friday 05/02/2016
A Whose Peace will it Be? poster.

London - “The liberation of Iraq?” Sabah al-Mukhtar, the Iraqi president of the Arab Lawyers Associa­tion, exclaimed with a cynical laugh when asked about the future of his war-torn country.
“Before occupation [US invasion in 2003], almost every Iraqi vil­lage had electricity. Now Baghdad barely has three days of power, in­vestment dropped to almost zero as a result of insecurity and almost 2.5 million children have no school­ing.”
Naji Haraj, a former Iraqi diplo­mat and human rights defender liv­ing in Switzerland, describes Iraq as a country without human rights.
“Since occupation and under the successive puppet governments, execution rates in Iraq have reached record numbers. Mass campaigns of arbitrary arrests are the norm un­der the guise of ‘fighting terrorism’. Peaceful demonstrators are called terrorists and arrested. Disappear­ances continue to rise and secret prisons are still in use,” he said.
Behnam Keryo, an Iraqi artist and activist living in France, com­mented: “Geographically Iraq can’t be but tolerant. Every time minori­ties were persecuted, it was always because of a foreign invasion. Iraq has to quell the invaders and their puppets and recover its very soul.”
Mukhtar, Haraj and Keryo are among 24 Iraqis and a number of Western intellectuals who shared their views about the future of Iraq with Belgian film director and pro­ducer Luc Pien in a 61-minute doc­umentary titled Whose Peace will it Be?
In the film, Haifa Zangana, an Iraqi writer and activist living in London, said: “With the aim of cre­ating a compliant population, the occupation forces and local allies attempted to erase cultural herit­age and memory, torching librar­ies, pillaging museums and ancient sites and targeting academics and scientists.”
“Sixty percent of Iraqi writers and artists had to flee the country since 2003. For those who continue to live in Iraq, art and creativity have become either a survival kit or an act of resistance,” she said.
Introducing his film at a London screening at the P21 Gallery, Pien said he wanted to make a docu­mentary in which Iraqis themselves would speak about their problems and state facts about their coun­try. “The things that are stated are facts,” Pien said. “But instead of showing facts through images of killing and destruction, I let people speak… I tried to make the words of people become an image and the beauty and poetry of the words came together.”
The inspiration for the film came from a conference March 2014 in Belgium, grouping intellectuals, artists and activists who denounce the logic of permanent war de­ployed against the Middle East region. Pien was asked to film the conference organised by the Brus­sels Tribunal in which Iraq featured prominently.
“Then I wanted to raise aware­ness about the situation in this country,” Pien said.
Whose Peace will it Be? is a string of sound bites of varying lengths from the 24 interviewees, which Pien describes as a monologue from people who express the same view. Instead of letting participants state their case without interruption, the film moves back and forth between interviewees. The result is a series of powerful and insightful, though disorderly, comments.
In publicity material accompany­ing the documentary, Pien states that it is not aimed at Middle East­ern specialists. “It is intended for people who want to have a better understanding of the situation on the ground,” he said.
However, background informa­tion and a comprehensive historical summary of recent events are sadly lacking. Also absent from Pien’s interviewees were Iraqis from the then-opposition who welcomed the US intervention and Iraqi politi­cians who were in the government post-2003.
All the interviewees rejected war and were totally opposed to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Their conclusion was that peace is the only solution that will enable Iraqis to solve their problems with­out outside interference.
While Iraqi academics of the di­aspora mused on the need for free­dom, education and humanity for the Arab world, Western scholars elaborated how knowledge about and respect for other cultures and people have vanished.
A member of the audience at the London screening congratulated Pien for making the concerted ef­fort to bring Iraqis together to tell their stories.
“For the past 12 years, 90% of the people who spoke about Iraq do not even speak Arabic yet they tell Iraqis how they should solve their problems,” the audience member said. “You presented the real pic­ture. You allowed the real Iraqis to express their views.”