“My country, my country” is a documentary film about the election process in Iraq. It was shown at the Edinburgh International Film Festival middle of August. It is a very good film. Partly because the canditate for the election, Dr.Riyadh, doesn’t get elected himself as his party withdraws from the election process. Also, the film maker ****Laura Poitras cuts the narrative down to let the people in the film and the events speak for itself.
She spend 8 months alone in Iraq and documents the events and proceedings around the Election Day in Iraq in January 2005.
The film starts in July 2004, 6 months before elections, with stunning pictures out of a low flying helicopter to dramatic music by Kadlum Al Sahir. The dramatic music includes the song “My country”, and has the lyrics partly translated and subtitled.
The film maker has remarkable access to many main players in the game of the Iraqi occuption. The language is very colourful and meaningful, too, with the doctor’s language being nearly poetic.
The film initiates many questions in the viewer, such as about the legitimacy of the election under the circumstances and the connection between identidy, Islam and religion. It also shows the lack of understanding in this culture clash, for example when the US army talks of “Jo Iraqui” in its briefings to newly arrived soldiers, it comes over as just absurd.
Towards the end of the film, the US army briefs Iraqi policemen before the election day on security issues.
He tries to get the policemen enthusiastic and tells them that “they would be running the show at this historic day”, that they would be on TV all over the world and in the history books. But the Iraqi policemen just sit there stunned and look like they think “what the hell is he talking about?” and “doesn’t he know at all what’s at stake here and why we are doing this?”
Their reasons and motivations are just so completely different from what the US trainer assumes, that the scene nearly has a comic quality.
One of the most touching scenes and a metapher for the doctor’s motivation and story in itself is the visit of the Baghdad City Council to the tent camp around Abu Ghraib Prison. The Iraqi delegation are not allowed in, they can just shout to the prisoners through the fence. Dr.Riyadh wants to help, he asks for any prisoners with chronic illnesses, probably because as a medic, he hopes with his field of exprtise to be able to either gain access or argue for release. But thought the present soldiers try to give the impresion that they value any collaboration and input of the intelligent Iraqi civilians, they object to the City Council’s obvious demands and objections to the imprisonment of a 9 year old.
“These juveniles are dangerous.”
For me, this scene is the key to Dr.Riyadh’s motivation to stand for election and to get involved in politics. As a medic, he has sworn to “do no harm”, and to help where possible. He is well respected, intelligent, moderate and religous, he his accepted and respected by his community and his family. He speaks English and understands the Western thoughts and attitudes, too, also he has a Western film maker following him.
“We are an occupied country with a puppet government.”
he says. But the ways he sees to improve the situation of his country and his community is an attempt of cooperation, he is keen to get to any power to improve the situation. In the end he doesn’t get any decision-making authority no matter how hard he tries, and he gives up. The election process is symptomatic for the individual’s situation, and for the whole country. And in his quest to help, Dr.Riyadh brings himself, his community and friends in great danger, too.
Dr.Riyadh trusts his reputation as a doctor to protect him though:
“I’d bring the whole district to vote for you. But we would not vote for an outsider.” says a patient, who he asks for their opinion.
He seems to have made the right decision, until the Fallujah offensive happens three months later.
“Our doctors were shot on the first day.” report the patients, friends, religious visitors.
The doctor is helpless, and so is everybody else in the community, and that’s hurting. But whilst the doctor sees standing in the election even more as a matter of urgency and the only way to help and fight injustice, deep down he knows that any possibility to improve the situation is dependend on the US forces and as they are the prepetrators of most of the injustices he sees himself fighting against, the even the US led election might not authorise the elected candidate to abolish these.
“Before we talk about elections – what are the voters rights?” asks Dr.Riyadh. “If there would be an ounce of freedom, what has happened in Fallujah would not have happened.”
_ “How can you make elections in this situation?”
The film also accompanies the private security firm and its employees, Therrien Security, an Australian private security forces under boss and interviewee Peter Toundrow, around the country to document the security measures around the elections and watching a dubious subcontraction process. He arms the Kurdish subcontractors and other forces, but the question of accountability is not raised. We see him buying weapons and haggling over the price of AK47, the Russian/Chinese are Â£200 each and the Bulgarian Â£350.
Dr. Riyadh has problems though of a different kind: a relative has been kidnapped and the hostage takers demand huge sums of money.
The doctor delivers a motivating and moderate speech at the party conference to support the election in order to gain power to improve the situation.
His Islamic party however decides at the conference to withdraw from the elections. The US forces leave the individual candidates still on ballot paper, tempting them to accept it or not. The party asks for a boycott of the elections, and Dr.Riyadh feels the pressure.
“Politics are not good for you. You do more good as a doctor.” says his family. All of them vote, them being the only ones in the neighbourhood, and as they are fingerprinted for the process they discuss if their blue finger will mean that they could be targetted, such as other Iraqis who are seen as collaborators. The translators working with the US forces at the checkpoints wear scarves, sunglasses and masks.
So what is the moral of the story? Dr.Riyadh summarises his attitude and motivation, his future and his past brilliantly in this sentence:_
“I love my country, my city, my real life neighbourhood and I will work for them every second of my life till I die.”