Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 25, 2006

My Country, My Country

Filed under: Film,Iraq — louisproyect @ 5:55 pm

“My Country, My Country” makes an interesting companion piece to the documentary “Blood of My Brother” that I reviewed recently. The first focuses on a Sunni family in today’s Iraq, while the latter focuses on a Shi’ite family. In keeping with the fragmented nature of politics in Iraq today, neither family–with one notable exception discussed below–has any contacts with fellow Muslims across the divide.

Working completely on her own in Iraq (a courageous act for an artist, leaving aside the merits of her film) for 8 months, Laurie Poitras focused on the family of Riyadh N. al-Adhadh, who is a physician in a free medical clinic in Adhamiya, a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad. He is also a father of six and a candidate in the January 2005 elections. Poitras also spends some time with a group of Australian mercenaries hired to defend the voting against insurgent attacks, as well as with Kurds who end up supplying the Australians with AK-47’s.

It is difficult to imagine a more representative figure than Dr. Riyadh. A bitter opponent of U.S. occupation who Poitras first encountered on a fact-finding expedition to Abu Ghraib, he only decides to run–despite a Sunni boycott–because he considers his bid as a form of nonviolent resistance. As he chats with potential voters, he stresses that they should vote for him because they know him from the neighborhood. One gets the strong sense that even in this urban setting that tribal loyalties would remain strong.

The film begins shortly after the U.S. has destroyed Fallujah. In one of the film’s most powerful scenes, we see Dr. Riyadh and a group of Sunni leaders meeting with American military officers who are being told of the strong ties between Fallujah and Baghdad. It is simply amazing that Poitras was allowed into the meeting and we can only be grateful for her persistence.

Dr. Riyadh is a pillar of patience and understanding. When he is not out politicking, he is seen caring for an endless stream of patients. One of them is a Shi’ite woman and her son who have recently moved up from Basra. When he asks her what her husband is up to, she informs him that he has joined the Mahdi army, which at that point was coming to the aid of the besieged Sunni fighters in Fallujah. When Dr. Riyadh asks her how much money she needs to help her with a financial emergency, she asks for some thousands of dinars. He reaches into his desk drawer and gives her twice as much as she was asking for. Today her husband might be involved in the Mahdi army death squads that are making life hell for people like Dr. Riyadh.

Urban clashes continued for a second day in a volatile Sunni Arab neighborhood of northern Baghdad, leaving at least five Iraqis dead and 20 wounded in fighting Tuesday between gunmen and Iraqi security forces.

Witnesses described the hostilities as sectarian gun battles between Sunni Muslim residents and the Shiite Muslim-led security forces. But Iraqi officials said outside insurgents had infiltrated the capital’s Adhamiya quarter and provoked clashes with police and the army. Fighting in the district Monday left at least three people dead.

By late Tuesday morning, Iraqi army troops had moved in and a measure of calm had returned. Authorities had sealed off main roads into the neighborhood, and U.S. helicopters scanned the area from above.

“Now the situation is good and calm,” Iraqi army Maj. Gen. Jawad Rumi Daini said in a telephone interview. “Armed men from outside Adhamiya wanted to make trouble inside, and we eliminated them.”

But the district’s mostly Sunni residents blamed elements of the security forces. They said specialized units of the Interior Ministry had been acting as sectarian death squads and terrorizing their community.

“The young people of Adhamiya picked up their personal weapons to defend their neighborhoods,” said a man emerging on foot from an area near one of the checkpoints at the district’s edge. “I will not go back home today because the situation is unbearable. Every night when I sleep, I put my gun under the pillow with a bullet in the chamber.”

–Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2006

In a director’s statement in the press notes for this film, Laurie Poitras states that “this film was motivated by a sense of despair about the contradictions of the U.S. occupation of Iraq and its project to implement democracy through the use of military force. I wanted to understand these contradictions from the perspective of the people living them, on the ground.”

Despite the sense of despair that the director felt coming into this project, and one that the audience might feel after watching the film, this is an indispensable eyewitness report on the epochal struggle of our age. Along with “Blood of My Brother” and “The War Tapes“, a documentary made by G.I’s themselves, Poitras’s film serves to piece together the puzzle that is Iraq today. If there is any consolation to be found, it is that individuals like Dr. Riyadh exist and that there are principled and dedicated artists like Laurie Poitras who are willing to risk their lives to bring them to the attention of the wider public.

(Schedule information is at the film’s website.)



  1. Dear fellow bloggers and blog-readers

    Just to let you know, a new novel is being serialised at drift-the-novel.blogspot.com. I have been serialising it for the past month or so, but it’s not too late to join the fray – we are only up to Chapter VI, so it won’t take you long to catch up.

    Loosely speaking, this was my attempt at a Marxist novel, though it ended up as something quite different. But anyway: the right place for a novel is not in the offices of a major publishing company. It should be freely available for people to read as nature intended. I would be very pleased to hear any comments, positive or otherwise, and would appreciate you spreading the word to friends, colleagues and other interested parties if you like what you read.

    Thanks, and keep up the good work.

    Comment by Rob — July 27, 2006 @ 9:58 pm

  2. Don’t forget the state terrorism being waged against Iraqi trade unionists…


    Comment by david broder — July 29, 2006 @ 5:27 pm

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