Thursday, July 19, 2007

Return to Kirkuk

Return to Kirkuk: A Year in the Fire
Produced by Karzan Sherabayani
Eagle Media

“President Bush is a sacred person.” Not exactly the words you would expect to hear spoken in a documentary that aired on the BBC, Al Jazeera International and Frontline, but Karzan Sherabayani’s Return to Kirkuk resists the temptation to play to partisans on either side of the war to liberate Iraq.

At the age of fourteen, the Kurdish Sherabayani was imprisoned and tortured by Saddam Hussein’s secret police. His freedom was eventually ransomed by his older brother, leading Sherabayani to spend the next thirty years in exile in England. Kirkuk documents his return to his Kurdish homeland at a pivotal point in its history.

When he returned, the Kurds were granted the Kurdistan Autonomous Region under a proposed federal system of government. However, Sherabayani’s home city of Kirkuk was not including in this territory. Oh, and there’s oil there. A lot: “Kirkuk sits on 10 billion barrels of oil, worth over US$700 billion. This is more than twice the oil reserves of Texas.”

Sherabayani expresses great resentment for the British for partitioning Kurdistan in 1921 and for Americans abandoning the Kurdish resistance during the first Gulf War. Yet he has no false nostalgia for the Saddam regime, having experienced its savagery first hand.

In a particularly chilling sequence, Sherabayani returns to the cell in which he was tortured, reliving the horror of an experience that obviously still haunts him. He is not the only survivor we hear from. We meet, for instance, the elderly woman (a longtime family friend), who described Pres. Bush as “sacred.” Another friend adds: “We should make golden statues of Mr. Bush & Mr. Blair, and put them in every city.”

The act of voting is an important theme in Kirkuk. Sherabayani states: “For many years I have never had a chance to vote in this country, and now, in one year, this is the third time.” As Sherabayani shows viewers Iraqi and Kurdish citizens risking their lives to vote, it is impossible to miss the significance.

Yet, Sherabayani is also pessimistic about the future, often predicting civil war. He criticizes American military policies and frequently advocates an independent Kurdish state. Given the Kurdish support for coalition forces, he makes a decent case.

Kirkuk is told through a very personal, often moving, prism that conveys much about the actual state of affairs for the Kurds in Iraq. It is informative without conforming to preconceived prejudices. If only the same could be said for more of what the BBC and Frontline (let alone Al Jazeera) programmed.