Saturday, May 31, 2008


BATTLE FOR HADITHA is Nick Broomfield's recreation of the infamous incident when US marines killed 24 Iraqi civilians after one of their own had been killed by a roadside IED. The movie is a fictional recreation that tries to look as much like a documentary as possible - following in the footsteps of Broomfield's GHOSTS and Paul Greengrass' UNITED 93. I was impressed by Broomfield's careful examination of the issues and his balance in analysing the motivations of the marines, the insurgents and the local residents. He has created a film that has less immediate impact that Brian de Palma's searing REDACTED, but poses more painful questions and has, perhaps, a more long-lasting emotional impact.

The movie has three strands. The first follows the US marines. Their motivations for enlisting vary from merely escaping poverty to those that like to "hunt". They are patriotic, yes, but more than that, loyal to their friends. When they see one of their own blown up, they want revenge. The means by which they exact revenge are brutal and indiscriminate but, on the day, they are praised by their ranking officers for having "kept their heads". Only later, when the events are exposed on TV, are the marines indicted for murder. Broomfield therefore poses the crucial question of who bears responsbility. Were the soldiers really just rogue? Or were they following Standard Operating Procedure sanctioned from the very top? Broomfield shows us clearly just how savage the marines have been. But he also shows the pressure they are under, the training they have received, and the guilt they feel after the event.

The second strand focuses on the two insurgents who plant the bomb. I was surprised by the fact that insurgents don't look like the image I have of Al Qaeda extremists. Rather, these two men look relatively westernised, drink and watch videos and they themselves view Al Qaeda as nutters. The elder of the two is ex-Iraqi army, angry at the US for having dissolved his regiment, paid him off and then destroyed his country. They perceive the US as using Iraq as a cash-cow - handing lucrative contracts to US corporations rather then employing local people. Once again, Broomfield shows scrupulous balance. He condemns the men as bombers, and while they evidently feel guilty about the Iraqis who have died, they still go on to use an orphaned girl in a propoganda video.

The third strand focuses on the local residents. I found this the most fascinating because news stories rarely focus on the bystanders. In fact, they are not passive victims but also face a profound moral choice. If you see insurgents planting a roadside bomb what do you do? Tell the US, and face the wrath of the insurgents, or let the bomb explode, and face the wrath of the US?

Altogether, BATTLE FOR HADITHA is an impressive, even-handed treatment of delicate and complicated issues. It's an important, well-made movie that deserves a wide audience.

BATTLE FOR HADITHA played Toronto and London 2007. It was released in Spain in 2007 and in France, the UK, Poland and the US earlier
this year. It is now available on DVD.

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