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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick.

As much as you read about and hear about Iraq - the war, the violence, the hope and despair - it is so difficult to understand if you haven't been there. At least that's what I thought before I saw the documentary film Iraq in Fragments. This close and personal movie illuminates so much and in way that is visually stunning. It's filmed in Arabic and Kurdish by an American.

James Longley is a director and cinematographer in his mid-30s. He spent two years filming Iraq in Fragments and another nine months putting it together. The documentary opens today in theaters all around the country. If you see it, you will know that James Longley is both a journalist and an artist.

(Soundbite of movie "Iraq in Fragments")

CHADWICK: The film begins in the voice of boy who is 11 or 12 years old?

Mr. JAMES LONGLEY (Director, Iraq in Fragments): Eleven, yeah.

CHADWICK: Mohammed?

Mr. LONGLEY: Yeah.

CHADWICK: And he's talking, I realize, about Baghdad, and he's saying it was so beautiful.

(Soundbite of movie "Iraq in Fragments")

CHADWICK: It was so beautiful. And this is a city that we only know from its horrors. That's all pretty much we hear about.

Mr. LONGLEY: Mohammed Haithem has this idealized view of Baghdad, the Baghdad of before the war. He doesn't feel the political oppression of the Saddam regime maybe in the way that older people or more politicized people would. You know, as the past kind of slips away, people are beginning to kind of share with him that idealized view of the past.

Now that everything's become so much more complicated and you no longer know where the red lines are anymore, at least under Saddam people could kind of figure out what they could do, what they weren't allowed to do. It was dangerous, it was brutal, but at least you knew how it worked.

(Soundbite of movie "Iraq in Fragments")

(Soundbite of gunfire)

CHADWICK: There's a sense in this film that you, the filmmaker, must be in significant danger for a lot of the time.

Mr. LONGLEY: The moments that are on the screen are not necessarily the moments of real danger for me. Members of the insurgency actually had their eye on me and they knew that I was coming to a particular location over and over again and they were kind enough to tell people that if I came there again I'd be killed. Iraq is the kind of place where no matter how well you plan things, you can simply wind up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

CHADWICK: And this is a time - I mean the situation in Iraq immediately after the war - the fighting part of the war - immediately after the coalition forces successfully occupy the country - those kinds of things are okay for a while. You can travel. But it gets increasingly dangerous fairly quickly. And by a year and a half you've been there, it's now extremely dangerous.

Mr. LONGLEY: Right. The window really closed, I would say, April, 2004. You had a few things that happened all at once that really accelerated this process of disenchantment in the society toward foreigners, toward the occupation. There was the siege of Fallujah, where many people were killed, and all Iraqis saw that on television when it was happening. Al-Jazeera had a crew there.

There was the Shiite uprising in the south, which many people there believed was provoked by very specific U.S. policies toward Moqtada al-Sadr at that time and that it was something unnecessary. They didn't need to do it, but they chose to do it for whatever reason. Also the Abu Ghraib scandal, the revelations of abuses in the Abu Ghraib prison.

And so you have these three events which really I think were a turning point for the popular perception in Iraq of the United States. Whereas in the beginning, after the war people, people I think were guardedly optimistic that perhaps the United States - being the most powerful, the wealthiest country in the world - would make good on their promise of reconstruction, development, investment, democracy.

(Soundbite of movie "Iraq in Fragments")

CHADWICK: Partway through this film you introduce a character. Is it Sheikh Ouz?

Mr. LONGLEY: Sheikh Ouz.

CHADWICK: Ouz, that's how you pronounce it, sorry. I listened to this man talking about how bad America is and what is wrong with the occupiers and why we need to throw them out, and I think this is one of the most powerful speakers I've heard.

Mr. LONGLEY: It's also true, a lot of the things that he's saying, and that makes it easier for him. Unfortunately, there was a lot of incompetence and bad planning that went into this post-war period. He's capitalizing on that.

(Soundbite of film "Iraq in Fragments")

CHADWICK: There's a political debate in this movie. And some of the Sheikh's people are in this political debate. I hear an amazing thing there. I hear the representatives of the secular society, the democrats, meeting with people who are religiously based.

(Soundbite of film "Iraq in Fragments")

CHADWICK: You hear in this meeting one side say to the other, we might not be able to hold another meeting like this because we can't get together, we can't agree on things, and the situation will become so dangerous that we will not be able to talk to each other.

Mr. LONGLEY: People in Iraq understand what's happening to their society. And people are terrified of it, of this division of the country that seems to be happening gradually over time. In this country we have a very oversimplified view of Iraq. This idea that Iraq is something that maybe we can solve all the problems of by simply dividing it into three parts - Sunni, Shia, Kurd - it's a dangerously simple idea. I think it's a false idea.

CHADWICK: On your Web site, which we will link to through our Web site, NPR.org, there's a director's statement. And toward the conclusion of that, you say that you want to show the unity that holds Iraq together; in addition to all the problems, the unity that holds it together. What is the unity that holds it together?

Mr. LONGLEY: In this film, unfortunately, just because of the structure, maybe you don't - it's not possible to really convey a sense of it, because it's three separate stories separated by great distances.

CHADWICK: It's in fragments.

Mr. LONGLEY: It's in fragments, yeah. But at the same time, when you're in the country and you move around, you do get a sense of the continuity of the place, that there isn't some barrier between, you know, the south or the north or the center. It is one country. I do feel the country is breaking apart. I also think it's an extremely problematic proposition, because people are all living together for a long time in Iraq.

And now there's this discussion of creating a Shia state in the south. But you have to remember that Baghdad is a Shia majority city. What happens to all the Shia in Baghdad if you create a Shia state in the south? The million Kurds who live out of the Kurdish areas, if you were to form a Kurdish state in the north, in addition to all the problems, you would have internationally, with Syria and Turkey and Iran, who oppose the creation of a Kurdish state, or would you have the ethnic cleansing of those million Kurds from the Baghdad area? Would you have all-out civil war if you tried to divide a city like Kirkuk formally and annex it to a nation - Kurdish state? Because after all, under Kirkuk you have six percent of the world's known oil reserves.

To make any kind of real formal partition of the country is really asking for trouble, I think. And people who are proposing it maybe don't realize how much trouble they're asking the Iraqi people to bear on their behalf.

CHADWICK: James Longley, director and cinematographer of the film Iraq In Fragments. Thank you for speaking with us on DAY TO DAY.

Mr. LONGLEY: It's been a pleasure.

CHADWICK: Congratulations on your film.

Mr. LONGLEY: Thank you.

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