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Battle for Haditha
Film Review by Hannah Dee, February 2008
Director: Nick Broomfield; Release date: Out now
Before the Iraq war, most people had probably never heard of Haditha - a small Iraqi town now famous for a massacre that has become a symbol for all that is wrong with the war. It took place on 19 November 2005, after a roadside bomb exploded killing a young marine. In the following five hours US troops went on the rampage killing 24 people, including a wheelchair-bound man and a three year old child.
Battle for Haditha is both a dramatisation of the events that took place and a larger statement about what happens when we go to war. Like Broomfield's previous film, Ghosts, it is shot in documentary style and based on extensive interviews with survivors, marines and members of the resistance.
Throughout the film we follow these three groups: the bitter and alienated marines of Kilo company who feel like they've been dumped in the "butt hole" of the world, the ordinary Iraqis who bear the brunt of these sentiments and are terrorised daily, and the men who plant the roadside bomb. We watch their lives intertwine as the massacre looms.
The scenes are powerful despite Broomfield's decision to exclude some horrific detail: the execution of children at point blank range, for example, and the marines who chased each other around with body parts, laughing. He states that he did not want audiences to be "overloaded with sheer horror" but to "think about what they have seen" - and who is responsible.
When atrocities like Haditha or Abu Ghraib happen, the establishment is always quick to blame "rogue" soldiers. But, as Broomfield discovered, indiscriminate killing is "standard operating procedure" and sanctioned from the very top. We should remember that Kilo company also took part in the atrocities at Fallujah.
A real strength of the film is that the marines are not presented simply as monsters but as victims of the military machine. They are mostly young, working class Americans who have been utterly brutalised by army life. The casting of real ex-marines, who served in Iraq, contributes to strong performances.
The main weakness though is the film's depiction of the Iraqi resistance. Haditha was the site of a popular uprising against the occupation but this is absent from the film. Instead the resistance is represented by two characters who seem to be acting in isolation and whose motivations are contradictory and unclear. Although Broomfield regards the resistance as "patriots" and seeks to "humanise" a group demonised in the mainstream media, this does not come across strongly enough.
However, the film sheds some light on what takes place on the killing fields of war. As Nick says, "I think there have been lots of Hadithas... Once you have declared war, events like this happen. The architects of the war are the people who need to be blamed. They are the war criminals."
Hollywood turned down this film on the basis that people "aren't ready to see it". We should prove them wrong by going to see it and helping to put on screenings wherever we can.
If you wish to set up a screening of Battle of Haditha contact the Stop the War Coalition.
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