One week after returning from Iraq in June of 2003, after five months of shooting my movie, Raining Planes, I attended an exhibition of children's drawings in Harlem, where I currently live. The auditorium was filled with amazing imagery, some ominous in tone and color - Harlem can be, after all, a tough place to be a child. Not a single piece in the Harlem show contained a helicopter gunship, Sidewinder missile, armored personnel carrier, weeping adolescent survivor, or dead body. In that moment, I was catapulted into the depth of the actual crimes committed against the children of Iraq by the Bush administration's "war on terror." Their minds and hearts will forever be tattooed by the tactics and terrifying weaponry of American-style techno-war. These drawings are a testament to that traumatic imprinting.
The drawings were collected over a 2-month period in May and June 2003 at the request of Carl Rosenstein and the Puffin Foundation. The task proved a difficult one due to the chaos and instability created by the war's aftermath. Schools were looted. Teachers, parents, and children became casualties of war. "Real" security was nonexistent despite numerous checkpoints and the heavy-handed crackdown by American forces. My good friend Hayder Mousa, an Iraqi filmmaker with two children of his own, was instrumental in organizing the classroom settings in which these drawings were made.
Assail School is located in New Baghdad, a working-class sector in the south part of the capitol. It had been damaged during the fighting and looted by displaced and desperate locals after the massive bombing campaign devastated the city. When I arrived the school was filled with children trying to return a semblance of normalcy to their lives. Their instructors attempted to teach class despite a lack of books, desks, chairs, and ceiling fans in the hundred-plus degree heat. They taught amidst broken windows, raw sewage, and the specter of continued violence.
With Hayder Mousa's coaxing and reassurances, the work began. The teachers granted us complete access to their pupils, who happily took on the assignment over the course of a week. Each morning, prior to the intolerable heat of midday, we visited each of the six classrooms at the school to speak with the students and teachers. Emphasizing the value of bringing these images to America, Hayder, at my direction, discussed the importance of the project in Arabic with them.
Supplied with pens, crayons, pencils and paper from New York City, we watched amazed as these very young survivors brought their experience of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" to life. When asked to provide written accounts of their beliefs, they refused - fearing the implications should Saddam Hussein return to power. The depth of these Iraqi children's reaction to America's war is measured by these powerful and compelling images.
July 13, 2003
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