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US film "Blood of my Brother" shows Iraqi tragedy

By Staff
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NEW YORK, May 5 (Reuters) As Iraq sinks into sectarian fighting, a documentary by a U.S. director who spent six months in Baghdad in 2004 explores the roots of Iraq's violence and why so many young men there are drawn to take up arms.

''The Blood of My Brother'' focuses on one Shi'ite family after the death of the oldest son and breadwinner, Ra'ad, a professional photographer who was shot by a U.S. patrol.

The exact circumstances of his death are unclear but it seems to have occurred while he was working a shift as a volunteer guard outside a Shi'ite mosque. The focus of the movie, however, is the impact on his family, especially his younger brother Ibrahim, aged 19 at the time.

''His brother was supporting the family, now his brother is gone and he has to take over and take care of the family and he's really not old enough to do it. He's understandably angry,'' director Andrew Berends said in an interview.

The film had its U.S. premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, which ends this weekend, as the war is increasingly unpopular in America.

It shows how Ibrahim is tempted to join the Shi'ite uprising against U.S. troops that erupted in Najaf in 2004, led by the Mehdi Army loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

''When I see a burning tank, it makes me happy. When I see any Americans or Jews, I want revenge, but I can't. I have to take care of the house,'' Ibrahim says in the film, which shows him watching a Mehdi Army recruiting video.

VIOLENCE SHIFTS DIRECTION The Mehdi Army controls many Shi'ite areas, including Sadr City, a poor area of Baghdad housing 2 million people. In the film, most of the violence is directed at U.S. troops. Now Shi'ite militias are more likely to be accused by Sunni Arabs of burning their mosques and killing Sunni civilians.

''It's extremely complicated,'' Berends said of the current situation. ''There's a number of different militias. The Mehdi Army was the one I had access to.'' He said it was depressing to hear young men talking about the attractions of martyrdom. ''I used to think that was propaganda when I would hear that about suicide bombers ... until I met some people who actually say that,'' he said.

Berends said that while several films had been made from the U.S.

perspective, he was more interested in Iraqis.

''It's an American and Iraqi war. For Americans, it's very, very far away, and you don't have to deal with it if you don't want to,'' Berends said. ''Iraqis don't have that choice.'' Berends and his translator spent months getting to know Ra'ad's family, interviewing his mother, sisters and friends.

''Ra'ad is a very insignificant person ... by anybody's standards, except to his family and his friends,'' he said.

''But he is an important person, and his death is going to have an impact,'' Berends said, adding that at least 30,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the war, and by some accounts as many as 100,000.

As well as family stories, there are scenes at Friday prayers in a mosque where radical clerics stir up their audiences, and on one occasion Berends interviews a small group of masked and armed insurgents on a street corner.

''If there was fighting I would just run in that direction or try to be there when it happened,'' Berends said.

In one scene after a U.S. helicopter has crashed and a U.S tank is patrolling the streets, he and Iraqi families in the neighborhood take refuge as explosions shake the house.

''There was a window of opportunity for us to make these films from an Iraqi perspective,'' Berends said, adding that now it was much more dangerous in Baghdad.

He said it was not intended to be either pro- or anti-war but shows the lasting impact of war on normal people.

REUTERS CH ND0946

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