Documenting the Chaos in Iraq: 'No End in Sight' Looks at the U.S. Occupation of Iraq; 'Death at a Funeral' Tries Too Hard

By Cunneen, Joseph; Doherty, Kevin | National Catholic Reporter, September 14, 2007 | Go to article overview

Documenting the Chaos in Iraq: 'No End in Sight' Looks at the U.S. Occupation of Iraq; 'Death at a Funeral' Tries Too Hard


Cunneen, Joseph, Doherty, Kevin, National Catholic Reporter


Charles Ferguson's No End in Sight is the best documentary to have emerged about the war in Iraq, one especially appropriate for political moderates who do not immediately jeer at the very name of Bush. It includes some lively footage from the streets of Baghdad. More refreshing are the interviews it presents with veterans in intelligence, the State Department and the military who express their shock when they realize the administration had made almost no plans for the occupation of the country it was intent on invading.

Michael Moore would have made himself central to the proceedings and offered laughs. Here we witness reluctant testimonies about what went on behind the scenes when administration members ignored those who did not agree with them regarding post-invasion policy. The material is all the more convincing because it is laid out coolly.

We see the results of policy decisions, as when the failure--despite warnings--to protect Baghdad museums led to wholesale looting of the artistic and historical treasures of one of the world's greatest early cultures. Those making decisions were interested only in seeking weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein, one commentator observed. They didn't see their role as helping Iraqis. They didn't feel it their business to protect the enormous number of weapons and explosives that were looted on their watch.

The filmmaker wisely included bits from Donald Rumsfeld's subsequent news conference when the defense secretary dismissed concern over the shocking destruction as a predictable, routine mishap, inevitable with the coming of "freedom."

Director Ferguson develops his film by balancing crowd scenes in Iraq that show the bankruptcy of White House policy with interviews revealing what went on behind the scenes. The latter makes clear that the chaos of present-day Iraq was made possible by administration insiders whose incompetence was matched by their smug dismissal of all conflicting advice. Inevitably, much of the material in the documentary will not be new to those who have been following the tragedy of Iraq. It has added impact, though, when viewed on film.

Many will recall that a U.S. general had testified that at least 500,000 troops would be needed for the occupation of Iraq but such counsel was ignored. We also see the consequences of Paul Bremer's decision to disband the Iraqi army, which left hundreds of thousands of soldiers without a job in a time of national upheaval. There is even a brief calculation of the incredible cost of the Iraqi adventure, adding up to the unbelievable sum of $2 trillion to date. The visual footage of the assassination of the Argentinean U.N. representative produces a more immediate shock.

Perhaps what is best about "No End in Sight" is its absence of self-serving rhetoric. Mr. Ferguson, a first-time filmmaker, got expert assistance from cinematographer Antonio Rossi and composer Peter Nashel and concentrates on showing us the faces and letting us hear the voices of those who were not listened to. …

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