21 July 2020 00:43
In the second episode of Once Upon a Time in Iraq (BBC Two), the trajectory of the invasion was told through one man. Lt Col Nate Sassaman was the star quarterback, model soldier, US Army good guy. His mission was to keep the peace and help rebuild the country. He met with local tribal leaders set up democratic elections. "In the early days, I think we were trying to go in there and make it right for the folks.
Doing the noble thing," he said. Winning hearts and minds. But the Iraqis didn't warm to an invading force. The country's infrastructure was destroyed. The army was disbanded, leaving former soldiers to mill around on the streets with nothing to do except get angry with guns in their hands.
The US stripped all Ba'athist Party members of the right to work (as Waleed Neysif, the documentary's most eloquent contributor, witheringly explained: "Everyone in Iraq was Ba'athist. You can't not be Ba'athist, it was basically saying no to Saddam and who's going to say no to Saddam?"). They were, as the documentary told us, the perfect conditions for an insurgency. And as the insurgent attacks increased, so Lt Col Sassaman's war ceased to be a reconstruction mission. It became about fear and paranoia and retribution. The killing of one of his men in an RPG ambush was a catalyst. Sassaman ordered that the village involved be imprisoned behind barbed wire. His soldiers raided every home, humiliating and assaulting the men, terrifying the women and children. "Sassaman lost his mind," said one elderly Iraqi. The second part of this damning examination of the decision to invade Iraq and the years of war and destruction that followed. When Lieutenant Colonel Nate Sassaman (pictured) arrived in Iraq in 2003, his belief in the task ahead – of delivering democracy and stability to the Iraqi people – was unquestioning. Sassaman was an inspirational leader to his men, and many felt that he was destined one day to become a general. Six months into his tour, caught in the political and literal cross fire of the insurgency, his good intentions and belief systems were shattered. Unprepared for the hostile environment he found himself in, with little support coming from Washington and taking daily attacks from insurgents, Sassaman was pushed to the very darkest regions of his psyche. Alaa Adel was 12 years old in the summer of 2003, when she too was caught in cross fire on the streets of Baghdad. She suffered life changing injuries when she was hit in the face by shrapnel from one of the first roadside bombs, planted by insurgents and intended for American forces. Looking back at that time, both Sassamen and Alla question the benefits of the war in Iraq. While one struggles with the guilt of their actions, the other lives with bristling resentment and ongoing anger. Once Upon a Time in Iraq – Monday at 9.00pm on BBC One.