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Iraq's Lost Generation

Broadcast: Sunday 16 March 2008 07:00 PM

In the past five years more than four million Iraqis - 20 per cent of the entire population - have been driven from their homes as a result of the war and sectarian bloodshed.

Iraq's Lost Generation

Iraq Season Video | Watch on 4oD | Iraq Map | Have Your Say

In the past five years more than four million Iraqis - 20 per cent of the entire population - have been driven from their homes as a result of the war and sectarian bloodshed. Two million have become exiles, living desperate lives across the border in Syria and Jordan. This edition of Dispatches investigates the biggest and most catastrophic refugee crisis in the Middle East since the Palestinian diaspora of 1948.

Iraq's Lost Generation is the first film in the Happy Birthday Iraq season marking the fifth anniversary of the invasion - a series of penetrating programmes examining the devastating fall-out of the war for Iraq and the Middle East, America and Britain.

Award-winning journalist Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy travels to Syria and Jordan to investigate the plight of Iraqi refugees. These are the very people on whom the new, democratic Iraq was to be built - the professional middle classes - nearly half of whom now live as desperate refugees, driven out by the violence and civil breakdown.

Sharmeen meets former translators who worked for British and American troops and as a result have had to flee for their lives. Trapped in a foreign country, their glowing army recommendations appear apparently worthless as the countries they risked their lives to support have now turned their backs on them. The wife of a building contractor who worked for the US now says she misses Saddam - her teenage children want to return to Baghdad to fight the Americans.

In Amman, Sharmeen visits some of the worst-injured Iraqi children - burnt, mutilated and horrifically disfigured - these are some of the youngest victims of both the war and sectarian violence. They are members of a special medical aid programme which offers help to a tiny proportion of the children needing treatment. The thought of returning to Iraq terrifies 12-year-old Ahed, whose leg has been shredded to the bone by a roadside bomb, an injury so awful that he cannot bring himself to look at it. Hanan, also 12 years-old, lost her six siblings and parents in a suicide-bomb attack outside her mosque - the blast left her with terrible burns. Sharmeen waits with her in hospital as she prepares for her 13th operation.

In Syria, Sharmeen investigates the flourishing sex trade - in Damascus underage Iraqi girls dance and can be purchased for sexual favours.

Every refugee Sharmeen meets has an anguished tale to tell - from the mobile-phone shop owner who was gunned down and left paralysed by religious fanatics to the Christian family whose life of middle class comfort has been exchanged for the misery of refugee subsistence in sub-zero temperatures. And there's the former Shia policeman who was tortured by sectarian militia, and whose marriage to his Kurdish wife forced the entire family to evacuate.

Health, education, and housing resources in Jordan and Syria are stretched to breaking point by this massive influx of refugees.

We are told that Iraq is getting safer, but no-one Sharmeen meets on her journey wants to go back. And they face a bleak future with less than a one per cent chance of being resettled in a Western country. Last year, just four refugees from Syria were granted asylum in Britain.

Help Amman

You can make a donation to MSF's Amman surgery appeal at

Iraq: The Fallout

Throughout the week, Channel 4 News will be reporting from Iraq, reflecting on 5 years of conflict in the region.
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Interactive Map of Iraq

For a fresh perspective and a retrospective on 5 years on conflict in Iraq, you can view our special Iraq Season map.

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Battle For Haditha

Battle for Haditha, the latest feature film from acclaimed filmmaker Nick Broomfield, is based on a real-life story of violence and retribution in Iraq. The film was the centrepiece of Channel 4's 'Happy Birthday Iraq' season. Watch on 4oD

Alternatively, watch clips of the Battle For Haditha, an interview with director Nick Broomfield and the Iraq Season Three Minute Wonders.
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You can also view a Photo Gallery from the film.

Battle For Haditha collage

On 19 November 2005, Iraqi insurgents bombed a US Marines convoy, resulting in the death of their most popular officer. Enraged by their loss, his young squadron went in search of the insurgents, violently storming a series of houses in the village of Haditha. 24 people were killed, many of them women and children.

Battle For Haditha is a film about ordinary people in an impossible situation. Stories from all sides are brought to the forefront: the young, inexperienced US Marines, many of whom had never travelled outside America, the Iraqi insurgents, and the residents of Haditha, innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire: all embroiled in a war not of their own making.

Battle for Haditha is followed on More4 by On That Day, an investigative documentary into the Haditha massacre.

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