Skip Channel4 main Navigation
Explore Channel4
See All

Skip to main content

DispatchesWar Torn title

Jon Snow's Hidden Iraq

Broadcast: Tuesday 18 March 2008 11:05 PM

Jon Snow examines the brutal reality of life inside post-invasion Iraq, meeting a variety of its citizens from victims of bomb blasts and war widows to human rights activists and politicians.

Jon Snow's Hidden Iraq

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

Five years after the invasion, Channel 4 news anchor Jon Snow examines the brutal reality of life inside post-invasion Iraq, meeting a variety of its citizens from victims of bomb blasts and war widows to human rights activists and politicians. While the coalition forces herald its burgeoning democracy, Snow ties together reports and unseen footage of recent violence and human rights abuses from beyond the Green Zone which paint a picture of a fragmented state on the brink of anarchy and collapse.

Deploying regional video journalists and specialist cameramen into areas few Western journalists could ever contemplate, Jon Snow's Hidden Iraq ventures behind the rhetoric to uncover what life on the ground is really like for Iraqis. The film forms part of the Happy Birthday Iraq season marking the fifth anniversary of the invasion - a series of penetrating programmes made by award-winning filmmakers examining the devastating fall-out of the war for Iraq and the Middle East, America and Britain.

Journalist Nir Rosen travels around Baghdad and uncovers a patchwork of ethnically-segregated communities, divided by concrete blast walls. Where once different religions and sects mixed freely, he discovers a complete disconnection with homogenous neighbourhoods at war with one another.

Rosen's footage reveals how the splintering of Iraq has allowed warlords and militias to control individual areas. He meets Abu Abed, the commander of one such militia protecting the Sunni Ameriya district of Baghdad. The Americans have celebrated the exploits of his "Awakening Council" which united them in the fight against Al Qaeda, as emblematic of the success of the surge. But his views on the Shia offer a chilling prospect for the future of Iraq: "Because Iraq is a tribal country the killing is not forgotten even after years. You kill my brother and I know you killed him then I will follow you for a hundred years. You cannot forget. Revenge in the Arab tradition is a very old habit."

The view from an opposing Shia militia is no more encouraging. Abu Hassan, a committed Sadrist, the party protected by the powerful Shia Mahdi army labels the Awakening Council a "bunch of killers", arguing they kill for money and their loyalty is dependent on America's funding.

The film reveals how our obsession with the security situation in Iraq masks the true hardships of daily life. Saad Jawaad, victim of a recent bomb in the Karrada district of Baghdad, tells Snow that state healthcare has all but collapsed. He describes being turned away from his hospital which now only treats wealthy private patients.

Iraq was once home to the largest secular middle class in the Middle East. Human rights activist Basma Al Khatib describes its disintegration to Snow - the collapse of industry, the closure of universities and the control of business centres by militias. Basma reveals just how far the standard of living has regressed: "In the eighties we discarded oil fuel heaters, but now it's life-saving because you can survive with them... You dig your well in case there is no water. You have your own generators; you have your own stock of fuel. You have to have a stock of food for three months, especially if you have kids... We don't have hot water... You do worry about your wife giving birth after 11 O'clock in labour, because you cannot take her to hospital, so most of the pregnant women now schedule a caesarean."

The film examines the appalling, but forgotten plight of Iraq's millions of widows. Najah Abbas speaks for the thousands of women whose husbands have been killed, telling Snow how impossible her life has become following the death of her husband - how she feels abandoned by the Government and has no-one to turn to.

Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad tells Jon that the newly-created central government in the Greenzone is in reality a paper fiction, bearing no relation to the lives of ordinary Iraqis: "The parliament in Baghdad, for the average Iraqi person is a distant planet, somewhere else. People talk in the Parliament about issues that don't really touch the life of the Iraqi people... When we talk about an Iraqi Government, again, it's a... it's a kind of a mistake, it's a kind of a wrong word."

Jon contends that our expectations for Iraq have sunk so low that "success" is measured purely by casualties. "In attempting to quantify what's happened here in the last five years there's been a grim obsession with body counts - how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died, but the abiding casualty is the quality of life of the average Iraqi... This is a society that has seen its middle classes flee, has witnessed the execution of Saddam, but itself has been beheaded."

Iraq: The Fallout

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

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.

Launch Iraq Season Map

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.
Launch Iraq Season Documentaries Player

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.

7-day catch-up »

Watch Channel 4 News when you want to, from the last week.

Sign up to FactCheck »

Subscribe to the FactCheck email service and receive regular updates straight to your inbox.

FactCheck Twitter »


Keep track of the claims as they happen.

Most watched »


Find out which reports and videos are getting people clicking online.

Channel 4 © 2010. Channel 4 is not responsible for the content of external websites.