THE CLASSIC, BLOOD-CURDLING MOVIES so many people like to watch in the days leading up to Halloween suddenly don't seem so frightening when compared to the real-life horror flick that made its debut in Washington, D.C., last Friday. An hour-and-a-half of ominous background music, graveyards scattered with human skulls, and a relentless murderer as its main character, the documentary film is called WMD: The Murderous Reign of Saddam Hussein. Its eye witness accounts of two decades of gruesome torture perpetrated against the Kurdish population of Iraq--and never-before-seen footage of chemical attacks that occurred during Saddam's 35-year rule--are chilling.
Despite recent reports that no weapons stockpiles have been found in Iraq since the beginning of the war, WMD's central message remains sickeningly true: Saddam himself was a weapon of mass destruction, responsible for the deaths of approximately 1.3 million Iraqis since he took power in 1979.
A production of the Iraqi Truth Project, WMD was the brainchild of conservative California real estate broker and filmmaker Brad Maaske. Maaske was inspired to make the film after meeting Jano Rosebiani, a Kurdish-American movie director who won awards for his film Mass Graves and lost family members during "Anfal," Saddam's campaign of genocide targeting Kurds in northern Iraq from 1986 to 1988. Another Kurdish filmmaker, Kawa Akrawi, also contributed to the making of WMD, which includes scenes from his own documentary, Chemical Ali.
At the beginning of the film, Maaske addresses his audience directly, trying to distance himself from those he refers to as "uniformed"--Hollywood types and documentary filmmakers like Michael Moore. Maaske includes an interview with Moore (finally obtained after the filmmakers staked out his New York City home for days) as well as camera shots that zero in on actor and director (and big-time Bush-hater) Sean Penn, walking down the red carpet at what appears to be the Academy Awards. "I believe there's another story . . . that's based on the facts, not on celebrity opinions, media interest, or partisan politics--a story based on understanding of history and reality. That's the story of Iraq that needs to be told," Maaske explains.
Indeed, a large portion of Maaske's film is a comprehensive lesson on the history of Iraq--such as how it became an independent sovereign state in 1932--and a chronicle of Saddam's early years. We hear the unsettling story of how Saddam's mother actually wanted to terminate her pregnancy before giving birth to Saddam. (The name Saddam, the narrator explains, is Arabic for "the one who confronts.") Saddam lived on the bad side of Tikrit with his mother and a stepfather who abused him and taught him to steal. At age 10, Saddam moved to Baghdad to live with his Nazi-sympathizing uncle. By age 20, Saddam was already known for his murders and was welcomed into the Baath Party. He would eventually bully his way into the presidency in 1979.
The film then shifts from the history of Saddam, "the butcher of Baghdad," into those who suffered at his and Ali Hassan al-Majeed's (Chemical Ali) hands during the Anfal campaign, when at least 182,000 Kurds in Iraq were murdered (or have been presumed dead). The harrowing nature of the film shines through in this segment, when the victims of Saddam's cruelty speak for themselves. Women in the village of Kurdistan, for example, describe how soldiers invaded their homes and kidnapped their male family members, how women were run over by cars, and how so many children became orphans as a result. "Do you know how many of my relatives were taken?" one Kurdish woman asks her interviewer. "Ten from my family--my brother, my uncle, my father-in-law, my husband . . ." Another woman is seen trudging through a graveyard in Debis, where her murdered children were buried, and crying "I wish I were in the grave instead of my babies."
Former torture victims then take viewers to the site of the Mahaweel prison camp and mass grave, where the bodies of Egyptians and Iraqi women, children, and athletes who had belonged to the Iraq air force and army soccer teams were uncovered. By the fall of 2004, the film explains, 275 mass graves with 300,000 bodies had been discovered. From the graves, we travel to a prison in Basra which housed sexual assault rooms and torture devices. Anfal victims express their opinions on what should happen to Saddam, now that he is in captivity: "We plead with all nations and especially to George Bush: 'Give Saddam and Chemical Ali to the Anfal victims, for we should have our own revenge.'" Another victim says, "Now that Saddam is in captivity, he should be charged with the crimes--he should be tried by Iraqi judges in the presence of the victims of Saddam's crimes."
Next, viewers are hit hard with footage of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, arguably the most graphic part of the film. There is no real segue from the segment on Saddam's victims to the story of those killed on 9/11, and could well be an attempt by Maaske to lead viewers to the (unfounded) conclusion that Saddam Hussein and the events of 9/11 are connected. Maaske also shares his disdain for the United Nations and its lack of support for the war in Iraq: "When I was in school, I thought the United Nations was a very noble concept, but now I realize that the U.N. is more like the TV game show Survivor. Each contestant pretends to be acting in the team's best interest while plotting to eliminate the stronger players in order to win the game for themselves."
Next, we get a little comic relief when filmmaker Evan Coyne Maloney confronts anti-war protesters on the street and quizzes them on their knowledge of the discourse surrounding the war. The answers to his questions surprise many of the peaceniks. "[Who said] 'Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile-delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members. Is it (a) Hillary Clinton; is it (b) Dick Cheney, or is it (c) George W. Bush?'" (If you said, (a) Hillary Clinton, you're correct.)
The film comes to an end with footage of a memorial service held on a high school football field in Exeter, California--Maaske's hometown. The service is being held in honor of Army Spc. Daniel Unger, a young man who was killed in Iraq while trying to protect civilian workers. Finally, the film closes with a lengthy list of the accomplishments the United States has made since the war began in 2003.
WMD is a compelling visual argument for the war in Iraq, but it's also a real hodgepodge of information (it starts out with an account of life in ancient Mesopotamia and ends with an American hometown hero's funeral), which could be confusing for some viewers. The film--if it doesn't convince viewers that the war in Iraq is indeed "worth it"--will at least remind viewers of the horrendous effects of Saddam's reign of terror, and that his reign is over because of the United States.
Erin Montgomery is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.