The Reel Iraq

When Stephen Marshall queued up for the bathroom on a flight to
the Middle East, he had no idea he’d get a feature-length
documentary out of it.

In 2003, six months after the fall of Baghdad, Marshall, who
co-founded the Web-based independent news organization Guerrilla
News Network (GNN), took a flight to Jordan with his GNN colleague
Anthony Lapp? to research a book. While in line for the bathroom,
he started chatting with the guy behind him, an affable Iraqi named
Frank who was returning to his homeland for the first time in 13
years. Frank, it turns out, was an exiled Iraqi freedom fighter who
had fought against Saddam Hussein during the Persian Gulf War.

‘He started telling me his story, and I said, ‘Hey, can we go
back to my seat and get the camera?” Mashall said in a phone
interview. ‘I just started filming him, and that was the beginning
of the movie.’

For Marshall, it was simply the first of many random encounters
that led to Battleground: 21 Days on the Empire’s Edge, his
award-winning film about the American occupation of Iraq, which
recently debuted on Showtime. Filmed in just three weeks,
Battleground resists any easy interpretation of the war by
interviewing a diverse cast of characters — among them, a
pro-Saddam Iraqi translator, an African-American soldier who thinks
the war is about geopolitical interests, and an Egyptian
businessman who believes the American occupation will help Iraq
thrive. Marshall, who had been a staunch opponent of the war, was
surprised to find his own views about the occupation tempered
somewhat after making the documentary.

‘My cynical view of the war was that it was a lie, that it was a
self-interested campaign framed as a humanitarian and defense issue
in order to get public support,’ Marshall said. ‘On the other hand,
Frank told me several times, ‘I don’t care if Bush takes all the
oil in the country. For me, seeing my family again is

‘Once I met Frank, I could actually see the benefits reaped by a
lot of people in the country. That did complicate it — it had to
complicate it.’

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