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Putting a Human Face on the People of Iraq

November 21, 1998|HOWARD ROSENBERG

"A Wedding in Basra" is no honeymoon for either Saddam Hussein or U.N. sanctions against Iraq.

Preparations for the Shia Muslim marriage rite referred to in the title are a ribbon of optimism woven through this program that's arriving on KCET-TV Sunday night. It's a streak of rosiness in a field of gloom, for the message of this balanced, thoughtful--and at times revealing--documentary from former NBC correspondent Arthur Kent is that the economic penalties imposed on Iraq after the Persian Gulf War penalize those who least deserve them.

Kent puts human faces on a people regarded abstractly in the United States as an enemy because of their ruthless leader's ability to anger the West. The bride here can afford only to rent a wedding dress, and the groom urges no more sanctions. In fact, we hear repeatedly of severe hardships suffered by ordinary Iraqis, including some selling their furniture for food money.

If there is a thread to this hour--shot inside Iraq prior to the latest round of tensions with Hussein over his ejection of U.N. inspectors--it's that the sanctions aren't working and should be lifted.

Hussein would cheer that, but not the depiction here of his rule being tenaciously authoritarian. Kent makes a point of mentioning the "government minders" shadowing him, and two of the Iraqis he interviews--one an exile in Europe--give their critical comments anonymously out of fear of reprisal.

Suppression is an ongoing theme. Kent, who covered the Gulf War for NBC News, was given access to Iraq's oil fields, where he's told that a facility clobbered there in a U.S. air strike was no military target. Kent rebuts that by showing junked tanks and destroyed anti-aircraft placements that a "minder" soon stops him from taping.

And about the future? Asks one of Kent's anonymous Iraqis: "How can any revolution start when two people . . . in their home cannot speak about Saddam because the next day they are in prison?" If that's so, how realistic are U.S. hopes for an internal uprising against Hussein, especially if it's also true that Iraqis are more concerned about acquiring food than a new leader?

* "A Wedding in Basra" airs at 11 p.m. Sunday on KCET-TV.

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