American photojournalist and co-director of Meeting Resistance.
British photojournalist and co-director of Meeting Resistance.
What would you do if your country was invaded? "Meeting Resistance" is a new documentary on the Iraq war from a perspective that few in the West ever see. It turns the spotlight on Iraqi men and women who choose to resist the military occupation of their country. We speak with the film’s co-directors, Molly Bingham and Steve Connors. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: What would you do if your country was invaded? Meeting Resistance is a new documentary on the Iraq war from a perspective few in the West have dared to adopt. It turns the spotlight on Iraqi men and women who choose to resist the military occupation of their country. The film takes us back to the first year of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the beginnings of the insurgency in Iraq.
This is how a young cleric interviewed in the film explains the roots of the insurgency.
IRAQI CLERIC: [translated] Suppose Iraq invaded America, and an Iraqi soldier was on a tank passing through an American street, waving his gun at the people, threatening them, raiding and trashing houses, would you accept that? This is why no Iraqi can accept the occupation. Don’t be surprised by their reactions. Their attitudes are normal.
AMY GOODMAN: In Meeting Resistance, we hear the voices and stories of individuals usually simply referred to, depending on your perspective, as resistance fighters, insurgents or terrorists. During the early years of the war, the Bush administration and the mainstream media said they were comprised of al-Qaeda elements and former Baath Party members still loyal to Saddam Hussein. Today, the attacks on U.S.-led forces are often blamed on Iran and "foreign fighters." But Meeting Resistance suggests that "ordinary Iraqis," men and women, Sunni and Shia, form the bulk of the insurgency, most of them never Baathist, nor were they all religious.
This is how one of the characters interviewed in the film describes the composition of one resistance group.
IRAQI MAN: [translated] This group formed spontaneously under the banner of Islam. They are engineers, officers, teachers, normal people, cultured people. Some have a medium level of education, and some have higher. All of them are committed Muslims who follow the prescribed rights of Islam. Before these events, I didn’t pray. I didn’t even know my way to the mosque.
AMY GOODMAN: In Meeting Resistance, you also hear the voice of a woman involved with the Iraqi resistance.
IRAQI WOMAN: [translated] When I leave the house to go and bring the weapons, I feel very happy. Very, very happy. But when I am actually carrying it, I’m very worried about the weapons and about myself. So I have these two feelings at the same time. I am facilitating a mission. I have done this job many, many times. Yes, now there is a kind of fear, because of the many house searches.
Even before I had the children, my husband was a good citizen, a patriot, a fighter. And for 29 years, I have been his wife. So even if I didn’t have this patriotic instinct through our life together, this patriotic sentiment would have been created inside me. The whole family is patriotic. And how could I be so deviant when I am the one who married a Fedayeen?
Every mother has fears. I am a wife and a mother. And I am afraid for my husband and for my children. But this is God’s will. I am afraid that something will happen to them before they finish their struggle. Because I have always known that this route of action would lead either to martyrdom or to arrest.
AMY GOODMAN: Meeting Resistance is directed by acclaimed journalists Molly Bingham and Steve Connors. In a video op-ed for The New York Times published Wednesday, they cite Pentagon reports between 2004 and ’07 to claim 74 percent of attacks by Iraqi insurgents target U.S.-led occupation forces. They also cite a recent BBC/ABC poll which found 100 percent of Iraqis polled disapproved of attacks on Iraqi civilians. However, a majority of them approved of attacking U.S. troops. One person in the film clarifies who legitimate targets of the Iraqi resistance should be.
IRAQI MAN: [translated] First on the list of all legitimate targets are the military forces in Iraq. Those are the most important. The second most important are those who collaborate with them. There are some translators who try to help the people, and their job is just to explain the situation, but there are other translators who harm the people. There are policemen who do police’s job, like chasing gangs, providing order and security. We leave them alone. But there are police who are collaborating with the Americans. As I told you, the American forces, the occupying forces and their collaborators that work against the Iraqi people and against the Mujahideen, they are our legitimate targets. I hope America will send more forces, and we will send them back home in coffins.
AMY GOODMAN: Meeting Resistance opens in theaters in New York and in Washington, D.C., on Friday. Co-directors Steve Connors and Molly Bingham are the filmmakers who have worked in conflict zones around the world for over a decade. 2003 and 2004, they spent 10 months in Baghdad interviewing Iraqi resistance fighters. They join us now in our firehouse studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!
MOLLY BINGHAM: Thanks for having us.
AMY GOODMAN: Molly, before this, you were kidnapped by Iraqi insurgents, is that right?
MOLLY BINGHAM: Actually, I was arrested by Saddam Hussein’s security forces during the invasion and held for eight days in Abu Ghraib on accusations of being a spy. So it’s a little bit different than some of the later kidnappings and hostage takings that have happened in Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: And you were in Abu Ghraib right before the U.S. forces came and took Baghdad.
MOLLY BINGHAM: That’s right. I was in Abu Ghraib from March 25 to April 2, 2003.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened to you there?
MOLLY BINGHAM: You know, I was held in a solitary cell. There were four other Westerners that were arrested at the same time. We were all —
AMY GOODMAN: The Newsday reporter and photographer?
MOLLY BINGHAM: Mm-hmm, that’s right. We were all interrogated and accused of being spies. And luckily, we were all treated pretty well and released, deported to Amman, Jordan, on April 2.
AMY GOODMAN: And you went right back?
MOLLY BINGHAM: I took a few days off and came back to the States and then went back about 10 days later, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And the two of you have then — well, how did you do this? How did you find the resistance fighters to interview, Steve?
STEVE CONNORS: We just behaved as journalists. We went out, and we just looked for people. I mean, we did have one slight advantage. Molly had been working on another story before we started on this, and a guy that she met in the course of doing that story afterwards said to Molly’s translator, "I’m in the resistance." You know, and he was just a regular guy. So, what we did was, when we decided to do this story — you know, we were following events through these very small-scale attacks, and then through the summer, we decided to go back and do this story. So he was the first guy that we went to find. And it took us a few days, but we found him again.
AMY GOODMAN: Where?
STEVE CONNORS: In Adamir. It’s a traditional district in northeastern Baghdad, often said to be a Baathist stronghold, but we didn’t really find that.
MOLLY BINGHAM: But our sort of subtitle for the film is called Caffeine and Nicotine Poisoning in Baghdad, because really what we did is, once we found the teacher who was that first person that I had met who admitted to being part of the resistance in May of ’03, we went back to Adamir, and we found him. And then we went, pretty much every day for 10 months, and sat in tea shops and smoked cigarettes and drank tea with Iraqis and listened to them talk about their understanding of the political situation.
And throughout that period of time and over those conversations, often someone would emerge, and they would talk to us later as we were leaving or talk to our translator and say, "Who are these journalists? What are they doing? Why are they spending so much time here?" And we would explain that we were interested in understanding who the resistance is, who the insurgency is, who’s behind this, what kind of people are you, what’s your motivation, what leads you to this? And some people would say, "Well, I don’t know anything about it. I’m not involved." And other people would say "I’m not going to talk to you." And then some — 12, actually — said, "Yes, I’m involved, and, yes, I’ll talk to you." And we would fix an appointment and do an interview. And six of those 12 we were able to interview repeatedly over that 10-month period of time.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, I read an interview — rather, a speech that you gave in Louisville — you come from Louisville, Molly?
MOLLY BINGHAM: I do, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — where you talked about these people holding you responsible if anything were to happen to them. I mean, they have serious questions about who you are, even though they are doing these interviews. What did that mean, holding you responsible?
MOLLY BINGHAM: I think they wanted to impress upon us that this was not just an easygoing affair, that it wasn’t just we went in and sit down with them and we could walk away and think that we wouldn’t be continually engaged with them or somehow responsible, or it wasn’t risky. All of the interviews really started out saying, you know, 'We hold you responsible, and if anything happens to us, our guys know where you live" — they knew the hotel we were in — you know, "We'll come kill you."
And so, in order to protect ourselves from that quite unreasonable expectation, because they were legitimate targets and legitimate people to be sought by the U.S. military at the time, of course, we decided that there were some things we didn’t want to know. We didn’t want to know their names, which is why they have these character names: the teacher, the traveler, the wife. We didn’t want to know where they lived; in case they got a knock on the door at the night, they knew that it wasn’t us that had told about where they live, because we didn’t know. We obscure their identity, partly because they insisted on it, and it was necessary to do the project, but also to protect us, so that they knew that we weren’t going and giving our tapes to the U.S. military intelligence.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a remarkable clip in this film, and I’ll read the translation. It has to do with the attempted bombing of Paul Wolfowitz when he went to Iraq.
AMERICAN MAN: Get a doctor, get a medical kit. We need a doctor!
U.S. SOLDIER: Out of the building! Out of the building! Let’s go!
"THE TRAVELER": [translated] What time he comes in, what time he leaves, what time he eats lunch, what time he eats dinner. We even had his room number. But at the moment that we attacked, he was in a different room, because we hit him at 6:00 in the morning, and he had a meeting at 6:00.
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: This terrorist act will not deter us from completing our mission, which is to help the Iraqi people free themselves.
"THE TRAVELER": [translated] What do you expect? That he visits Iraq, and we welcome him? We were waiting for his visit. The playground is ours. We play on our own terms.
AMY GOODMAN: Steve, did you interview the people who did the bombing?
STEVE CONNORS: No. This guy, the traveler in the film, was on —- he was on the planning council, essentially. But he hadn’t actually been involved in the planning of that operation, but it was reported back to him afterwards. And that’s why we were able to get that story. I think we got the story, what, three or four weeks later, something like that. And so, you know -—
AMY GOODMAN: And how did they say they did it? I mean, this was not only in the Green Zone, it was right in the heart —
STEVE CONNORS: I mean, you know, you’ve just been doing the story about Blackwater security. The contractor issue for the U.S. military is not just about the private security contractors, it’s also about the people who provide the food, truck drivers, you know, people who organize the payments and all this kind of stuff. And, of course, there are people who are locally hired. And can the people who are locally hired be trusted?
And so, what eventually happened was that apparently they had somebody inside the hotel, inside the Rashid Hotel, and he knew what room Paul Wolfowitz was going to be in. And then it seems that an artillery officer adapt to a generator, and they fired these quite poorly made Chinese-manufactured rockets, which — but they killed two officers in that — killed two Army officers in that attack.
MOLLY BINGHAM: At the time, the Rashid was actually on the edge of the Green Zone. It was at the perimeter of the Green Zone. There was a park across the street. And it was only after that attack that they actually pushed out the boundary away from the Rashid Hotel so that it wasn’t so vulnerable to attacks like that.
AMY GOODMAN: Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary at the time. Molly Bingham, Steve Connors, stay with us. We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are Molly Bingham and Steve Connors — Molly, a U.S. journalist; Steve Connors, a British journalist. They co-directed this new film that’s opening in Washington, D.C. and in New York this weekend called Meeting Resistance.
When you were interviewing these people, the resistance fighters, Molly, did they tell you when they were about to attack something? I mean, you had footage of actual explosions.
MOLLY BINGHAM: Actually, that footage of explosions came from us working as journalists the way everyone else was in Baghdad. We responded to bombings that we heard around the city in a way everyone else did.
When we were interviewing the Iraqis and the one Syrian who were engaged in the insurgency, we actually specifically didn’t ask about tomorrow or this afternoon. We didn’t go out on bombing attacks with them for quite a few reasons, but the most important of which, I think, is that the film is really about who they are and what their backgrounds are and what their motivation is. You can see the consequences of their actions every day on the news. And we just thought, given how complicated it was ethically in this particular conflict, I think quite unfairly, to be seen to be talking with the other side, we thought that having — if we had gone out with them on attacks, it would have overridden the entire understanding that we had come to by interviewing them and understanding who they are.
STEVE CONNORS: Could I just add to that? We were invited to go out with them. You know, they said, "Do you want to come out with us while we’re attacking Americans?" And, you know, I don’t have the same ethical problems, in many ways, as Molly does, you know, because she’s an American and I’m not. But, ultimately, the decision came down to one thing, which was there was some important information in this film, and we didn’t want to lose that to this criticism of us going out on attacks, which I’ve done in 10 conflicts, gone out on attacks with both sides. It’s not, you know — for most journalists, it’s not a big deal.
AMY GOODMAN: Experts suggest the growing sectarian strife in Iraq has turned into a civil war. In Meeting Resistance, the characters are both Sunni and Shia. I want to play a clip featuring two characters in the film: the Imam, who’s a cleric from a mixed Sunni-Shia family and was suspected of being a Wahhabi and jailed by Saddam Hussein; and the Republican Guard, who’s Sunni and married to a Shia woman.
THE REPUBLICAN GUARD: The Sunni and Shia are bound together by blood and family ties. For example, I am married to a Shia. My sister is married to a Shia. I can’t kill my own children’s uncles or kill my wife, the mother of my children. This kind of sectarianism wouldn’t happen.
THE IMAM: So we hope there won’t be a civil war, because the people who would fight in this war, on either side, are all relatives. Like me, half of my relatives are Shia, the other half are Sunni. It would be a catastrophe. And it would be the same for all Iraqi people. They are all related. They are neighbors. But the foreigner doesn’t see these ties.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of an astounding film just out now called Meeting Resistance. Molly Bingham, the speech you gave in your hometown of Louisville was entitled — well, you talk about being afraid of coming home to your own country. Explain that.
MOLLY BINGHAM: Well, if people can cast their minds back a little bit to the spring and summer of 2004, American citizens were not publicly discussing the problems that America was facing in Iraq and the things that weren’t going well. It was still generally a discussion, if a discussion at all, about providing democracy and freedom to the Iraqis and how that was fine.
What we had done by talking to the insurgents and interviewing them and making an effort to understand their motivation and who they are was something that I knew was going to be challenging to a broader American audience and that I was maybe even be seen to be treason — you know, having committed treason by doing so. I completely disagree with that. I think this is what journalism is about. It’s about understanding communities and bringing that back to a wider audience, so that people can understand each other. Whether they agree with them or not is different, but they can understand each other.
So when I did come back into the country, Vanity Fair had just run my article called "Ordinary Warriors," which is based on the same reporting as Meeting Resistance. And I was very unsure as to what kind of response or reaction that would provoke. And I’m happy to say that I was needlessly anxious about it. There has, you know, been no problems or no kind of issues that I’ve had since that was published. And Steve and I have enjoyed being back here in the States, but I think that it has really changed since 2004, since basically Cindy Sheehan started insisting that Bush explain to her what her son had died for and since Murtha stood up and said that the war was a real problem. Those two things really changed the dynamic in the United States, and people started asking questions about what was happening in Iraq and why we were there.
AMY GOODMAN: If people want this film to play in their community, how do they make that happen?
MOLLY BINGHAM: You can go to our website, meetingresistance.org, and contact us through the website.
STEVE CONNORS: Dotcom.
MOLLY BINGHAM: Sorry, meetingresistance.com. Forgive me. Meetingresistance.com — I’ll say it one more time — and contact us through the website, and we would be happy to set up screenings and Q-and-As there.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for joining us and for doing this film. Molly Bingham and Steve Connors, journalists who have co-directed the film Meeting Resistance. They went inside the Iraqi resistance for 10 months in Iraq.