Visiting the Medical Clinic
The gates to the Green Zone are notoriously dangerous. Six days a week, thousands of Iraqis working inside the Green Zone wait for hours to get through the security checkpoints. Suicide car bombers regularly target the gates of the Green Zone.
I arranged to meet Dr. Riyadh at the gate outside the convention center. This was the first of what became a familiar ritual of moving between the different realities of the Green Zone and Iraq. Before reaching the checkpoint, I covered my head with a scarf, walked through the maze of blast walls and sandbags, and stepped onto the street. The scene was tense miles of razor wire, Iraqi police with AK-47s, cars anxiously waiting to pick people up and get as far away as fast as possible. I saw Dr. Riyadh a few couple blocks away. He motioned to me from his beat-up blue Volkswagen. I walked to his car, and, after seeing the country from the perspective of the U.S. occupation for 4 weeks, finally arrived in Baghdad and saw it from the perspective of Iraqis.
I went alone, without a bodyguard or gun. For protection I had two things I believed would defend me better the invitation of a respected leader and two hours of videotape from Abu Ghraib prison.
If I had any doubts about Dr. Riyadh being the central character in the film, they vanished the moment I started filming him at his medical clinic. As he received patient after patient, it became clear that he was much more than a doctor, and that the clinic was much more than a place to treat medical problems. Residents came to the clinic from across Baghdad to report to Dr. Riyadh about arrests, gun fights, raids and other crises.
When the stream of patients finally stopped, it was too late to travel. Dr. Riyadh took me to his home, where I met his wife, four daughters and two sons and spent the night.
I lived with Dr. Riyadh and his family on and off for the next seven months. They welcomed me, protected me and tested me. During that first visit to their house, Dr. Riyadh's oldest daughter sat me down in front of her computer and showed me images from Abu Ghraib. She had pictures I had never seen before, images that were only released years later in the U.S.