In the summer of 2003, as violence against the U.S.-led coalition in
Iraq spiked alarmingly, the top U.S. administrator there, L. Paul Bremer, told
FRONTLINE producer Martin Smith that the press was doing a terrible job
of covering the story. He said they needed to get out of Baghdad to see
the kind of progress that was being made.
Accepting Bremer's challenge, in November FRONTLINE went back to Iraq
to see how the U.S. plan to turn the country into a showcase for
democracy in the Middle East was faring.
In "Beyond Baghdad," Smith, co-producer Marcela Gaviria, and cameraman
Scott Anger -- the team who produced the October 2003 "Truth, War and
Consequences" and the November 2002 "In Search of Al Qaeda" -- set out
on a five-week journey across Iraq, from the Kurdish north through the
Sunni Triangle to the Shiite south, taking a hard look at the social
and political reality beyond the political corridors of Baghdad. In
interviews with American commanders, local businessmen, tribal sheikhs,
ayatollahs, and politicians from across Iraq's political landscape, the documentary explores what it will take to stabilize the
volatile nation and transfer power to the Iraqi people.
"Beyond Baghdad" reveals a seriously fractured Iraq, where modest
successes in nation-building have been offset by widespread
inter-ethnic and sectarian rivalry, frustration, and violence.
"Having visited every major city from north to south, I sense a great
ambivalence among Iraqis about the shape of the nation they wish to
form," says Smith. "The Iraqi people survived a ruthless dictator for 35
years. Now they seem paralyzed and very distrustful of one
On each leg of the journey -- his third to Iraq since the war ended
-- Smith finds a unique set of problems. He begins in the northern
cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, where a sense of subdued
optimism about U.S. efforts is undercut by anti-American violence and
fears of an Arab-Kurd civil war. In the rebellious Sunni lands of central Iraq -- the heart of the Iraqi resistance -- U.S.
troops are hunkered down and reconstruction efforts are largely on hold
or invisible. Further south in the sacred Shia cities of
Kufa, Najaf, and Karbala, there are deep divisions between moderate and
radical Shias over whether Iraq should be an Islamic republic or a
The trip ends in the marshlands near Nasiriya, where Smith discovers
old Shia resistance fighters bitter that the Americans have favored
returning exiles over those who stayed and fought the war at home
"When Saddam was captured, we were in Nasiriya in Southern Iraq,"
Smith says. "There was a small street demonstration and some bullets
were fired into the air, but I couldn't help thinking that the news
meant more in Washington than in Iraq. Most Iraqis know that even with
Saddam captured they still have a long, hard road to travel."
* * *
As Smith and his team reported and filmed in Iraq, they sent back a remarkable series of e-mail dispatches, so that family and colleagues back home -- and readers of FRONTLINE's Web site -- could follow their journey in vivid, personal accounts of their experiences in the field. We've edited and collected the dispatches, and we present them here on the Web as a special companion to the film. It's called "A Long Road," and we hope readers will find it as enlightening, and moving, as we did.