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Introduction: February 12, 2004

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 another."

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 secular state.

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 against Saddam.

"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."

* * *

Editor's Note:
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.


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posted february 12, 2004

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