The Survival of Saddam
Making The Survival of Saddam  by  FRONTLINE  producer  Greg Barker
the kurds

Any documentary project about Iraq immediately faces a daunting challenge: how to get information out of one of the world's most repressive, closed societies? Saddam Hussein's opponents can provide shocking footage of the regime's atrocities, but most historical material about Saddam himself can only be obtained directly from the government of Iraq.

After months of discussion in 1999, the Iraqi regime decided to cooperate with FRONTLINE and permit filming and research inside Iraq. Iraqi officials said they hoped the program would give the American public a different, more complete view of the country, its people and their modern political history. As a result, FRONTLINE researchers were given unprecedented access to the "Saddam Hussein File" at the Iraqi News Agency, including photographs of Saddam Hussein (particularly as a dashing young revolutionary in Cairo) that have never been seen in the West. Iraqi Television also gathered a collection of archival footage, including the feature film "The Longest Days" and its current collection of Saddam Hussein music videos. Despite repeated requests, FRONTLINE was not permitted to view raw material from the Iraqi Television archives (or even to enter the building).

Filming in Iraq presented more difficult problems. Every foreign filming crew in Iraq is assigned a "minder" or, as the Iraqis insist on calling him, a "guide." The minder works for the Ministry of Information or for the Mukhabarat, the intelligence service (or, for both) and must approve every location and camera position. The minder accompanied the FRONTLINE crew at all times, and we were not permitted to film any government building, military installation, or anything that might appear "controversial." We were not permitted to leave our hotel without an approved escort and, as a result, contact with ordinary Iraqis was essentially impossible.

The only exception was in Kurdistan, in Northern Iraq. FRONTLINE was the first film crew to travel into Kurdistan in at least two years (Kurdistan's borders with Syria and Iran are closed to journalists). We were invited north by the United Nations, which supervises the food distribution program in the Kurdish region, but our journey had to be approved by the Iraqi Ministry of Information. Why they gave their approval is still a matter of mystery, and Kurdish leaders were stunned to find an American crew from Baghdad suddenly in their midst.

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