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A touch of Hollywood in Baghdad

"Son of Babylon," made — and, amazingly, screened — in Iraq, breaks the mold of recent war flicks.

"Enforced disappearance," said John McCaskill, the Baghdad head of mission for ICMP, "takes away so much dignity from the victims, families and community. When you locate them and identify them so they can be buried it brings back some of the dignity that these families have lost and brings the families a sense of closure. At least they know what happened."

He added: "It's important for the world to know what happened, so that we don't repeat this."

Dealing with the past in Iraq is complicated. In the mazy politics of the recent elections, a de-Baathification committee whose work post-invasion was barring senior members of the former regime from positions of power, was resurrected under a new moniker, the Justice and Accountability Commission. Headed by men who ran in the elections in Shia Muslim religious parties, it barred hundreds of candidates from running, most of whom were on the more secular Iraqia slate supported by Sunni Muslims.

This hijacking of the ideals of justice and accountability is "a crime," said Wamidh Nadhmi, a politics professor at Baghdad University. "This should be run by a judge who would accept objectivity," he said, "but now it is used for political reasons."

Looking back at Iraq's turbulent history — coups and counter-coups as well as the long dictatorship — Nadhmi said, "I think revenge played an important role in destroying Iraq, not just the U.S." Citing South Africa after apartheid and Russia after the fall of Communism as good, if flawed examples for Iraq, he said that the country needed to find a way of reconciling with its past, but "I want a genuine state, not a revenge state."

After the film, people mill around outside the Semiramis. It is still broad daylight; it is not safe to have cultural events at night in Baghdad. One man, visibly moved, describes how the footage of the film shot in mass graves brought back to him his own experiences of visiting these horrible pits of bones. The subject matter of the film has touched the audience, and their concerns about the lack of reconciliation in the country are very real.

But even as it brings pain and uncertainty to the surface, the fact that the film was made at all was a source of real joy and hope for the audience. "It is a beautiful film, it is very touching," said Nour al-Qaisy, 27, adding: "I feel really proud, because I think that they are bringing life back again. All these things which terrorism tried to kill — I consider what happened today as a victory for the Iraqi people."