Once Upon A Time In Iraq

This is the story of the Iraq war, told by Iraqis who lived through it. They share their personal accounts and lasting memories of life under Saddam Hussein, the U.S.-led invasion of their country and the 17 years of chaos that followed — from the sectarian violence to the rise and brutal reign of ISIS.

AIRED: July 14, 2020 | 1:54:22

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

>> We never thought that Saddam will be removed, never.

So when I saw them, I felt hope.

A country like America, this was my dream.

>> NARRATOR: This is the story of the Iraq war

told by the civilians who lived it.

>> Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.

>> Then there was a chaos.

>> The United States have prevailed.

>> Mission accomplished.


Seriously? (laughs)

>> We didn't have a strong government, it was very weak.

So, when they withdrawal, it was a mistake.

>> NARRATOR: From the sectarian violence that followed...

>> I never thought that there would be

a civil war between Iraqis.

>> NARRATOR: To the rise of ISIS.

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> NARRATOR: The memories and experiences

from those who survived.

>> It's very dangerous to forget.

Because memory all

is what's left for us.

>> NARRATOR: Now on "Frontline," "Once Upon a Time in Iraq."

♪ ♪

>> This program contains graphic imagery.

Viewer discretion is advised.

>> Now, what are your preferences

with regards to vaping or not? Do you...?

>> If you wanna do it, yeah. >> Yeah?

>> If it makes you feel more relaxed.

>> Thank you.

>> (laughs)

(speaking Arabic):

(people laugh)

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America

and to support terror.

States like these and their terrorist allies

constitute an axis of evil.

Terrorists... hatred... dangerous regimes...

weapons of mass destruction... evil...

And it must be opposed.

♪ ♪

(people yelling)

>> NARRATOR: This is the story of the war in Iraq

told by Iraqis who lived through it.

>> (laughing): I was very happy to see them at that time, like,

"Hi! I can speak English!"

>> NARRATOR: These are their personal accounts

and lasting memories of the invasion of their country

and the 17 years of chaos that followed.

(explosion pounds)

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> It's very dangerous to forget.

Because memory all is what's left for us.

(cars humming, horns honking)

(people talking in background)

(man chanting on speaker)

>> Okay, New York, we're starting the show.

>> Five, four, three,

two, one...

>> Hi and welcome.

I'm Vanessa Rae, and today, we're participating

in a historic discussion

between the young people of two countries

on the brink of war.

And let's, everyone in New York, say hi

to everyone over in Baghdad.

>> Hi!

>> And if you guys could say hi back to us,

just so we know that you saw us.

>> Hi.

>> Hi, people of America!

>> It's, it's very weird looking at yourself, you know,

as, like, as a young man.

I think I was 18 years old at that time.


I mean, am I wrong or did I sound like Borat?

You know, it's, like, I don't know,

it's, like, "Hello, people of America!"


>> I'm, uh, generally interested in computers.

And I like, uh, internet, I like email and all this stuff.

>> Let's live, uh, a happy life, and, uh, let's rock and roll.

You know, I love rock a lot.

Listen for some Metallica, it will help you.

>> Let's take a little bit more of an in-depth look

with this first video from Waleed,

who, as we all know by now, is a rocker.

Let's check it out!

(heavy metal playing)

>> So I formed this little group,

and we were the only heavy metal band in Iraq.

(band continues)

(music stops) I was infatuated with the West.

I wanted everything that was Western.

It was, like, I wanted the blue jeans,

I wanted the skateboards, I wanted the headphones,

I wanted all of these things that I grew up watching.

And that's how I learned English,

was from movies and songs.

It's a cool place.

But it's a fake McDonald.

We thought that it's a real McDonald,

and the first moment that we saw it,

"Oh, we have McDonald's here in Iraq!"

But this is not McDonald's, no.

>> There are two girls, very beautiful girls there,

are sitting there.

>> You know, I hadn't met that many Americans at that time,

but there are so many things about America

that we appreciate, we like, we want.

So when I hear, you know, statements like,

"They hate our freedom and our democracy,"

it's, like, no, we actually love it, we fricking love it--

that's all we wanted.

("Everybody" by the Backstreet Boys playing)

(car horn honks)

When we started hearing the murmurs

that we are about to be invaded,

I was excited.

(people talking in background)

>> I want to ask about Backstreet Boys.

What do you know about them? What are their latest?

>> I gotta be honest, I think

the Backstreet Boys have some really, really catchy tunes.

So I'm definitely down with the Backstreet Boys.

>> They are sucks, you know?

>> (laughing)

>> I always want to be one of the Backstreet Boys.

(laughs): When I was a teenager.

I even knew the dances, like...

(murmuring, chuckles)

I had the same clothes: the white pants and the open shirts.

>> ♪ Backstreet's back, all right! ♪

>> And then I go to the high school with these things, so...

"'Sup, my name is Kevin, not Ahmed."



(laughs maniacally)

(singing in Arabic):

My family wanted me to be, you know,

imam at the mosque.

But they lost, lost that hope when I was seven, I guess,

when I started to say bad words. >> Right?

>> (laughs): I was cursing.

And my father was very religious, it was very conflict.

He had some, I don't know why,

huge problem with the songs, with the music.

♪ ♪

When I take my father's car,

I remove the, his, his tapes,

which is Quran or anashid, which is Islamic songs.

And I put my music and driving around Baghdad.

I go crazy.

The music is very high.

♪ ♪

(imitating music)

♪ ♪

I was always asking myself

why I wasn't born in the Western world--

I shouldn't be born in this world.

♪ ♪

>> (singing in Arabic):

>> I remember...

Is when I get into the school,

I see paintings of Mickey Mouse

and the picture of Saddam Hussein.

I saw his picture everywhere.

(children singing in Arabic)

Whenever his name is mentioned, you not just mentioned his name,

you have to say, "May God protect him, may God save him,

"may Allah give him more life,

"may God takes our lives and give it to him,

because without him, we can't survive."

And being a child,

I thought he's immortal.

We are humans, but he is something different.

>> (speaking Arabic):

(audience applauding)

>> At some point, I thought he is my grandfather,

because I see him everywhere, and it was, like,

yeah, this is my grandfather, he's cute, he's good,

blah, blah, blah, he's brave.

This is what they teach us in the schools.

And then when I was, like, 12, or maybe 11, 12,

I realized, like, that no, he's the president of the country.

And I have to never say anything bad about him,

because I will be killed.

>> And there's this guy called Hassain, and he was, like,

"(bleep) Saddam,"

which means, like, "(bleep) on Saddam."

Every time he says it, it's, like, "Oh, my God, like...

"Shh, shh, shh, zip it! Zip it!"

And he's, like, "So it's okay to say, '(bleep) God'?"

And I was, like, "Yes."

"But, '(bleep) Saddam'?"

And I was, like, "No!"


'Cause you don't know who's listening.

And that's what he created.

The idea that your next-door neighbor,

your brother, your cousin, anyone,

could be the one that reports you.

♪ ♪

>> (speaking Arabic):

(people screaming on TV)

(speaking Arabic):


(birds chirping)

(people talking in background)

(dog barking)

>> (speaking Arabic):

♪ ♪

>> (interviewer):

>> (speaking Arabic):

(people chanting, celebrating)

(sound fades)

(speaking Arabic):

(explosion bangs)

>> (exhales)

(lighter clicks)


I was pro-war.

Absolutely pro-war.

And so were many, many, many, many Iraqis.

It's almost the end, you know?

It's, like, let's just push through, let's push through,

let's get this (bleep) done,

and then a better thing is gonna come.

The land of dreams.

♪ ♪

(air raid sirens blaring, explosions rumbling)

(guns firing)

(explosions pounding)

(guns firing)

>> (speaking Arabic):

♪ ♪

(bombs exploding)

(car alarms blaring)

(rocket passing)

(explosion echoes)

>> You must have been scared.

>> (chuckles)

(speaking Arabic):

(explosions echo)

(emergency sirens blaring)

(people talking in background)

(woman crying)

♪ ♪

>> The bombing did not stop.

(jet engine roaring)

It was just bombs-- bombs, day and night.

(gunfire rattling in distance)

But I was going out amidst all of that.

I was looking for cigarettes.

I'm a heavy smoker.

And I heard that one of the shops are still open,

and they're still selling cigarettes.

So I stole-- or took, borrowed-- my cousin's small little bike.

So it was a small little bike, and here I am, you know,

it's, like, you know, I was, like, cycling on this thing.

(gunfire rattling)

But then all of a sudden, it got dark.

And I look up, and there's this black cloud

that engulfed everything around me.

And I remember, like, I was just, like...

Like, "What's going on?"

And then I discovered what it was.

Here's what Saddam did.

They dug wells, and they dumped crude oil in it,

and they lit it on fire.

So that they can create visual distraction

for the American pilots.

They were thinking that these guys

are using visuals to actually bomb,

not satellite-guided missiles and stuff like that.

They thought that, "Oh, the plane's gonna come,

"the pilot looks like this, and he's, like,

"'Oh, yeah, there's the target over here.

Let's shoot right over there!'"


So then... (laughing)

So all of Baghdad, all of a sudden,

you had all of these, like, wells of oil burning up,

and the sky literally just going dark.

♪ ♪

>> This is George W. Bush, the president of the United States.

At this moment, the regime of Saddam Hussein

is being removed from power

and a long era of fear and cruelty is ending.

The government of Iraq and the future of your country

will soon belong to you.

♪ ♪

(men whistling, cheering)

>> (speaking Arabic):



(birds chirping)

>> The welcome here has been pretty good,

everybody's, uh, helped us out, been friendly.

So, uh, it's better than being shot at.

>> Where're you from? >> From Texas.

>> Is it like Texas, being here, or a lot different?

>> A lot different.

I can understand what everybody's saying in Texas.

(people whistle and applaud)

(crowd clamoring)

>> We never thought that Saddam will be removed, never.

Until I saw two American soldiers

standing in the streets.

I was very happy to see them at that time.

Like, "Hi, I can speak English!"


So when I saw them, I felt hope.

I had this dream that my country

is becoming one of the good countries in the Middle East.

Or maybe in the world.

A country like America.

This was my dream.

Actually, that was lots of people dream.

♪ ♪

>> There was a genuine sense of hope.

It was, like, "They're here, they're here," you know?

And then when we saw the statue...

(breathes deeply)

My uncle looked at us and he was, like, "It's over.

It's done."

(crowd cheering wildly)

(cheering wildly)


(sound fading)

Slowly but surely, the belief started becoming

more and more cemented that this is,

it's actually happening right now.

And then, oops, all of a sudden, we see Saddam in the streets.

(crowd chanting)

>> (speaking Arabic):

(crowd cheering)

(crowd chanting)

>> (interviewer):

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> And then he disappeared.

And nobody knew where he was.


(blows out sharply)


But yeah, he just fricking left.

Is Saddam gonna come back?

Because he wasn't captured.

Where was he?

Did he have another plan?

We didn't know.

(crowd yelling, clanging metal)

Things were changing so fast.

We couldn't cope.

(metal dragging, crowd cheering)

>> It was Thursday.

I came back from the school,

and when I went inside the house,

I saw all my family watching the TV, like...


Like this.

And I thought, "It's, it's not happening,

"this is not possible, like, Saddam is gone?

No, this is not possible."

Because on the TV, they are saying Saddam is gone.

In the street, it's different,

so I believed the street, not the TV.

(helicopter whirring)

(guns firing)

(explosion pounds)

Saddam was still the president of Iraq in Mosul.

And all the mosques were preaching the same prayer of,

"May God protect Saddam,"

and then they start, like, shouting against the Americans.

After a few minutes, a Humvee stopped by the mosque,

and this very same preacher, all of a sudden,

changed his mind, and he started shouting against Saddam.

I was shocked.

What just happened?

(people clamoring)

Many people followed him and swapped sides in a moment.

>> (chanting):

>> Then there was a chaos.

You'd see people running to everywhere,

stealing things from buildings,

from the schools, from everything.

♪ ♪

>> They are looting everything, destroying everything.

I don't know why.


>> When you have years and years of poverty,

and then all of a sudden, the floodgates are open,

with no supervision...

What would you do?

I mean, I was tempted.

And I remember, you know, it was, like,

seeing American soldiers, you know,

it was, like, waving bye, you know,

as people literally just looting

every single government building,

schools, hospitals, you name it.

>> Everyone was running inside the bank.

Money was everywhere.

People were out of their mind.

>> If you go from a repressive regime,

we've seen in that transition period,

there's untidiness.

Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes

and commit crimes and do bad things.

Stuff happens!

(people exclaiming)

>> Primarily, our big concern right now

is trying to get things back to normal here in Baghdad.

They had a lot of problems with locals out here looting.

It's a pretty tough situation,

because we're not a police force.

And we can't go through patrolling,

acting as policemen guarding everybody.

♪ ♪

>> Right after the invasion,

one of the very few jobs that you can do in Iraq

is to work as a translator.

I was ready to work for a dollar.

And they were, like, "Would, uh, $50 be okay?"

And I was, like, "$50 a what?", you know,

and I'm trying to compose myself.

And they were, like, "A day."

(laughs): And I was, like, "50 fricking bucks,

this is fricking awesome."

$50 was my dad's salary for six months.

I was making it in a day.

And I was, like, "All right, we got a deal."

I would hire a cab, would take a journalist with me,

and we'd just drive around.

This is Mutanabbi Street.

This is one of the most old streets in Baghdad.

And it's such an odd feeling,

because before the war started,

shops are open, people are walking, buying, selling,

eating, drinking,

and now...

It's a ghost town.

There is no electricity, no water.

It's an impossible situation for anyone that was there.

On the one hand, you're hopeful,

"Oh, the future is going to be great," and all of that.

At the same time, you are seeing clear evidence that...

(hisses out air)

Things are not good.

(people talking in background)

And then Iraqis were under this impression,

it was, like, "Okay, this is the greatest power in the world,

they're gonna come and rebuild everything in, like, months."

Month one passed, there's still no electricity,

there's still no water.

♪ ♪

Baghdad became, like, a city of garbage.

What's going on?

(tires screech)

("Hail to the Chief" playing)

>> Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.

In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies

have prevailed.

(audience cheers and applauds)

>> Mission accomplished.


(laughs): Seriously?

(car horn honks in background)

Simple things are what we were asking for,

very simple.

Dignity, water, electricity, and a hope of a job--

not even a job, just a hope that you'll get a job.

These things, had they happened,

Iraqis would not have reacted in the way they did.

We would have actually been liberated for real.

♪ ♪

>> Three to four mortar rounds were reported

as to landing within the vicinity.

We have 18 soldiers who were wounded.

(jet roaring overhead)

(person yelling in distance)

(object bangs)

♪ ♪

>> We're going for Haifa Street

in order to do a follow-up for a story of...

An explosion happened for a Humvee for the...

I remember going and doing the story.

(speaking Arabic)

There is an attack near American Humvee,

but then kids were there,

and they all got basically shredded by shrapnels.

(people speaking Arabic)

The whole casualties of this was 17 child,

five of them get killed, and 12 of them were injured.

A girl lost her eye.

Completely lost her eye.

This is the child.

She lost her eye.


(speaking Arabic):

>> (girl):

(speaking Arabic):

>> (sobbing)

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> Alaa.

♪ ♪

>> (softly): Okay.

(speaking Arabic):

>> (crying and shouting)

>> (speaking Arabic):

That's it.

>> (speaking Arabic, crying):

>> Her, uh, daughter was seriously injured

in this attack.

They were in the street.

>> (sobbing, yelling)

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (sobbing)

>> (shouting in Arabic):

(people yelling)

(shouting in Arabic):

>> (crying softly)

(speaking Arabic):

♪ ♪

>> That girl represents

the beginning of the end for me.

Because things were still okay at that time,

regardless of all of these atrocities

that were taking place.

The focus of the attacks was the Americans.

So people were still somewhat hopeful.

Now, the question is, how long did it last?

And that was not long.

♪ ♪

>> Ladies and gentlemen, we got him.

(audience cheers and applauds)

Iraq's future has never been more full of hope.

There is a new opportunity

for the members of the former regime

to end their bitter opposition.

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> So when he was captured like that,

like, ah, no, it's his double, it's not him.

Impossible to be the same guy.

He is invincible.

He is like Hercules.

But they know it's him.

He's Saddam, but he is a...

He's a person.

He's not a god.

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (interviewer):

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (talking on loudspeaker)

>> (speaking Arabic):

(people talking in background)

(people chanting)

(explosion pounds)

(people screaming)

♪ ♪

(explosion pounds, rumbles)

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> It's like there was a nest for car bombs in Iraq,

and just, this nest is open now,

and you can hear 30 explosion every day.

You just get used to that.

Sometimes I was sleeping in the morning,

and I just hear the car bombs,

I was, like, "Shut the (bleep) up, I wanna sleep."

I swear.

Before that, there wasn't Al Qaeda.

There was only insurgents.

(sirens blaring)

We know that now it's never gonna be safe again.

>> (sobbing, yelling)

>> (speaking Arabic):

(children calling)

>> (speaking Arabic):


>> (talking in background)

>> (speaking Arabic):

(sirens blaring)

(helicopter passing overhead)

(people talking in background)

>> You know, working, doing what I did,

being seen with foreign journalists

puts you immediately in danger

as a person with a target painted on your chest.

Another friend of mine, by the name of Amanj,

we received similar death threats almost at the same time.

With him, they sent him his brother's head

in a garbage bag.

(people talking in background)

So once I heard this news, then the decision was very clear,

because I have three younger brothers.

It's hard.

It's so hard to see all these things

happening in front of you,

and you're not capable to do a thing towards that.

Nothing, as in nothing.

But the problem is, there isn't much options.

There isn't.

We don't have any options.


♪ ♪

Three days after that, I was in Jordan,

and I was illegal in Jordan for a few months,

then started the process of coming to Canada.

♪ ♪

(inhales): I felt...

And I don't think I've shared this with anyone.

I felt guilty.

To have survived it.

♪ ♪

The people you love the most

are in the most dangerous place in Earth.

Their life could end in any second.

Every time you talk to friends, so-and-so got murdered,

so-and-so died, and then the stories

just continue and continue and continue,

so I dreaded fricking phones.

♪ ♪

>> You know, I know some fear the possibility

that Iraq could break apart and fall into a civil war.

I don't believe these fears are justified.

They're not justified so long

as we do not abandon the Iraqi people

in their hour of need.

♪ ♪

>> There was rumors that the Americans asked Saddam,

"How much time you need to, uh,

to make the situation in Iraq better?"

He said, "I will need one hour.

"45 minutes to shave and to change my clothes,

"and 15 minutes to say my speech on TV.

"And this is how Iraq will settle down,

and it will be fine."

It's not, uh...

(speaking Arabic)

>> He believed that it could have happened.

>> He could do it.

♪ ♪

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> How did that make you feel when you saw those images?

>> Mm...

I had a relationship at that time,

I didn't, I didn't care anything.

(laughs): I didn't care about anything.

>> Well, tell me about the mood on the street, then.

Do you remember the mood of the country?

>> Uh, his, his... popularity grow.

He lost it, zero, and then he started to gain it again.

From the court.

>> On the streets. >> On the streets, yes.

♪ ♪

(birds chirping)

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> I wouldn't want to call it an exodus, but we've,

we've come across quite a few people leaving for good.

Mostly people with money.

Uh, the poor can't really afford to do it.

I've noticed a lot of doctors and guys like that doing it.

♪ ♪

>> We were carrying two I.Ds.

One for the Sunni checkpoint

and the other for the Shia checkpoint.

It's different, the names, the tribe, the province, everything.

Lots of people got killed and they are Sunni,

they were killed by a Sunni checkpoint,

because they pulled the wrong I.D.

And they were, like, "No, no, no, we are Sunni,

but we are faking we are Shia."

They... They got killed.

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> Okay, here we go.

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> It was very bad time, especially 2006 and 2007.

Very bad time.

Normal civilians fighting normal civilians, and for no reason.

Just because they are Sunni and they are Shia, and that's it.

But I never thought that there would be

a civil war between Iraqis.

This I never saw coming.

I was ready to die.

Everyone in Iraq was ready to die.

He knows that he could die any minute.

Random bullet, explosion.

American convoy, anything in the street could kill you.

>> (yelling)

>> It was like hell in Iraq.

>> (shouting)

>> I don't think there's a family

and they didn't lose anyone.

Everyone was losing everyone.

(gunfire rattling)

>> Can you tell what happened to your brother?

>> (chuckling): (bleep)

Do I have to?

>> Of course you don't have to.

>> (exhales)

It's, uh, I hate that moment.

My brother was, uh...



He was killed in a very brutal way.

The, the mortar shell fell right on his head.

And he was...

He became pieces, literally.

I saw the pieces.

And we collected the pieces to make a body,

so my mom thinks that there's a human.

But there wasn't a human.

I don't want to talk about it, please.

(sniffs quietly)

♪ ♪

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

♪ ♪

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (chanting)

>> (speaking Arabic):

(people talking in background)

(people talking in background)

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

(voice trembling):

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

(helicopter flying)

>> For nearly nine years, our nation has been at war in Iraq.

The troops are now preparing

to make their final march across the border

and out of the country.

Iraq's future will be in the hands of its own people.

Our war there will be over.

>> It just touches my heart to see our troops coming home.

Job well done.

♪ ♪

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> My friend! >> How are you?

>> How's your day?

>> Not too bad, can't complain. >> Yeah?

>> Yeah, another day in paradise.

>> (chuckles): Yeah.

♪ ♪

>> They do say, and it's true, home is where heart is.

And my heart is in Baghdad and forever will be.

Plus, it's (bleep) cold here.


I arrived to Canada,

met this beautiful, loving, fricking woman.

I married.

Got educated here.

I studied film and media.

My name is Waleed Rabiaa.

>> Sorry.

>> I was really an intense individual at that time.

(on laptop): My name is Waleed Rabiaa.

I left my country eight years ago.

And now I want to return.

I couldn't return home until 2012,

because that's when I finally got my permanent residency.

I spoke to my wife and I was, like, "I can't take it anymore.

I gotta go home."

And I knew that my brothers were waiting for me.

>> (laughing)

(car horn honking, music playing)

>> I don't even know what I'm gonna do when I see my mother.


>> (speaking Arabic):

>> I mean, not to see your mom for eight years,

it was an insanely happy moment.

(speaking Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> Allawi, what are you doing?

>> "What are you doing," yes.

I, I clean your face.

>> And it just hit me.

I left my brothers, they were kids.

The youngest was nine years old.

I put him to bed.

And I was thinking, like, it's almost like I was in a dream,

and I just woke up and you're expecting

that not two minutes have gone by.

>> (speaking Arabic)


>> I wanted to do a high school friend reunion.

Some of them, you know, started coming up

with excuses and excuses,

and there's this friend of mine called Hakkam.

He, finally, he was, like, "No, no, no.

"If you want to hang out, just come here,

we'll hang out, you and I,"

and I was, like, "But why, our friends..."

And he's, like, "Because you (bleep) invited Al Samarai."


And I was, like, "Do you not remember,

"like, we fricking snuck out of school together,

"like, you know, it was, like,

we, we did all of these, of course I invited him!"

And the guy was, like, "Oh, you're one of those.

He is Sunni."

And I was, like, "Hold on.

"Do you mean to tell me that you don't speak to him

because he's Sunni?"

And he was, like, "Yeah."

And he was, like, "And let me tell you something, Waleed.

"The Iraq you left is no more.

This is the new Iraq."

(music playing, people shouting)

The Sunnis at that time had gotten it really, really bad.

'Cause the Iraqi government

was just pushing and pushing on these people.

>> (speaking Arabic):

(people shouting, cheering)


>> The prime minister is a disaster.

He started the collective punishment of the Sunnis

with the support of America.

Maliki started arresting the Sunni leadership.

He cleaned the government from all the Sunnis.

It became impossible for both sides

to find peace again.

♪ ♪

>> The Iraqi army has been intensifying their operations.

There is sessions of torture.

This was going on for years.

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> And the sentiment was very clear.

The Iraqi government is Shia, we are Sunnis.

We are gonna get our rights back.

(crowd chanting)

I know something bad is going to happen,

and I have to leave again.

I was sobbing like a kid.

'Cause I didn't know whether I will see them again or not.

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (blows kiss)

(softly): Yeah.

Something was a-brewing.

And that thing...

(bleep) us for good now.

(people shouting, horns honking)

(sirens blaring)

(people shouting, horns honking)

>> (speaking Arabic):


(man speaking Arabic)

(people cheering)

>> We drove through the city.

The army that used to insult the people

on daily basis in the checkpoints

have disappeared.

They've collapsed.

We thought the security forces

would come back, fight back, the terrorists would leave.

But then when I saw the weapons, the new cars,

they were almost all in one uniform...

I became totally sure that ISIS is here to stay.

(horns honking)

(guns firing)

>> Can you just explain why people are cheering?

>> They weren't welcoming ISIS,

but after years of oppression

from corrupted troops and government,

people felt free for the first time.

That's what ISIS was selling to the people.

But Maliki and his government is gone.

(people cheering, whistles blowing)

♪ ♪

What we used to see as the police

now is the Islamic police.

What used to be Iraqi flag

now is the black flag of ISIS.

From day one, you would see in the street

what they called the media outlet

putting on the TV, on the monitor,

ISIS videos, showing their propaganda.

>> (singing in Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> I saw myself children between 12 to 15 years old joining ISIS

just after watching a video.

♪ ♪

>> Would ISIS have existed if America had stayed?

>> I don't think so, no, no.

Americans would have, would have stopped that.

The U.S.A. committed two major bad things in Iraq.

First was invasion, and the second was withdrawal from Iraq.

Because we were not ready at all, not...

We didn't, we didn't have an army, good army.

We didn't have a good police to control the ground,

we didn't have a strong government-- it was very weak.

So when, when they withdrawal, it was a mistake.

♪ ♪

So in blinking of eye, ISIS controlled three cities,

three major cities, in Iraq.

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (cheering)

♪ ♪

(people shouting)

(guns firing, horns honking)

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

♪ ♪

>> (speaking Arabic):

(child laughing)

♪ ♪

(speaks softly)

(both laugh softly)

(man singing in Arabic)

(people yelling)

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

(breathes deeply)


♪ ♪

(voice trembling)

(guns firing)

(breath trembling)

(breathes deeply)

(imitates snoring)

♪ ♪

>> (speaking Arabic):

(people calling in distance)

♪ ♪


>> (interviewer):

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

(man speaking Arabic on TV)

>> I was back in Canada.

My brother called me and he was, like,

"Daesh just took over Tikrit."

And then the Speicher thing happened.

It was a matter of time until Daesh come to Baghdad.

And I was, like, "Okay, how much money do you have?"

And he was, like, "I don't have any,"

and I was, like, "All right, okay.

Give me one day and I'll come back to you."

So I scrounge up as much money as I can put together,

send it over, and I was, like,

"You buy tickets right now, and you go to Turkey, right now."

So I moved the whole family to Turkey

within a matter of a week.

And I remember talking to my wife and telling her,

I was, like...

"It just never stops.

It never stops."

Like, Daesh made us look at Al Qaeda time

and they were, like,

"Ah, they are just a bunch of jokers, these guys."

And they were, in comparison.


♪ ♪

>> We heard of Speicher.

As ISIS distributed directly videos,

so we were aware of what was happening.

They were talking, like,

that it is a great victory for the Islamic State.

♪ ♪

(guns firing in video)

But I still remember seeing

those people in the, in the truck while begging ISIS.

And this guy who was killing them using the pistol

and throwing them into the river.

Who would, who, who would be able to do this?

Who can do this?

Once you are a part of ISIS, you are a monster.

>> Tell me, did you, did you know you were joining ISIS?

>> (speaking Arabic):

(people chanting)

(speaking Arabic):

(gun firing)

>> So what happens at the training camp?

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (interviewer):

>> (speaking Arabic):

(man talking on loudspeaker)

>> (speaking Arabic):

♪ ♪

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> (speaking Arabic):

♪ ♪

>> (speaking Arabic):

♪ ♪


♪ ♪

>> There were rumors in town,

some people were saying Mosul Eye is a Jewish Iraqi

who love his city.

Some others saying that this is

a professional psychological operation from C.I.A.

>> (speaking Arabic):

>> ISIS feared what Mosul Eye was doing.

Telling them, "You are not alone in town.

"Someone is watching you.

ISIS is not controlling everything in our life."

Someone said, "I wish I knew who was Mosul Eye,

because I would behead him myself."

From the very beginning,

I felt the responsibility and the importance

of exposing what's happening, putting everything online.

This led to the creation of Mosul Eye.

>> That was you? >> Yeah.

At least I was doing something against them.

That ISIS, with all its weapons,

couldn't manipulate the truth.

(people shouting, chanting)

The normal day under ISIS rule was hand-cutting...

Stoning women in the street, and execution.

Yeah, this, this was a normal day in, under ISIS.

And if this didn't happen, we would say, like,

"Wow, there's something wrong.

Why there is no execution?"

♪ ♪

>> Did you watch the executions?

>> Yes.

They were beheaded.

♪ ♪

The moment I decide to leave Mosul

was the most difficult moment in my life.

The house next door where I live

was an ISIS senior leader.

The house behind us was also an ISIS leader.

The fear that my family would be punished

as a result of what I was doing

was getting higher.

There was only one way to leave.

(speaking Arabic softly):

♪ ♪

The battle to retake Mosul began.

It was the Iraqi security forces

with the support of the United States.

(guns firing)

I wanted the city to be liberated.

But I was afraid

because it's a fight to finish ISIS.

It's completely different from liberating the people.

(heavy gunfire booming)

When Trump came to power,

he said that he wanted ISIS

to be defeated at any cost.

Part of this cost was my brother, my eldest brother.

He left four children behind.

>> We've done more against ISIS in nine months

than the previous administration's done

during its whole administration by far, by far.

(audience cheers and applauds)

And ISIS is now being dealt one defeat after another.

(explosions rumbling)

They never got hit like this before,

and we've made their lives very, very difficult.

(explosion erupts)

>> (yelling)

(people yelling)

♪ ♪

(guns firing, people screaming in distance)


(people talking in background)

>> (speaking Arabic):

(explosion echoes)

(guns firing)

>> (crying)

>> (speaking Arabic, voice trembling):

(guns firing, people shouting)

(explosions echo, guns firing, people shouting)

♪ ♪

(helicopter droning)

(people talking in background)

>> I'm still 33 and I have lived all of this.

Americans, Al Qaeda, civil war,

the killing of Sunnis, the killing of Shia,

the executions, the beheadings.

It's a miracle I'm still able to talk, isn't it?

It's very dangerous to forget.

Because memory all is what's left for us.

♪ ♪

I remember the...

The people in my neighborhood.

And that we were able to play in the street.

With no fear.

(sighs): Yeah, this is, this is what I remember

when I was child in Mosul.

Mosul is known of its minaret,

which we call our old lady.

Because it is watching us and protecting us.

You would find very old and ancient houses.

You will see mosque close to a church and then a shrine.

It's the place where you belong

and the place where you identify yourself with.

And when the sun shine,

you could feel that the sun is shining

just because Mosul is there.

Unfortunately, everything I have described has been destroyed.

My city is gone.

♪ ♪

>> The goals of our coalition are clear and limited.

Coalition forces will help maintain law and order

so that Iraqis can live in security.

And I assure every citizen of Iraq,

your nation will soon be free.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

>> (speaking Arabic):

♪ ♪

>> Go to

for more about the people in this film.

>> At some point, I thought he's my grandfather,

because I see him everywhere.

>> 'Cause you don't know who's listening.

And that's what he created.

>> And watch our past films about Iraq.

Connect to the "Frontline" community

on Facebook and Twitter,

and watch anytime on the PBS Video app or

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

For more on this and other "Frontline" programs,

visit our website at

♪ ♪

"Frontline's" "Once Upon a Time in Iraq"

is available on Amazon Prime Video.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪


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