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In the wake of a couple of UK films with predigested plotlines, two new and different scenarios about Iraq’s WMDs can make high profile, high impact Australian films. They would have the necessary cinematic scale, the essential dynamics and universal interest.

Two UK films in a row reach Australia within two months of each other – In the Loop (Jan 2010) and Green Zone (March 2010) – taking the discredited intelligence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction as the basis for their plot. How could such vital intelligence be wrong? How could it have happened? They both suggest similar scenarios, in which secretive operatives with their own agendas inside the Pentagon falsify intel information which is then relayed to the strategy teams around the US President and British PM.

But this scenario is not the only plausible one, and with interest in the subject not likely to go away, here is a chance for Australian filmmakers to tackle global themes, and to show the world that we are not led by our nose when it comes to world affairs. We have our own take on this ….. Here are two alternative hypotheticals for your consideration.

The bitter and costly 8-year Iran Iraq war ended in 1988 but it left Iraq scarred at every level. During that war, Iraq used chemical weapons (verified by the UN) and it is impossible to imagine that the end of the war brought brotherly love to these two neighbouring nations.

In mid 2002, an Australian diplomat based in Tehran is briefed by his Iranian contact in the defence ministry: Iran is alarmed at Iraq’s hoarding of WMDs. The contact cites all the UN resolutions against Iraq on the matter and complains that the UN does nothing to enforce them. He warns that Iran must defend herself … Saddam is not to be trusted. Look what he did with chemicals in the war. Look what he did with chemicals against his own Kurdish people. He urges Australia to stand up and lead the West in a move against Saddam’s regime. Australia is a ‘clean’ state, and neutral enough in Middle East politics.

Meanwhile, the Australian diplomat’s counterpart in Tehran has held a birthday party on the same night, at which one of his Iraqi friends – a university lecturer in English, say – got talking about diplomatic life. The talk turned to secrecy and trust and information and intelligence … and when the conversation came to the latest UN resolutions about Iraq’s WMDs, the Iraqi smiled and said to the Aussie diplomat: “You Westerners need to learn more about people like Saddam. He is a fox. He’s been trying to keep Iran frightened ever since the war… he wants them to think Iraq is well armed, powerful and ready to launch lethal weapons against them if Iran so much as sneezes in this direction. Remember, my Aussie mate, Arabs invented chess ….”

The plot unfolds as the two diplomats file their reports – and in Canberra, the spymasters ignore the report from Iraq because it’s not from a ‘trusted intelligence’ source.

The Iraqi general, let’s call him Rihani, who now holds a position of great power in Saddam’s Army was once not so highly placed. Some years earlier, while a midranking officer, he was approached by some mysterious messengers from Saddam’s HQ with a request for his beautiful younger sister to be talked into marrying a close relative of Saddam who was somewhat older. Rihani refused repeatedly, and his sister was grateful. But one day she simply disappeared. So did the sister’s fiancée, and his entire family. Rihani was demoted on a trumped up charge and later arrested for drinking alcohol, beaten and jailed for 6 months. Rihani, a proud Iraqi who loves his country, was shattered by these events and harboured hatred towards Saddam’s regime.

At the beginning of the story Rihani is asked by the Australian ambassador to give an interview to a visiting journalist from Sydney. Rihani agrees. The interview soon comes to the hottest topic in world affairs: Iraq’s WMD. Rihani is careful to avoid the subject, but the journo is insistent. Rihani tells him he must go to a meeting but perhaps they can finish the interview at the Australian Embassy.

The next day, they meet in the Embassy in a private meeting room. With carefully calculated words written down on a crumpled piece of paper, Rihani implies that Iraq does indeed have WMD as the UN claims. He also implies that the program to dismantle them was halted half way through when Saddam thought he should keep some as bargaining chips.

Then he eats the paper and leaves.

The journalist confides in his friend, the Ambassador’s aide (once a fellow journo in Melbourne) over a drink and asks how he could write the story a) without implicating Rihani and b) still make it credible. “You can’t” is his friend’s answer.

After they part, the aide briefs the Ambassador, who consults with the inhouse secret service guy who sends it on to ASIO who in turn includes it in a brief to the CIA.

Published March 6, 2010

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Andrew L. Urban

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