People & Power focuses on Iraq with an exclusive series of films inside the country by David Enders and Richard Rowley.
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The US election is almost here.
One of the key issues facing the next US president will be the detention policies of the US military that form part of its so-called war on terror.
We all know about Guantanamo Bay, but since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been arrested and detained. At present, there are some seventeen thousand in US custody. They are what the military call "security detainees" held for an undetermined amount of time, and not charged with any crime. However, the authority cited by the military for the way the US holds prisoners is about to expire.
On December 31, the United Nations mandate for the US occupation of Iraq ends. In the negotiations about the future role of the US military in Iraq, what to do about thousands of Iraqis currently being held without charge looms large.
As American filmmakers Rick Rowley and Dave Enders found out, few US policies in Iraq affect the lives of ordinary Iraqis more directly and profoundly than the US military's "security detentions”.
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After two years of campaigning, the US Presidential race enters its final week, and for the most of those two years, Iraq looked like an unwinnable war.
The so-called surge strategy adopted by George Bush, the outgoing president, deployed 30,000 additional US troops to Iraq in 2007 and has dominated, much of the debate about the war.
Both this year's presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, have praised it as a huge success.
McCain even cites his early support of the surge as his most important foreign policy credential.
An arguably even more significant development has been the "the awakening movement" where the US gives money, weapons, and military support, to tribal sheiks in return for them clearing their territories of US opponents and al-Qaeda members and sympathisers in Iraq.
But the delicate and precarious sectarian balance, between Shia and Sunna Muslims in Iraq could still undermine this risky strategy.
Filmmakers Rick Rowley and David Enders returned to Iraq to find 100,000 Sunni militiamen now on the US payroll.
Beyond the Wall
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Muqtada al-Sadr and his armed group, the al-Mahdi army, have been America's most intractable opponents in Iraq, the only major Shia party to make the demand for US troops to withdraw.
For five years, they have controlled large sections of the country, they have also defied attempts to marginalise them politically, and have fought pitched battles with US Marines. Despite all this, al-Sadr's al-Mahdi army has only grown in size and influence.
The movement fought hard against Saddam's regime and no neighbourhood in Baghdad faced more brutal repression than Sadr City. Today, the same movement and the same neighbourhood are at the centre of resistance to the US occupation.
|People & Power asks whether the US military's troop surge has worked
The US has tried, unsuccessfully, to destroy the Sadrists several times since the invasion in 2003. This spring, the Iraqi and US military launched surprise attacks against Sadrist strongholds in Basra and Baghdad.
After a few weeks of stiff resistance ceasefires were negotiated and the al-Mahdi army melted away from the street.
Iraqi soldiers have set up bases inside neighbourhoods that they could not enter one year ago, and a wave of optimistic stories are coming out of Baghdad and Washington.
Filmmakers Rick Rowley and David Enders returned to the al-Mahdi army stronghold in Baghdad's Sadr City to explore whether the surge has actually worked and if the al-Mahdi army really no longer poses a threat.
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