Less history than a recap of current events, “Baghdad Diary” is a slightly awkward combination of two compelling stories, chronicling the experience of NBC News cameraman Craig White — who was initially embedded with the late correspondent David Bloom — and Fadil Kadom, an Iraqi taxi driver who let his camcorder roll in the run-up to and aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. The latter leaves the more indelible mark, but the term “diary” certainly applies, inasmuch as this amounts to a disjointed compilation of moments — some quite arresting — rather than a cohesively structured narrative.
Kadom was given his camera by a Norwegian journalist who wanted to “see the war through Iraqi eyes.” The result is just that, from relatives cowering as bombs fell on Baghdad amid the initial “Shock and Awe” assault to the family celebrating when dictator Saddam Hussein was finally captured, fleetingly hoping better days were ahead.
White, meanwhile, speeds toward Baghdad with Bloom and the 3rd Infantry Division, before the 39-year-old reporter’s tragic death after collapsing due to a pulmonary embolism. Soldiering on alone, the cameraman (who has returned eight times on assignment in Iraq) has captured plenty of jarring footage chronicling the war’s emotional roller coaster. Reluctant Iraqi soldiers lay down their arms, bloody firefights ensue and there’s the triumphant arrival in Baghdad — where troops were briefly “greeted as liberators,” as Vice President Cheney now-infamously predicted — before the outbreak of sectarian violence that has torn apart the country since Hussein’s ouster.
Through their lenses, White and Kadom essentially reinforce the sense of frustration that has plagued the U.S.’ adventure in Iraq, and while there are illuminating sections — people looting by dragging away refrigerators and other appliances, for example, despite the absence of electricity — only those who have ignored much of the reporting over the last 4½ years will find much new here.
Then again, the major networks have made Iraq easy to ignore. ABC News’ Bob Woodruff also lends his imprimatur to the effort, which only highlights how little the news divisions have done regarding the war in primetime — sending the ABC newsman and an NBC cameraman to the History Channel, while their nets remain more comfortable devoting their newsmagazines to tabloid trifles and domestic true crime.
“Baghdad Diary” eschews larger conclusions; instead, directors Sandra Consentino and Joseph Consentino appear content to let the wartime imagery speak for itself. Yet even with that evenhanded approach, “Baghdad Diary” proves a depressing reminder not only of how the Iraq campaign has unfolded, but of broadcast news’ avoidance of this inconvenient war, through Iraqi eyes or otherwise.