Wrenching account of U.S. errors in Iraq

Posted: August 10, 2007

'We used to joke that there were 500 ways to do it wrong," says Barbara Bodine, American diplomat and former coordinator for central Iraq, of how the United States could rebuild the Middle Eastern nation after the fall of Saddam Hussein. "And only two or three ways to do it right."

No End in Sight, Charles Ferguson's lucid, concise and devastating account of what went wrong in Iraq, patiently counts those 500 ways.

The result is a heartbreaking, soul-searching chronicle of how America snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in a nation where outraged citizens look into Ferguson's camera and testify, "Saddam was awful, but the Americans are worse!"

Muqtada al-Sadr, shown in newsreel footage inciting anti-American insurgents, makes a similar distinction between the old authoritarian rule and the American occupying forces: Hussein was the "little Satan," America the "great Satan." It could have been otherwise, Ferguson suggests. The Iraqis may have regarded Americans more like avenging angels had the Bush administration heeded the advice of its Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA).

Narrated by Campbell Scott with a neutrality that makes its content all the more incendiary, No End focuses its attention on May 2003, after President Bush spoke in front of a "mission accomplished" banner but before plans to stabilize and rebuild Iraq had been implemented. According to Ferguson's film, it took the United States two years to plan its policy to rebuild Germany after World War II; it took less than 60 days for the U.S. to plan its policy to rebuild Iraq, much of it done by those not fluent in the country's language or culture.

Many of the 35 talking heads interviewed by Ferguson, a Brookings Institution policy wonk and software designer who self-financed the $2 million film, are or were high-ranking officials in the administration. Some, like Col. Paul Hughes and Gen. Jay Garner, were from the Pentagon. Others, like Bodine, came from the State Department.

With the exception of Walter Slocombe, adviser to the the Coalition Provisional Authority, which succeeded the ORHA, no one interviewed defends the U.S. decisions to "de-Ba'athify" Iraq and demobilize its army.

Garner looks stricken when he describes his unsuccessful fight against "de-Ba'athification," which eliminated 50,000 party members who could hold together Iraq's fragile infrastructure. An even more stricken Hughes describes his fight against dismantling the 500,000-member Iraqi army, which turned potential U.S. allies into enemies who had access to weapons.

As Ferguson, who trained as a mathematician, conducts this audit of the war in Iraq, he shows how those 500 mistakes led to 3,000 U.S. casualties. Of Iraqi casualties, there is no reliable number, but estimates range from 60,000 to 150,000.

No End in Sight ***1/2

Written and directed by Charles Ferguson. Narrated by Campbell Scott. With Barbara Bodine, Col. Paul Hughes and Walter Slocombe, distributed by Magnolia Pictures.

Running time: 1 hour, 41 mins.

Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (documentary with war sequences, carnage and medical candor)

Showing at: Ritz Five and Showcase at the Ritz Center/NJ

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@philly

news.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://go.philly.com/

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