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Iraqis Annoyed by Kuwaiti TV Drama

Fictionalised account of invasion of Kuwait brings back uncomfortable memories.
By Abeer Mohammed
  • Iraqis watching the Kuwaiti Drama "Saher al-Layl". Basra, July 2012. (Photo: Abu Iraq)
    Iraqis watching the Kuwaiti Drama "Saher al-Layl". Basra, July 2012. (Photo: Abu Iraq)

Iraqis who watched a Kuwaiti television drama depicting the 1990 Gulf War say it has needlessly stirred up bad memories of the conflict between the two states. 

The mini-series "Saher al-Layl", which translates approximately as “Awake all Night”, has been showing on satellite channels visible in Iraq through the month of Ramadan. This is popular period for airing new TV shows in the Middle East, as viewers tend to be at home during the evening after breaking their daily fast.

The fictionalised drama shows Iraqi soldiers torturing and insulting Kuwaiti civilians after Saddam Hussein’s lightning takeover of the Gulf state. Another scene shows Iraqi troops opening fire on and killing female demonstrators.

Iraqis argue that they too suffered under Saddam, especially during the 13-year economic embargo imposed in response to the invasion, which was ended by the United States-led coalition force. Many question why they should now be shown in a bad light.

"This programme does nothing but bring back sad, negative memories for both Iraqis and Kuwaitis,” Mohammed Abbod, 60, a civil servant from the port city of Basra on the border with Kuwait, said. “I can’t see the point of it….. It brings back the bitterness of the Saddam era.

Salam Dahham, 35, from Diyala in eastern Iraq, said, "I was young at the time of the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, but I can see we suffered a lot after that war; we tasted hunger because of Saddam's actions.

“Why are we still paying for his sins even now? It wasn’t our fault, so why do they blame us now and make their children hate us?"

After more than two decades of estrangement, relations between Iraq and Kuwait have improved markedly this year. This was underlined when the Emir of Kuwait attended an Arab League summit held in Baghdad this March, when other Gulf leaders stayed away.

The mini-series currently running is the third and final part of a of longer TV serial. The earlier parts, covering the 1970s and 1980s, were shown over the last two years but did not stir the same controversy.

The director of "Saher al-Layl" , Mohammed Dahham al-Shemmari, defended the current series in an interview published on, saying it was merely telling the history of Kuwait, and did not seek to create tensions with the people of Iraq.

"When it tells the story of the invasion and the suffering endured by Kuwaitis, it is a negative depiction not of Iraqis badly but of Saddam and his army," Shemmari said.

Many Iraqi viewers remain unconvinced, arguing that portrayals of the brutality of Saddam’s forces are not the whole story.

"Why do they broadcast such scenes, why do they tell just part of the truth, and why don’t they show Iraqis who supported them?" asked Abu Alaa, 44, a grocer from Basra. "Many military officers and other personnel were executed by Saddam because they refused to take part in the war. Many of them left the army because they refused to wage war on their Arab brothers".

Salah Fadhel, 53, a taxi driver from Saddam’s home town Tikrit, had a different take on the film, arguing that it was the Kuwaitis who were shown in the worst light.

“Shame on the Kuwaitis for showing that they were occupied by Iraqis and liberated by Americans,” he said.

Abdul Khaliq Sattar, a social affairs expert in Baghdad, said that while there was nothing wrong with presenting different perspectives on events, there was nevertheless a danger that this could stir up old animosities.

“There’s nothing wrong with the series itself – it doesn’t incite hatred, but it does reveal a difference in view. From the Kuwaitis' point of view, it is just retelling history, but from the Iraqis' perspective, it’s an insult to them,” he said. “As such, it could incite hostility between the two peoples. It’s an indication that old hatreds still exist, and that’s something we need to address."

Um Jasim, a 70-year-old from Baghdad, lost her son during the first Gulf War, but is still watching the TV show.

"I don’t like Saddam and I don’t like his wars. Kuwaitis should know that we are victims just as much as they are,” she said. “I watch that series every day, even though I don’t like it. God forgive them for thinking badly of us.

"We’d like to watch something enjoyable after breaking our fast, not something that irritates us.”

Abeer Mohammed is IWPR editor for Iraq. IWPR trained reporters Abu Iraq, Khalid Waleed and Ali Mohammed also contributed reporting.

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