Rock in a hard place

It wasn't just their unholy racket that meant this Iraqi metal band were doomed, writes war correspondent Jason Burke

Dir.Suroosh Alvi, Eddy Moretti

In the first months after Saddam Hussein fell, one of the pleasures of driving through Baghdad and out into the still relatively peaceful Sunni Triangle to its west was Baghdad FM. The fall of the dictator had allowed the radio station to start broadcasting again after a decade and a half, and I drove through Falluja and Abu Ghraib singing along to Sister Sledge's 'Frankie' and, ironically, Tears for Fears' 'Everybody Wants to Rule the World'.

Such music had been banned because it represented the West. When I interviewed a Sunni militant leader a year later, he spoke of how, once a fervent admirer of America, he had welcomed the 2003 invasion in part because he hoped now to be able to listen to Aerosmith without worrying about the secret police. When we spoke he had just returned from firing mortars at US troops.

Fans of Metallica, the members of Acrassicauda (or 'Black Scorpion') hoped the new era dawning would mean fame, fortune and the right to blast eardrums and get famous. Like millions of their countrymen, they were to be badly disappointed.

This is not a film that is easy to like. It starts with the film-makers themselves putting on flak jackets before driving out into Baghdad in 2006 saying 'OK, let's do this' surrounded by armed security men. And their subjects, five young, wealthy and Westernised Iraqis who punctuate every other sentence with 'awesome', 'fuck yeah', and 'dude', are less than sympathetic. Yet, in tracking their lives from the hope of those early days through to flight to Syria in the face of the collapse of their country, the tragic tale of contemporary Iraq is nicely told.

The final scenes show the band in Syria, destitute and unable to travel further, watching footage of their earlier gigs in Baghdad. At first, their reaction is pleasure, then grief and finally anger. The parting shot of the film is meant for the film-makers but includes the viewers. 'You just turn off the television and go home,' says one. 'Fuck you. Pigs.'

· Heavy Metal Baghdad will receive a UK theatrical release later this year

Jason Burke

The GuardianTramp

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