Baghdad, Iraq: Iraqis Defy Bomb Threat to Attend Outdoor Movie Nights

Small crowds of Iraqi movie-goers defied the threat of bomb attacks this week to watch films at a Baghdad outdoor cinema, an event unimaginable for years as violence swirled. Huddled against winds blowing off the Tigris, viewers laughed beneath the bombed facade of the Foreign Ministry at a screening of "Taqweem Shakhasi" ("Personal Calendar") which pokes fun at Iraqis unable to remember the days of the week as they contend with the confusion brought on by war. Less than four months ago, two truck bombs ripped through this site and the Finance Ministry, killing 95 people. But as relative calm returns to Baghdad, its residents are gradually indulging in activities they enjoyed before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. In November, 88 civilians were killed by violence, the lowest monthly death toll in 6-1/2 years. At least 100,000 people have died since the invasion and in the sectarian warfare it sparked. "Just the idea of showing movies is in itself a risk," said Aliya al-Maliki, a local poet wearing a woollen jumper and cap who attended a movie showing Thursday night with her mother and about 50 other Iraqis. "By coming here, we are sending a message to terrorists that we are willing to challenge death." Dubbed the Mobile Cinema Festival by its young creators, screenings were scheduled on four nights this week at sites around the capital where insurgents have staged deadly attacks. The festival has also travelled to five towns outside Baghdad. RESPONSE TO ATTACKS The screen showing "Personal Calendar" was propped up against blast walls decorated with candles placed in bags. "Choosing these places is a response to the terrorist attacks and to show Iraq is a civilised society," said Mohammad Hashim, an actor in the award-winning film "Ahlaam" ("Dreams") made by the same group as "Personal Calendar." Atiya al-Darraji, whose company produced the films, said Iraqis were unaware of the country's filmmaking efforts. "They have no idea what has been made here since the war," he said. "Dreams" was Iraq's submission to the 2006 Academy Awards. Before the U.S.-led invasion, movie-going was fashionable among families and couples who visited Iraq's 60 or so cinemas to watch Hollywood action films starring actors such asArnold Schwarzenegger orВ Jean-Claude Van Damme. Today, only five cinemas operate, the Cinema and Theatre Directorate said, as fans deserted public spaces out of fear of being targeted by insurgents in the kind of attack that struck the Foreign Ministry on August 19. Iraqis instead prefer the safety of their homes, where they can now watch hundreds of satellite-television channels. Qassim Hassan, a police officer guarding the Mobile Cinema, had not seen a movie in more than a decade. "I feel sadness and pity when I see our lives reflected on the screen," Hassan said, his eyes glued to the movie as he gripped his rifle. "But this is the reality we live with because of the pressures we face." Editing by Ayla Jean Yackley/David Stamp source-

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