New series ‘Baghdad Central’ a tense thriller told with Arabs in mind

The show was shot in Morocco. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 12 February 2020

New series ‘Baghdad Central’ a tense thriller told with Arabs in mind

  • Set in 2003, when Baghdad was occupied by US-led coalition forces for six months, the thriller follows Iraqi ex-policeman Muhsin Al-Khafaji who finds himself embarking on a wider quest for justice in a society that has become lawless

DUBAI: “We are rarely in Western cinema and media as the protagonists,” said actor Waleed Zuaiter, who plays the lead character in “Baghdad Central,” the new thriller that aired on streaming service Starzplay on Feb. 12.  

Set in 2003, when Baghdad was occupied by US-led coalition forces for six months, the thriller follows Iraqi ex-policeman Muhsin Al-Khafaji who finds himself embarking on a wider quest for justice in a society that has become lawless.

Al-Khafaji, who was fired after the US invasion, worked under former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s regime. The show, which was shot in Morocco, revolves around Al-Khafaji and his two daughters after he loses his wife and son.

Zuaiter, who was born in the US and raised in Kuwait, told Arab News that when he first read the script, he was in “deep depression… I wasn’t in the right place. My father had passed away and so I had a very negative filter on everything.




The movie is set in 2003, when Baghdad was occupied by US-led coalition forces for six months. (Supplied)

“I had also been skeptical about any writing coming from the West about the Middle East, because my experience had been that it’s rare that they get it right and a lot of times it is very stereotypical and so my first thought was ‘oh it's another stereotype’ or ‘another accented Middle Eastern character’,” he added. 

It was his wife, however, who pushed him to reconsider the role. “The second time I read it I was like ‘wow I really connect with this character’ and then I took another read and I was like ‘wow this is everything I’ve ever wanted to play and I was very proud of it,” Zuaiter said. 




Waleed Zuaiter plays the role of Muhsin Al-Khafaji, an Iraqi ex-policeman. (Supplied)

British-Egyptian actress July Namir plays one of Khafaji’s daughters in the show. Her character, Murooj, is “wise beyond her years… she is extremely intellectual for her age.”

Despite her kidney disease, Murooj does not want to be an extra burden on her father who “has lost everything,” Namir said. 

The young actress also believes “Baghdad Central,” which was originally a novel by the author Elliott Colla, addresses the stereotype of the father-daughter relationship in the Arab world. 




British-Egyptian actress July Namir plays one of Khafaji’s daughters in the show. (Supplied)

“In the West, we have this perception of the Middle East and daughter-father relationships that the father is extremely aggressive and tells you off all the time... and here, actually, you have a much more softer, if anything, relationship. So, it is really interesting to showcase that these relationships do (exist),” Namir said.

When speaking to the executive producer of the show Kate Harwood, she said she was looking for new ways to tell a story.

“As a producer… this immediately felt like a really interesting perspective because we’ve been fed so many stories of Iraq 2003 and the protagonists were always American or British. So, to read this novel, which had a totally different perspective, was very refreshing.”


Saudi designer and musician: ‘You don’t need an excuse to fail’

Updated 26 February 2020

Saudi designer and musician: ‘You don’t need an excuse to fail’

  • An accomplished pianist, composer and artist Labeed Assidmi is known for his passion and hard work

DAMMAM: Saudi graphic designer, artist, musician and entrepreneur Labeed Assidmi is known for his passion and hard work.

Assidmi is a designer and art director for corporate events at Saudi Aramco. However, it’s not all he’s known for. An accomplished pianist and composer, he has been playing piano since he was a child and is often asked to perform at events. He also owns and operates the company Pinnizer, where he sells retro and Saudi-centric lapel pins.

He wants people to know that there are different levels to what he does and how he wants to be perceived. “I want to be known as a designer first, a musician second and a pin maker last,” he said.

His passion for design began with a trip to Disneyland, where he saw how effectively a logo could be used with the iconic image of Mickey Mouse. “They were so creative with it. It was everywhere; the hats, the shirts, the buses, the tickets and the food. It was never boring. I started to think about what kind of job a person could have that would allow them to create these things. I knew that that was what I wanted to do.”

After studying graphic design in the US, he returned to Saudi Arabia to pursue a career as a designer. He said that becoming a designer can unlock plenty of paths for aspiring creatives: “Design is like an airport, there are so many directions you can go in as long as you know the principles.”

His journey in music started in the fourth grade “on the half-functional keyboard that everyone had somewhere in their house during that era.” He tinkered around with it until he managed to teach himself a few simple tunes.

He started taking the piano more seriously in college, eventually composing songs.

“I always play my own songs, I don’t really like doing covers,” he said.

He finds composing and playing music cathartic, and an effective way of stretching his creative muscles without overexerting himself. “When I’m not making art, I’m making music, and vice versa. I love the piano, it’s my escape from everything,” he said.

He also supports local musicians and wants to see more people enter the field. “I do perform sometimes at my own events, but lately I’ve been trying to give local talent a chance. I know how many of them are out there that just need someone to take a chance on them and give them their big break.”

As for Pinnizer, he said that pin collecting had started growing in popularity as a pastime in the Kingdom, but he knew that there were few places to get pins with imagery familiar to his generation. “I found a gap in the market and decided to capitalize on it by creating designs with characters and symbols that were familiar to us,” he said.

Assidmi designs all the pins himself, and works with a company in China to produce molds for them, which he then sells on his website. He has created pins with iconic images of the past such as the old logos of Saudi TV and Saudi Airlines, as well as anime characters like Grendizer and Maroko.

“When people see my pins, and their voice goes up an octave when they give that nostalgic little ‘oh my God!’, I know I’ve succeeded,” he said.

He admits that balancing the triple workload and still managing to make time for himself and family is tough, but he has ways of getting around it.

He believes that compartmentalizing different aspects of your life into “pillars” can help people see the bigger picture and avoid getting too caught up in one thing.

Assidmi hopes that he can be an inspiration to future generations of Saudis, especially people who want to enter a creative field but don’t believe in themselves.

“My purpose is to leave a legacy that inspires people, to have people see what I’ve done and realize that this is something that they can do to. That’s how I want to be remembered.”

Shop Pinnizer at https://salla.sa/pinnizer/ or follow Assidmi on Instagram @labeed and his work at @labeed.design and @pinnizer