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

The show was shot in Morocco. (Supplied)
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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.”


‘The Frightened Ones’: An emotionally shattering take on Syrian life

Updated 2 min 58 sec ago

‘The Frightened Ones’: An emotionally shattering take on Syrian life

CHICAGO: Author Dima Wannous’s “The Frightened Ones,” masterfully translated by Elisabeth Jaquette in 2020,  was a finalist for the 2018 International Prize for Arabic. The novel takes readers on a haunting journey through history, time and protagonist Suleima’s mind as she navigates war and trauma in Syria. From the waiting room of her psychiatrist’s office to the streets of Damascus, readers get a glimpse into the mind of a young woman who has trouble differentiating reality from fantasies as political turmoil and the collective suffering of a nation fills page after heartbreaking page.  

From the Ain Al-Kirish neighborhood, Suleima attempts to understand her life, the one where her father has passed away, her brother has disappeared and her mother has aged overnight. She regularly sees her psychiatrist, Kamil, and that is where she meets Naseem. After being together for years, he emigrates to Germany without her and hands her an unfinished manuscript. As Suleima reads the manuscript, she can no longer tell her life and the narrator’s apart. They seem to be on the same path and share an uncertain future.  

But Suleima isn’t the only one dealing with a traumatic past, so are those around her. The nation has suffered and continues to suffer at the hands of militiamen, spying and informing on neighbors, and the military intelligence directorate, who have left parents childless and children parentless. The paranoia that infiltrates Suleima’s entire being is the same paranoia that seeps through the streets and into its residents. 

Wannous’s tale is emotionally shattering as she writes of her character, “my emotions were held hostage by events in Syria.” Within its borders, families and neighbors turn against one another. Memories upon memories, both good and bad, have begun to bleed into one another as those who have the means to flee do and those who cannot bring themselves to leave are drowning in sadness as “fear ruins the imagination.” It is a powerful novel of human relationships and inhumane politics. The tremors of past traumas never stop reverberating through the pages as people are forced to live life as the frightened ones.