REVIEW: Baghdad Central (S1 E2/6)

Last week’s opening episode of Channel 4’s Baghdad Central was hugely impressive.

Telling the story of the American occupation during the war of 2003, it features Muhsin Kadr al-Khafaji (a supremely good Waleed Zuaiter), a police inspector during the Saddam regime who now finds himself – like many other Iraqis – without a job, their present and future in limbo.

The first episode brought a new flavour to our crime drama fix, realising as it did a war-torn city we in the west had only seen in news reports. This series brings the complexities, the anxieties and the suspicions of living in a Middle Eastern war zone to impressive life, tacking on an intriguing noir story.

al-Khafaji is searching for his missing daughter, Sawsan, and accepted the offer of the highly suspicious British bureaucrat Temple (a brilliant Bertie Carvel) to come and work for him helping to rebuild the Iraqi police force from inside the Green Zone. Work for him and his youngest daughter Mrouj would receive free medical treatment for her kidney condition.

How could he refuse?

But, as we saw in this second episode, working for the coalition forces brings with it a stigma. It wasn’t long that al-Khafaji’s neighbours demanded he move out of his apartment complex. There’s no doubt that as the tensions begin to rise, between occupiers and the oppressed, the intensity with which they demand him to leave will no doubt increase.

In fact, al-Khafiji is good at making enemies. He also had another altercation with Salim al Nasir, the sneering man who tortured him in episode one.

One of the highlights of that first episode – one of many, it has to be said – was the Sanaa strand. A young woman who had been sexually assaulted by Americans, she felt the shame of her experience so acutely she killed her family’s American hostage – Kibbert – and eventually herself.

Sanaa had connections to Sawsan, as she did to ‘Candy’ another Iraqi woman who had been working with the Americans. Just how they were working for Americans we do not know, but there’s a link to university professor Zubeida Rashid. Had she been supplying local young women to the Americans?

Candy turned up in this episode, killing a man who had a fistful of condoms and was obviously expecting a jolly good time and driving his SUV head-on into the Green Zone checkpoint. She survived, and it’s only a matter of time until al-Khafaji gets to interview her uncover her links to his daughter’s disappearance. Unless someone gets to her first (why was Temple staring at her menacingly through the blinds of her hospital room?).

It was all starting to bubble up nicely.

Most importantly for al-Khafaji, he was beginning to gain the trust of Temple and of American Captain, Parodi. They had been impressed with his detective work at the scene of a shootout at Temple’s so-called safe house – where he found the body of Kibbert in a crawl space – and the way he handled the Candy situation.

Unbeknown to them, he was also conducting his secret investigation into his daughter’s disappearance within the confines of the Green Zone.

I’m really enjoying this series so far – it mixes the familiar with the unfamiliar, presenting a tell-tale detective noir (that opening music makes it feel very European in many ways) in a place we’ve never really seen before. There’s jeopardy around every corner, and yet our main character is calm in the face of warring factions, both inside and outside of the Green Zone.

This makes for an arresting mix. (No pun intended.)

Paul Hirons






6 thoughts on “REVIEW: Baghdad Central (S1 E2/6)”

  1. I’m a bit confused about when they’re talking English and when Arabic as Khafaji and his daughter talk together in English (some of the time)


  2. An important reminder in this episode that, however sympathetic and likeable the character of Muhsin may seem, he was a police officer during the regime of Saddam Hussein and there must be plenty of simmering hatred towards him because of that, as well as the hatred he’s creating by being seen as a collaborator with the Americans.


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