Former Burnley soldier's journey to the heart of Iraq
Television audiences in the UK are seeing Iraq like never before thanks to a fascinating BBC documentary presented by a former Burnley soldier.
The first part of Adnan Sarwar’s ‘Journey in the Danger Zone: Iraq’ – which sees the 39-year-old travelling the length of a country he served in while with the British Army – aired on Sunday.
During the hour-long episode, the former Towneley High School pupil joined wildlife activists releasing bears, explored tunnels dug by ISIS and met Iraqi Kurdistan’s biggest pop star.
Adnan, who is the community editor for The Economist, is no stranger to television having presented ‘Dangerous Borders: A Journey Across India and Pakistan’ last year.
However, his decision to return to Iraq was borne out of a deeply personal and complex relationship he has with a country where he served two six-month tours in 2003 and 2006/07.
“The BBC said they really liked the ‘Dangerous Borders’ documentary so they wanted me to go somewhere else,” said Adnan, whose military career started at the Army Careers Office in Yorkshire Street. “Iraq was an itch that I had wanted to scratch for a while so we headed there.
“I only got to know a bit about the country while I was serving there and so I thought, we’ve got to go back and answer questions, not just for myself but for the people.”
With ISIS gone, Adnan wanted to discover the country afresh, see how people where going about rebuilding their lives especially in the aftermath of the invading forces he was part of.
“I told the majority of people I spoke with that I had served under the British Army. The reaction was mixed.
“Some said we should not have invaded the country, others said they were glad that we had come into the country but that we didn’t stay to finish the job. That was hard to hear.
“I spoke to one villager who said they preferred the British soldiers to the American ones. American soldiers wanted to get to Baghdad, pull down the Saddam statue and claim victory. To do this in three weeks they were violent and very quick. The British soldiers on the other hand would stop and have a cup of tea.
“I did have a little guilt going over but these are resilient people and they will fix this country without a doubt. What the people do say is that if they are left alone they will sort it out themselves.”
In the final part of the documentary, which airs this Sunday at 8pm on BBC 2, Adnan visits the capital Baghdad. Here he discovers how security is improving post ISIS and witnesses a TV show being made where ISIS prisoners admit to their crimes. He also heads south to Basra where he was part of the invading force and comes face to face with an old enemy.
Adnan spent six weeks filming in Iraq and despite the sometimes tough, not to mention dangerous conditions, he loved it over there.
“We travelled the country from north to south. We had security. It was dangerous. ISIS nearly got us on a couple of occasions and that would have been it for us. No Hollywood rescue.
“But with great risk comes great reward and we have ended up with a documentary we are very proud of.
“I have a list of countries that I want to go and film in next. I want to show the different sides to these places so I've got a few ideas. I’m not sure my mum is going to be too happy with the list though.”