As My Lai is for Vietnam, Abu Ghraib and the Haditha massacre of 2005 will be remembered as the most haunting, symbolic events of the Iraq war. In reality there were countless Hadithas; this kind of thing happens and will always happen in any serious conflict. It is an inherent part of war, and the Tony Blairs and George Bushes know when they embark on such misadventures that countless numbers of innocent people will inevitably be killed. A million Iraqis have died in the last five years, and the responsibility can only be taken by the same politicians who actively chose to create a war.
I approached the making of my film, Battle for Haditha, by preparing in the same way as one would for a documentary, although I had decided to cast the drama with ex-marines and Iraqis who had lived through the conflict to work as "non-actors". After meeting the Time magazine journalist responsible for the article that revealed the massacre, my co-producer, Anna Telford, and I journeyed to Camp Pendleton, San Diego, to meet with marines of Kilo Company, the unit involved in the killing of civilians at Haditha. Initially they supplied a barrage of disgusting humour about the Iraqis, but the bravado had slipped by the second day, revealing traumatised young boys unable to deal with what they had endured. They were all now on tranquillisers, with uncertain futures, haunted by memories that would remain for the rest of their lives.
We went to Amman in Jordan to meet survivors of the massacre who had been able to flee Haditha, a formerly wealthy Sunni city with large houses and good schools - a place where couples would honeymoon by the Euphrates. Most of the survivors initially supported the American liberation but then watched their streets, town and way of life disintegrate in front of them. The Sunnis of Haditha are not an especially religious people, but when the foreign fighters came the insurgency was forced to become fundamentalist. Alcohol was banned, people speaking English were executed on suspicion of being spies, satellite phone networks were blown up, and the residents of Haditha started to fear for their lives. It is clear to me that the massacre of November 19 2005 delivered Haditha into the hands of the insurgency: every family now had a personal grudge against US marines.
Both sides harboured a deep suspicion of the other. Despite the fears and prejudices that were so ingrained, a few months later, when we actually began filming, they had the first real opportunity to get to know one another. On the first day of production a nasty fight broke out between an Iraqi and a marine when the former learned that some of the latter had served in Falluja, where three of his brothers had been killed. At one stage I didn't think we would finish filming because tensions were so severe.
Yet within several weeks, the Iraqis and marines got to kicking a football around and chatting. Then they became close friends, both sides amazed that they could actually like the other, and I realised that this was the first time that they had ever communicated meaningfully. The film-making process revealed the humanity of both reconciliation and conflict, not to mention the incomprehensible, horrible reality of Iraq.
The trial for the marines of Kilo Company continues, and will not realistically be resolved until the end of March or April - if ever. But isn't it the architects of this war, Blair and Bush, who knew what they were doing and were advised what the repercussions could be, who should be standing in a dock?
Nick Broomfield, the director of Battle for Haditha, now in cinemas. This is an edited version of a longer article that appears in the online journal RealFits, which launches tomorrow.