Urban Sights: Urban History and Visual Culture

Iraq's first public relations picture

Iraq has been identified by first British and later national government rhetoric as the modern incarnation of the ‘cradle of civilization’, also referred to as Mesopotamia. The Greek origins of the name for this ancient region literally translate to the 'land between rivers': the Tigris and Euphrates. Iraq’s rivers feature centrally in representations of the country and its capital, as the life-giving natural resource that supported the beginnings of human civilization. 
IPC’s project to construct the world’s largest pipeline in 1951 from Kirkuk to the Mediterranean port at Banias, Syria, borrowed from this popular imaginary of an ancient Mesopotamia to create its narrative of modern Iraq. IPC called its Kirkuk-Banias pipeline the 'Third River' as a symbolic and literal reference to the controlled flow of 'natural wealth' that would bring modern civilization back to the cradle of civilization. The imaginary of Iraq’s man-made river of oil circulated widely in company publications, but was most powerfully cultivated in IPC’s first documentary, The Third River (1952).

The Third River was the earliest film about modern Iraq to be made for and circulated to audiences in Britain and the Middle East. Sponsored by the British-controlled Iraq Petroleum Company, produced by Film Centre in London, shot on-location in Iraq and Syria, and translated into both English and Arabic versions, this film signified a new approach in the long orientalist history of representing Baghdad. Clarke wrote of IPC’s first film project that, 'in making The Third River we were faced with Iraq as it is, not with the luscious and cloying luxuries of a Hollywood gorgeous east'. For the first time in cinematic history, the land, people and places of Iraq figured as a primary subject of a film narrative rather than serving merely as an exotic backdrop.

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