Baghdad Central, Channel 4 (3 stars)

Baghdad Central, Channel 4

A stately pace pushes this Iraq War drama slowly into a stew of paranoia and peril

'The better the devil you know' might have made for an appropriate subheading for Channel 4's Baghdad Central. This six-part drama based on Elliott Colla's debut novel from 2014 is set in the aftermath of America's 2003 invasion of Iraq. While it focuses on an ex-policeman investigating the disappearance of his rabblerousing teenage daughter, it strongly suggests that the removal of Saddam Hussein led to the country becoming dangerously unstable rather than properly liberated. As screenwriter Stephen Butchard put it, 'Saddam was a despot but acted as a glue'.

In the year that the often sensationalist Homeland makes it swansong, Baghdad Central tackles similar territory but with much more of a contemplative approach and steadier pace. With one daughter missing and the other seriously ill, Khafaji (Waleed Zuiater) is flung into a nightmare after being enlisted by British diplomat Frank Temple (played with just the right dash of sleaze by Bertie Carvel) to help rebuild the Iraqi Police Force as chaos and lawlessness run amok. Khafaji uses this opportunity to delve into his daughter's case but finds himself up against her enigmatic tutor Professor Rashid (Clara Khoury) and the US military police headed up by Captain Parodi (Corey Stoll).

What ensues is a myriad of complex manoeuvring and rabid paranoia as Khafaji uncovers evidence that his daughter and her friends have led hidden lives which land them in mortal danger. Over Baghdad Central's opening episodes, there's a perpetual reek of menace which compensates for the distinct lack of incident with the everyday perils of life in a city occupied by foreign forces rendered starkly and effectively.

Episodes watched: 3 of 6

Baghdad Central starts on Channel 4, Mon 3 Feb, 10pm, with all episodes airing afterwards on All 4.

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