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New Yorkers shown despair of Baghdad in new play

By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Americans can get a taste of the chaos and danger of Baghdad after the U.S. invasion, thanks to "Baghdadi Bath," a play opening on Thursday at a small theater in New York's East village.

"It's very important that Americans understand the size of the pain and suffering caused by the occupation inflicted on Iraq," said the play's author, Jawad al-Assadi, who fled Saddam Hussein's Iraq 25 years ago, via a translator.

Al-Assadi, 58, told Reuters in an interview he hoped the play he wrote in 2005 after a brief return to Baghdad would be an effective way of communicating the despair Iraqis endured.

Performed in Arabic with English subtitles, the play is set in a Turkish bath in Baghdad, where two brothers discuss kidnappings and executions they face as part of their everyday existence of trying to make a living as bus drivers.

Two years after he wrote the play, his brother and nephew were kidnapped from a bus and murdered. Another brother, Abdullah, had been killed in 1981 by a government firing squad.

Al-Assadi lives in Beirut. "Baghdadi Bath" has been performed in cities including Beirut, Damascus, Cairo and Cork, Ireland. His works have been translated into French, Russian and English.

His other writings include poetry, essays and other plays including "Forget Hamlet," "The Bench" and "Women of War." He won the Dutch-sponsored 2004 Prince Claus award for dedication to freedom of cultural expression.

He was shocked to return to Baghdad in early 2005 to set up a theater but instead saw a city "estranged from its own self." Thirty years of Saddam Hussein's rule had "erased their (Iraqis) souls and their lives" while the "American occupation broke their backs."

Iraqis and Americans need to make new efforts to understand each other, he said.

"They (Arabs) have to understand that liberty and freedom is a value, like a loaf of bread, like food," he said. "The character I present in my plays are seeking freedom -- social freedom, political freedom and intellectual freedom."

(Editing by Patricia Zengerle)

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