Colonel Rayyan, one of the two Commanders of the Nineveh SWAT Team, has been shot by Daesh terrorists three times. They’ve killed two of his brothers, kidnapped a third, killed his brothers-in-law, bombed his father’s home, and shot his sister in an assassination attempt at his engagement party.

Mosul, the feature film directorial debut of screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan (World War Z starring Brad Pitt), is based on The Desperate Battle To Destroy ISIS, a New Yorker article by Luke Mogelson. It focuses on a SWAT team of Iraquis who join the fight to retake Mosul and plan to exact revenge.

Produced by Joe and Anthony Russo, Mosul, a film that will premier on Netflix on 26 November 2020, unfolds with meticulous attention to authenticity and detail the story of the elite Nineveh SWAT team led by Major Jasem.


The plot is set in the city of Mosul in Iraq, a place where terrorism and human suffering seem almost obligatory in an ongoing and seemingly endless war. It pops up in the news, like Tikrit or Baghdad – but it’s hard to imagine that people actually live there. In Mosul – a city that once had a population the size of Houston packed into a tiny seventy square miles – families have seen their communities devastated by sectarian violence, competing foreign interests, and hateful terrorism.

The Nineveh SWAT Team is made up of policemen from inside and around the city of Mosul, a place thousands of years old, with a vibrant, multi-cultural history due to its proximity to Syria, Turkey and Iran. And up until 2014, it was home to 2 million Iraqis.

“Iraq has suffered so much trauma because of these wars,” says film producer Anthony Russo, “we hope this movie can play a role in a healing process in the efforts to rebuild after that trauma. Even though this is a brutal, violent moment we explore in this story, we all found something very inspiring and hopeful. And any way that we could lend some sense of hopefulness felt very valuable and urgent to us.”

“We felt that it was important and crucial for us to make a movie that shows characters of Arab descent as heroes. This is a movie about breaking down barriers between cultures and allowing everyone to see that we want and value the same things,” says producer Joe Russo.


Then Daesh attacked, rolling out of Syria in stolen trucks. 30,000 Iraqi soldiers fled. The Nineveh SWAT Team did not. It was, in fact, the only unit in Mosul that stayed and fought – and over the next 4 years never stopped fighting, engaging in near daily combat with Daesh, their modus operandi straight forward: disobey any order that doesn’t allow them to drive toward the sound of gunfire, putting them ever closer to the occupied parts of the City where their families still were.

The SWAT Team has inflicted so much damage on Daesh, they are the only Unit for which the Terrorist Group will not offer Towba – the chance for captured Iraqi Security Forces to switch sides. Captured SWAT Team members are immediately executed.


Filming began in Morocco, coincidentally on the fifteenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Carnahan and his producers put together a crew from a dozen countries – including Italy, France, Romania, Poland, Egypt, the United Kingdom, Mexico, and Israel – and a cast composed entirely of actors with Middle Eastern and North African origins, many from the Iraqi diaspora.

Casting was particularly vexing because there is no way to recruit actors from Iraq to work in Morocco. Instead, the production and casting teams contacted talent agents throughout the Middle East, North Africa and the Arabic speaking diaspora in Europe and America. With just weeks to go before the cameras started rolling the diverse cast – from Amman, Jordan to Detroit, Michigan, Cardiff, Wales, Marseilles and Casablanca – gathered in Marrakech.

On arrival, the actors were enrolled in a rigorous military boot camp to train them in weapons and tactics. The result was an esprit de corps that grew stronger throughout filming. The Iraqi actors helped the non Iraqis with dialect. There were military consultants, dialect coaches, and cultural advisors on set every day.


“After deciding on the all-Arabic cast and language, that three-week boot camp was the most important thing we did,” says Carnahan. “You’re taking actors from all parts of the world, all this different experience, and everyone is at the bottom and has to build up from a common base.” The production relied heavily on an instruction team called Tiger Swan, ex-military elites from around the world, who spared very little in running the actors through training, weapons, and maneuver exercises eight to ten hours a day. “The military stuff had to be perfect,” explains Carnahan. “By the time we were done, the military instructors were saying that they wouldn’t worry about taking any of our actors into an actual fight.”


Suhail Dabbach (55), who plays Major Jasem, the veteran in the cast, was born in Iraq, graduated from the University of Baghdad, and was one of Iraq’s leading actors before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Since moving to the US, Dabbach had minor roles in The Hurt Locker and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

Major Jasem becomes a father figure for the SWAT team most of whom have lost significant family members to Daesh. He is at times an enigma, particularly to young Kawa. He is suspicious, ruthless, and inscrutable; world-weary, cynical, and unpredictable; and at the same time, kind, and compassionate. Though an accomplished actor in Iraq, Dabbach was actually working as a cook at a care home in New Mexico before he started working professionally in America. His casting radically changed the character of this seasoned police officer who leads the SWAT team on their terrifying mission to take back the city.

“His character was an amalgamation of two commanders in the article,” Carnahan recalls. “Originally, I had written him as much more bombastic and aggressive with a bulkier frame. After casting Suhail, Major Jasem became this figure of quiet authority who could go from committing an act of savagery and an act of kindness within minutes of each other. He also has the kind of face that lets you know that he would rather be doing anything other than this.”


Adam Bessa, the 28-year-old French Tunisian who made a splash with his performance in Sofia Djama’s 2017 Venice Film Festival hit Les bienheureux (The Blessed), starring alongside Sami Bouajila, was cast as Kawa – a young Kurdish policeman who is first rescued then recruited by the SWAT team. Bessa was a critical casting choice. His character is the audience’s way into the film. It is through him that we slowly begin to understand the other characters, their motivations and their visible and invisible wounds.

Initially, Bessa’s distinctly Tunisian Arabic accent seemed to work against Carnahan’s decision to render the film as authentic as possible, but he was ultimately convinced that Bessa could meet the challenge. “For two months I kept coming back to Adam’s tape,” recalls Carnahan, “I saw over seventy other actors for Kawa but he was easily the most compelling.”

Thus, Bessa was plunged into an intense period of preparation: five hours of dialect coaching a day, recordings of dialogue and Iraqi music to play while he slept as well as going through boot camp. According to the production’s Iraqi dialect coach, Dr. Abbass, Bessa mastered the accent in two weeks. For Bessa mastering the dialect was not just a physical challenge – it helped him discover the character. “Language is not just about language,” he says, “Language is a way into the emotion, the culture, the idioms, the jokes. But ultimately I had to absorb myself so much in the dialect at the beginning so that I could forget about it and get back to the emotionality of Kawa.”


To make the outskirts of Marrakech look like bombed-out Iraq, production designer Philip Ivey (“Lord of the Rings,” “District 9,” and “Anon”) studied photos of war ravaged Iraqi cities, Mosul in particular, and sought advice from cultural experts. He made use of half-built townships to make them look half destroyed, bringing in tons of rubble. He replicated graffiti left by Daesh and deftly interwoven symbols and structures that suggested what life in this place might have looked like before the Americans bombed and the jihadists invaded. Ivey designed a graphic realism while utilizing a color palette that subtly sprinkled the grim sets with signs of a past life: a child’s bicycle, a discarded garment, a living plant amidst the wreckage.

“There has been war in Iraq my entire adult life,” says Carnahan (61), “from the first Iraq war until today. “I always wondered what it must be like for the people living there, what it must be like to bring up their families under those conditions, what it must be like for the men forced to fight. We never see who these people actually are. Mosul gives us the chance to really experience their side of the story.”

“As someone who is originally from Iraq, I felt that Mosul was a very important story to share with audiences around the world, ” says actor Suhail Dabbach “Through this film, we are able to shed more light on real situations that have taken place and do so authentically in Iraqi Arabic. It was very proud to be part of this project and hope audiences connect to the underlying message of hope.”


25 Facts About Netflix Film Mosul give you an insight into the fights of the Iraqi security forces. For more information, watch the video interview with actors Suhail Dabbach, Adam Bessa and film director Matthew Michael Carnahan.

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