The Malaysian censorshipboard, Censorship Film Malaysia, has banned the local release of Marooned InIraq, Bahman Ghobadi'sacclaimed drama which details the impact of Saddam Hussein's devastatingchemical attacks on the Iraqi Kurds.

A personal film retitledfrom Cannes 2002 where it played in Un Certain Regard as Songs From MyHomeland, Marooned In Iraq follows an old Iranian Kurd musician who sets out insearch of his long estranged wife who crossed over into Iraqi Kurdistan yearsearlier. When he finds her, it emerges that she has been badly deformed by thechemical attacks of March 1988 which killed 15,000 Kurds.

The film had been bought bySuraya Film Production from international sales agent Menemsha Entertainment aspart of a three-picture deal, but the censorship board last week barred itstheatrical release, labeling it a weapon of US propaganda which could"dangerously jeopardize relations between Malaysia and Iraq."

"This film is anattempt to prove that Saddam Hussein's government possesses the chemicalweapons which contravene international law," said the ruling sent toSuraya. "It tries to prove that Saddam is an inhumane person who needs tobe punished and corroborates President Bush's suggestions that Saddam isstill using chemical weapons. The screening of this film would affect relationsbetween Malaysia and Iraq and Iran."

"Chief minister ofMalaysia Dr Mahadir Mohamad wants a peaceful settlement with Iraq and banningthis film is consistent with that. Our political situation at present supportspeace in Iraq and not war and for that reason we have banned Marooned InIraq."

Sales agent Neil Friedman,who runs Menemsha, was startled at the decision. "There are two or threedistributors in Malaysia, and Suraya buys all the films from Islamic countrieswhether they be Turkish, Iranian, Iraqi or Kurdish," he told Screendailyyesterday. "Not in a million years did he think this would happen sincethe film has nothing to do with this war or the US and merely shows life in Kurdistan, another part of the Islamic world."

Wellspring plans to releasethe film in the US on April 18. Ghobadi is a renowned Kurdish film-maker whoseprevious film A Time For Drunken Horses was one of the most acclaimed of new Iranian cinema and won the Camerad'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000.