After communism and capitalism, there is asterism.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Can you trust "We Media"?

As you may notice I have a new logo on my side bar ---> it is for the We Media conference being held by The Media Center, Reuters and the BBC. The subject is "Do You Trust the Media?". I will be attending and blogging the event on behalf of Iraqi bloggers everywhere and Global Voices Online.

Now, I am a little confused how they came up with the image for the conference logo. As you can see it is the much printed picture of a veiled woman who (obviously, from the purple finger) had voted at one of the recent Iraqi elections. But what does this have to do with trusting the media. Is she an example of someone who blindly trusted the media? The posing of the question next to her suggests that but it cannot be - the question is not directed at Iraqis it is directed at us in the West. Maybe she is posing the question - but again I don't think so - she is mute and making her own visual statement - "I voted". Then she is an example of a media image that is to be questioned. Do I trust this picture? So to pick apart the answer to the question one must deconstruct the image.

First the obvious - she is a symbol of a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. One that instructs women not only to cover their hair but body and face. In the West we feel she is oppressed. But at the same time she is showing a personality and an independent will - the way the painted finger is thrust forward proudly proclaiming her right to make a difference in the world. And here is the media to photograph that moment. The liberation of people through elections.

But is this the whole story? Let us now look at the photo in context. Here is a web site that shows a lot of pictures of people voting. While you can see many women in these photo's wearing an abaya, none of the Iraqi women cover their face (except for the one taken in Jordan, coincidentally photographed by the same person as the conference image). So this image is an exception not the rule. Hmmm a subtle deception. Not only is the woman dresses atypically for Iraqis, and she is from a minority that lives in exile in Jordan.

Also look at this image of the same woman by the same photographer on the same day...

Photo credit: Ali Jarekji, Reuters

And the whole masquerade ends. Here is an image that was clearly stage managed. She posed with flags so she must have posed the main photo too. It was not a spontaneous expression of defiance and liberation but a posed photo shoot.

Suddenly the trust is gone.

Now there is no trust and you start asking questions. Does this woman really cover her face? If she does surely she would not have agreed to do something as demeaning and vein as posing for photographs. How come the ink on the finger darker from one image to the next. Is she a real Iraqi voter?

If you can't trust this image - how can you trust the media?

Technorati Tags: , ,

Friday, April 28, 2006


... (correct me if I am wrong) is Chinese for "Landing and the Iraqi Blogodrome". Portney takes the trouble to translate the whole of my last post to Chinese. Very impressive, I wonder which glyph is 'Blogodrome'.

Maybe one day in 3000 years time some future human will be scanning through the ancient web archives and use this post to decypher the long-dead English language.

Landing at the Iraqi Blogodrome

And here for you reading pleasure is my latest Global Voices review of weblogs...

Iraqi bloggers pose something of puzzle for the mainstream media. The quality of the writing is good and bloggers sometimes have better news than their own reporters. But how do you use it? Some have the right idea and report what the bloggers are saying. This Associated Press article was circulated widely. Some just dont get it and make their own news reports in the format of a blog. Dear media company, looking like a blog does not make your news any better.

Iraq has a new Prime Minister and bloggers give their first impressions. There is a report on the state of the Iraqi media, words of wisdom from the older generation, how one blogger integrated into English society, and much, much more!

If you read only one blog this week read this

To read this post is to feel her sadness. Neurotic Wife presents herself and her Iraq as a story. She walks home one evening and is drawn to a girl sitting alone on the pavement. Her name is Wa'ad. She asks Wa'ad where her family is:
They abandoned me...We were one huge everywhere, playing and laughing...but that was a long long time ago...I had neighbours...many of them...they used to come and have tea with us in our beautiful garden...but they abandoned me too...

Why I asked

I dont know she said with tears starting to flow down her cheeks....I dont know why....after my family left me, I went and knocked on my neighbour's house...once they saw me...they shut the door on me..I dont know why...but i promised...i promised i will come back....

but the story is a metaphor and Neurotic Wife makes a promise:
And I promised that I will be here...i will always be here waiting, waiting for them...for im Wa'ad...I am Iraq's Wa'ad...Iraq's Wa'ad that will never give up...Iraq's Wa'ad that was abandoned by my family that I loved....Iraq's Wa'ad that was abandoned by my brothers and brothers and sisters that I cared for...Iraq's Wa'ad that was stabbed by my neighbours that stabbed me not once, not twice...but a million times....but i promised...i promised i will be back...for Im Wa'ad...Iraq's Wa'ad... Iraq's Promise....

The Deadlock Breaks

And Iraq has a new Prime Minister. Before he was selected, Neurotic Wife was starting to get sick of the whole process:
"I cannot fathom, how these useless so called politicians cannot sit on a darn table and make a decision....Do they care about their people one bit??? Do they??? Its that darn chair again...Al Jaafari stepped down but do you think any of those nominated are better??? ...

Im so sick and tired of this...literally sick and tired....I ask myself when will things get better...when will Iraq be normal again??? Is there such hope....Can you tell me what hope looks like cuz I think Ive forgotten"
And she lives in the Green Zone. Imagine what it is like for someone in the 'Red Zone".

Chikitita tells us with a summary of her part in all the Iraqi elections. From Saddam's 1995 referendum: "I was the only underage in my family and boy I laughed my head out when I made fun of my siblings, for they were scared to death and voted yes"; and the first election: "I chose the late Iraqi Monarch descendant, not because he's a shrewd politician, I just thought that, this one looks nice and clean-cut, at least he won't embarrass us in the Arab League Summit"; through to the latest election: "I didn't want to go. "Once bitten twice shy", I told my mom. ... This time I chose the ones who have promised to release all innocent detainees given the fact that my brother is one of [them]. The results turned out to be just what I have bargained for, broken promises." She concludes:
It's just outrageous to know that the Iraqi people have been risking their lives and have smeared their fingers three times, yet their lives haven't changed one iota. Politicians, on the other hand, got fatter and wealthier all thanks to the fingers of the poor, who have plunged into ever-rising poverty and bloodbaths.

And then we found out that the imcumbent Prime Minister Jaafari will stand down and he will be replaced by Jawad Al-Malaki. "Jawad Who?" asks Omar of Iraq The Model. But he is not impressed with the new man because with him "Iraq will–in my opinion-continue to descend for the next four years in the same way it's been doing since the interim government was installed last year." Several other bloggers on the right and left agree. Even Hammorabi who may have been expected to welcome the selection is not happy: "Any delay will lead to more attacks during the transitional time. The first mistake that Mr. Malki commit is by saying he needs 30 days to form the government. He should... submit his list [of minsters] in a day or say a week." The most positive statement I could find about Malaki was from Z an Iraqi blogger in New Zealand. She said somewhat cryptically: "Having discussed this proposal from Mr Maliki with other Iraqi friends, I believe it can be virtually good and normally bad."

Truth About Iraqis makes a point about militias:
Maliki used his first press conference to say that the militia would be merged into the interior ministry... He also praised the Shia fighters... as they fought the regime of Saddam Hussein. Many of those fighters today are senior figures in the militia, Badr Brigades and so on. Therefore, such statements are likely to do little to alleviate the concerns of Sunni lawmakers who accuse the interior ministry of supporting and facilitating death squads' free rein. Merging them into the interior ministry will only make the crimes they commit against Iraqis legal and further ensure they are not prosecuted.
While Salam Adil (that's me) points out the alternate reality between Malaki's statements on keeping sectarianism out of the ministerial selection and the statements of the parties in the government.

The State of the Iraqi Media

My honorary Iraqi for the week award goes to Mahmood of Mahmood's Den. Who wrote an excellent summary of the “Status of Iraqi media” session at the 4th Arab Media Forum in Dubai which he attended. He tells us that a "surprising factor is the plethora of media outlets there are in Iraq: according to them, there are 26 satellite television stations, 40 terrestrial television stations and more than 100 newspapers including just a few tabloids!" But he says:
As to freedoms, it was agreed that although media is infinitely freer than it was in the previous era, there is no sense for that freedom if it is not coupled with a secure environment where a journalist continuously fears for his or her life. This was amply demonstrated by Adnan Hussain who read to us one of his regularly received death threats from Iraq from someone who took umbrage with Hussain’s criticism of Dr. Ja’afari.

In Other Worlds

Riverbend receives royalty in her household. Or that is how it feels when the oldest member of her family comes to stay. Bibi Z imparts some words of wisdom:
“History repeats itself… Politicians are opportunists… But they don’t worry me- they were bad, but Iraqis were better.” She continued to explain that through all of the drama and change that combine to form the colorful mosaic of the Iraqi political scene during the previous century, one thing remained constant- Iraqi loyalty and solicitude towards one another...

The one unforgivable sin back then was to have loyalties to the foreign occupier. “Today, the only ones who can guarantee their survival are the ones with the loyalties to an occupier- and even they aren’t safe.” She sighed heavily as she said this, her prayer beads clicking gently in her thin hands.

“For the first time in many years, I fear death... All people die eventually and I’ve had a longer life than most Iraqis- today children and young people are dying. I only fear death because I was born under a foreign occupation… I never dreamed I would die under one.”
Baghdad Treasure posts the news that Iraqis normally tell each other and it is the usual heart-wrenching tales of sadness and tragedy. He explains: "We hear such incidents almost everyday. Whoever we see tells us the bad news, simply because there is no good news. “Someone is killed, another is kidnapped, X was robbed, Y was beheaded, a roadside bomb went off, a car bomb exploded”… blablabla…"

Iraqis have a proverb for just about everything and Chikitita tells us a new one: "Had there been no good people, the world would have turned upside down"...she goes on to describe a neighbor who is the embodiment of that proverb and says: "Good people do exist. I'm afraid we haven't looked hard enough!"

Shaggy goes off one morning in search of Imodium. He "went to a street where more than half of the shops were pharmacies... It was nearly 9 O'Clock in the morning and every single one of them were closed. Mobile phone shops and grocery shops were open, but god forbid that a pharmacist should get out of bed to open his store. It's like Fridays, pharmacies are closed on Fridays here too, where's the sense in that? Iraqis must obviously not get sick on Fridays."

Hala_s talks about her adventures integrating into English society:
I went shopping and clubbing like mad during the first few years. I later became more sensible and started enjoying long country walks and developed a real interest in theatre, I even tried my best to understand what cricket is all about! ...
and captures the essence of the urban English as only an Iraqi can:
The biggest barrier was and still is “The drinking culture”. I have nothing against alcohol, but when it becomes the main purpose, the main reason and ultimately the only enjoyment, I and many others cannot really understand.
Going for a picnic ends up in drinking; a sunny day means drinking, watching a football match, going out anywhere is the same, drink till you drop!

The problem is the effect of it on people, not only any conversation turns to crap; but people start to allow themselves more liberties, and sometimes say things which might offend you or change your view on the person completely.

And Finally

Fayrouz explains what makes Iraqi blogger unique:
Most of them were definitely much happier when they started blogging three years ago. But, when things started to change in Iraq, their opinions changed too. Even the most optimistic among the Iraqi bloggers have changed lately. It's part of life and the daily experience in Iraq.

We, the Iraqi bloggers, understand our change of mood and opinions. Unfortunately, our international readers don't seem to understand this simple fact. They expect us to continue to write the way we did three years ago. This applies to the readers from the left, right and center... If we started our blogs saying XYZ is the greatest/worst thing that happened to humanity, then we aren't allowed to change our mind any bit. The minute we do, we're considered the worst bloggers that particular reader ever read.

In short, we're different than Westerners. We appreciate each other and understand our differences. We aren't copycats of each other.

Vive la difference!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Ministry of Alternate Realities

Iraq's new Prime Minister Jawad al-Maliki:
"We are going to form a family that will not be based on sectarian or ethnic backgrounds... Each ministry will be run professionally and not as minister's own property, dictated by his ethnic background."
and he also said:
"Those who will join the new government should realize that they are ministers of the people and the homeland, and not the party."
Or to put it in context...

"a family that will not be based on sectarian ..."
From Iraq the Model: Fadheela Party wants to keep the oil ministry while the Sadrists want to keep the public service ministries they held like the education, transportation and health
"... or ethnic backgrounds"
Kurdish MP Mahmoud Othman says he expected the Kurds to be assigned six of Iraq's 30 ministries, including the foreign affairs portfolio they hold in the outgoing government.

"If not, we want either the oil or finance ministry," Othman said, adding that the Kurds were not asking for security posts.
"Those who will join the new government should realize that they are ministers of the people and the homeland, and not the party."
The PM's own Da'wa party newspaper, Al Bayan quoted a leading Shia politician as promising that the Shia "will ask to lead either the ministry of interior or defense and will not relinquish (both posts) even if there is pressure from other slates."
It doesn't give me much hope for anything workable to come out of the current Iraqi government. And the FT agrees:
The US has hailed Mr Maliki's emergence as a decisive step forward, but without much conviction. A more realistic approach may emerge from the congressionally mandated Iraq Study Group, headed by James Baker, former secretary of state.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Have the media learnt anything?

Ever since I blogged the Reuters event Iraq: Is the Media Telling The True Story?, an uncomfortable feeling of "I heard this before somewhere" was bugging me but I could not put my finger on it. Then I took part in the BBC World Service World Have Your Say program and listened to a BBC editor sanctimoniously telling the world that the BBC is committed to unbiased reporting and has many reporters on the ground and no one can do better than that... and then the same feeling came back again (BTW - his argument fell flat rather quickly after I quoted a piece of news from bloggers that their massive team of reporters completely overlooked).

Where had I heard it before?

Just today it hit me. In a past life I used to attend the Apple Computer developer conference and would go, in the 'feedback' section of some presentations, to the microphone to ask the array of assembled executives and/or engineers uncomfortable questions. At that time they were driving their company into the ground and I was trying to tell them that. The replies I had got were a mixture of avoidance, sanctimonious talking down, ignoring, and other general non-answers.

They were the highly paid managers.
They had already discussed the issues with other highly paid managers.
And my lowly opinion counted for nothing.
And anyway it is their company and they can run it as they like.

There were some people on the panel that eerily matched those Apple executives.

They were the highly paid journalist/media executives.
They had already discussed the issues with other highly-paid media executives.
And my lowly opinion counted for nothing.
And anyway it is their media and they can run it as they like.

All credit goes to Reuters for holding the event and I hope they do more but... Ideas were discussed in that event - I got to make my point - many people made their points. And you go away from the event with cold, empty feeling that it made no difference whatsoever. The executives had already made up their mind and they were not there to listen.

I would not care so much except that this issue is critical to the future of world stability. The US is sleepwalking into another disastrous and possibly nuclear conflict with Iran. There is no proper debate on the status of US troops in Iraq. And the media is committing just the same mistakes as before. It is not challenging the politicians on the real issues. Already the New York Times issued an apology for not debating the Iraq war properly. But has the lesson been learnt? Mahmoud's blog. Says it all:
The question is not whether Iran, being sovereign nation, has the right to pursue a nuclear program, the question seems to be “give me an excuse to nuke their ass!”

What is the point

I dont like making negative posts but I have to say it... what the hell was all the delay about? Four months of arguing over the Iraqi president and who do you get? His deputy from the same party. *sigh*. So what exactly was the point for all that bickering while Iraq bleeds? I mean what change of any substance can be extracted from the new nominee? It reminds me of an old Ben Elton joke - a suit with bugger all in it was replaced with the deputy of the suit with bugger all in it.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Landing at the Iraqi Blogodrome

As a postscript to the 1970 Gil Scot Heron poem 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised',

There will be no highlights on the eleven o'clock news...
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.
The revolution will be blogged.

And the Iraqi blogger are not letting us down. Today I have front line reports from the battle for Adhamiya, a salute to the Iraqi army, reports of Iraq in political crisis, a conversation between a 'Green' zoner and a 'Red' zoner, and, if you read to the end, an update on the missing kittens.

Kill us, but you won't enslave us

First, my deepest condolences go to Omar and Mohammed of Iraq The Model whose brother in law was assasinated last week:
Last week our little and peaceful family was struck by the tragic loss of one of its members in a savage criminal act of assassination. The member we lost was my sister's husband who lived with their two little children in our house.
He was a brilliant young doctor with a whole future awaiting him, the couple were the top graduates in their branch of specialty. They had to travel abroad to get their degrees and the war started while they were there but months after Saddam fallen they decided to come back to help rebuild the country and serve their people...

Grief and pain is killing me everyday as I hold my dear nephews, my sister is shocked beyond words while my parents are dead worried about the rest of us.
We are trying hard to close the wound, summon our patience and protect those still alive while we look forward to the future that we hope can bring peace for us.

But this is not a message of mourning but a message of defiance:
The terrorists and criminals are targeting all elements of life and they target anyone who wants to do something good for this country…They think by assassinating one of us they could deter us from going forward ... but we will never go back and abandon our dream. We have vowed to follow the steps of our true martyrs and we will raise the new generation to continue the march, these children of today are the hope and the future.

Fayrouz adds: "My condolences to fellow Iraqi bloggers The ITM brothers for the loss of their brother-in-law by another act of cowardice carried by the criminals running the show in Iraq... Where's the new Iraqi government? When would the Iraqi politicians get their sh*t together and form a new government? Enough of the useless negotiations while the country is bleeding to death."

I hope against all hopes that condolences will not become a regular feature of my weekly column.

If you read nothing else this week, read this:

Chikitita is missing her brother who is one of the many arrested and held without trial and she cannot even visit him because "a US soldier claimed that my ID is fake." She writes:
I wasn't able to see my flesh and blood, who was a few kilometers away, but I felt like God has sent me a message, "You're not alone". I came back home with one thing in mind, the Iraqi people may be bruised and battered, but they're still chivalric and good-natured through and through. Our nation won't die until this spirit is dead, and I'm sure very many politicians are looking forward to killing it.

War in the City

Bloggers are reporting what is, in effect, the breakdown of government control of Baghdad. After Riverbend reported that the Iraqi television news told residents not to trust police patrols without American backup the result was predictable. Iraq The Model explains:
Makeshift barricades that block entrances and inner streets are now a common sight all over Baghdad, and these are part of protection plans implemented by the so called 'popular teams' or 'neighborhood watch teams'... They represent yet another form in which the phenomenon of militias is being rooted but people here consider it a better alternative for the poor performance of the police and other interior ministry forces. And of course we frequently hear about clashes caused in many cases by misunderstanding between locals and government forces at night

And this led to three days of partial-warfare in the Baghdad neighbourhood of Adhamiya. Zeyad was visiting his aunt and was caught in the middle.. "The district has been sealed off and no one can leave or enter the area. Electric power has been cut off for the last 48 hours, and the fighting severely damaged our street generator this morning." Fortuately, he was safe and posted a very detailed account of the event complete with maps, photos and a list of rumours. In a nutshell:
Iraqi security forces from the Interior ministry (some believe to be accompanied by militiamen) attempted to enter Adhamiya .. around 1 am, Monday. Adhamiya residents and its dozens of watch teams responded with heavy fire and thwarted the perceived attack. The same, or another, force later attempted to enter from the other side through Omar bin Abdul Aziz Street. The attack was repelled and several vehicles were burnt. 7 to 12 residents were killed in the clash.

This was followed by several other confused battles. On Tuesday American force intervened "and returned fire at everything that moved." By that evening "We went out for supplies; bread, petrol, cigarettes and Pepsi." and by Wednesday things had calmed down. Zeyad adds: "The district is getting extremely difficult to navigate... The area is now one huge fortress, armed to the teeth and expecting an attack any moment now."

Konfused Kid was also in the middle of the battles and gives an hour-by-hour report of the events in his neighbourhood. He woke with a sense of foreboding for the gathering storm:
This was bad, the room was hot, and I woke up in a pool of sweat, it was one of the few times when I felt an unbearable force of gravity pushing me to the ground and I felt that if only I could just get out of my clothes, my body, and just be free of all this terrible mess, of this inexplicable country

He calls a friend to see what is happening in the rest of the city and heard things were normal but "His talk seemed very alien to me at the moment, as if speaking from another planet, I found normalcy irrelevant, he tried to talk me up about the graduation party but I almost wanted to slam the phone in his face... it was weird because normally I didn't give a damn." The Kid ends defiantly:
I felt a sense of wondrous, wondrous pride of the people of my area, goddamit, we are strong, word on the street that something as big as 400 Interior forces members were killed. Look at me, all sectarian and igrnoant in this post, but what can u do when hell's split asunder, u run for people who look like you...

All this while the a**holes in the g-zone play merry-go-round round the Prime Minister chair.

The Prime Minister's Chair

There is much talk about the attempts to form a new government for Iraq. Iraq the Model reports that even if the deadlock over the prime minister is broken, there are more obstacles on the horizon. In the mean time frustration...
"It has been more than 4 months since Iraqis risked their lives to elect this group of power-hungry clique and still, no government. Funny that they used to criticize Saddam for doing everything to stay in power."

has given way to cynicism...
"Tomorrow, the nice people of the Iraqi parliament that we “Suckers” elected are going to meet for the second time... we hope that tomorrows meeting will name the President of the Republic of Iraq and his two vice presidents and … YES A bloody prime minister!!… then we will live happy ever after, the Multi National Forces in Iraq will vanish back to their coaches... Mr. Zarqawi will leave to his second target Maybe go all the way to the Islands of “Waq Waq” and declare his holy war over there against the Dodo’s, the Death Squads disappearing back to the Republic of the Sith... But of course all this is Fictional, Just wait tomorrow you’ll see…What they are going to really agree on is their compensation plan, who gets how much and how many apartments in the International Zone Building complex"

It is not all bad news...

Baghdad Treasure's neighbor is kidnapped by men dressed as police. But, after a call to the emergency services the criminals are apprehended at an army checkpoint and his neighbor is freed. He writes: "I feel that there is still some hope. Iraqi soldiers proved that they are working well. By the cooperation of the people, we will defeat all the enemies that turned our country into rubble."

In other worlds

Neurotic Wife is embarrassed for living in the Green Zone. She talks to some people from the 'real' Baghdad: "One of them gave me an evil smile and said sarcastically 'why dont you come out and see how we are living, see how the real Iraqis are surviving' he said it with such contempt that really hurt me...I didnt know what to tell him...I said I want to go out of this place and see the real Baghdad, but Im not allowed to...He then replied again with that sarcastic voice 'come and stay just for one day without electricity, come and stay and feel the fear we have everyday from getting killed for no reason whatsoever...' I stared at him...and said the only thing we all say here 'Allah Kareem' (God is generous' or Inshallah (God willing) things will get better...But yet I felt so lame...."

Exam time is coming and Sunshine has set out her revision plan:
I'll wake up at 7 am , have my breakfast , start studying at 7:30 , till 11 am , I'll have a rest for 30 minutes to do my eye exercises , check my E-mail , & write a quick diary post (if I’ll have electricity), 11:30 I’ll start studying again till 1:30 then have my lunch , and have a nap until 3:30. Then I must study again till 8:15, watch Dr. Phil while having my dinner, & at 9:30 I'll go to bed. This schedule will start tomorrow, and of course I'll write to you whenever I can.

When all else fails you have to laugh. Baghdad Treasure reads the news: "This morning, an article on the Sunday Times made me almost die of laughing. I am even laughing now while I am typing these lines. The article says ‘The American military is planning a ‘second liberation of Baghdad’ to be carried out with the Iraqi army when a new government is installed. Seriously, isn’t it funny? Enjoy it and let Iraqis enjoy the successive ‘liberations’ until Iraq becomes totally ‘liberated’. I wonder whose Statue they are going to collapse now! Maybe Hakim's new ones that replaced Saddam's."

And finally

Raghda Iraq's cat-blogger tells us why she has not been able to post so many kitty pictures lately: "I am very sorry for letting you worry but I couldn't let you know that I am ok because we don't have an internet connection now and till we find a new internet provider I won't be able to post a new picture every day.
My final exams will start on 10\6 so I'll be very busy these days."

Good luck for your exams!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Living in the past

One of the big lies of the first world war was 'The Great Arab Revolution'. The story goes that the Arabs revolted against Ottoman rule and became independent. It was no such thing. The machinery of the Ottoman Empire was only retuned to serve a new master. Much of the bureaucracy that ruled the Arabs and the class of people who led the military - i.e. those that really control the system of power - stayed the same.

In Iraq, a Sunni elite tended to run the government and the military officers tended to come from a certain class from Mousil. Politicians come and go but the army and bureaucracy remained a constant. Saddam tinkered with the system little. Christians and Shia were allowed to take controlling positions in the military and government but only when there was no threat to his rule and only when they could be replaced at the drop of a hat.

The American occupation of Iraq turned all that on its head. The Sunni classes that enjoyed a privileged position in Saddam's Iraq were turned into outcasts and a whole system of ruling the country was torn apart.

The comments of Mubarak (that all Shia answer to Iran and not to their own countries) should be taken in this context. What America did in Iraq has started the Great Arab Revolution. The old social classes that used to control the power in Iraq have gone and a new class is taking its place. The same will start to happen across the Arab world and the old classes are scared witless. Mubarak and all the Arab leaders that are nodding in agreement with him are history. The point is now what shape the future will take.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Flying over the Iraqi Blogodrome

I am still on holiday and the blogs are still running. So here is a summary of what I liked up to the point my kids wake up...

First a special mention to new Iraqi blogger Zappy. According to his profile he is a "34 year old Male living in Baghdad I love Marmite,I hate veggiemite ugh!,love Sea food, hate Green Veggies and stupidity." His blog is Where The Date Palms Grow.

Aunt Najma says this about his blog.. "Please read this blog, I'm getting addicted to it in a very bad timing. 60 days of studying left, plus 16 days of exams." If it pulls Najma from her studies it must be worth reading!

If you read only one post this week read this

A lot has been said recently about the bias of journalists. I was there explains the journalist's side of the argument:
When you see all this Iraqi blood and peaces of flesh every where around you at the scene, how could your story be neutral and balanced? Your readers could be Iraqis or non-Iraqis and you still have to put your feelings away when you write for them so your story will be neutral.

To explain, he recalls a story of a bedouin who became rich telling the tale of the death of his beloved one:
He realized, later, how bad he was to become rich out of the death of his beloved one.”

So we have to cover the story as it is for those people who are dieing to make the whole world understand what is going on and why those Iraqis are dieing not to become famous out of it..

April 9th - another anniversary

But which one? I'll let Attawie explain for me..
It was "Baghdad fall" as they call it, or "Baghdad liberation's day" if you may. But I don't know what to call it. For me it's definitely none of them both... Whatever you call this date I still insist is not. Baghdad is still standing and still struggling to gain liberty. Baghdad is still resisting just like it will always be.

Therefore, it is neither a fall nor a liberty.

24 Steps was excited on that day in 2003 and went out looking for the American soldiers to wave at, and:
"I did. He or she waved back... At the end of the day, I felt I did my part. I thanked them for launching this war to help me have a better future. I was waiting for this future to come, or at least to appear in the horizon. And when they came, I believed it would be the first step. I am still waiting!"

Chikitita (the only woman in Iraq who cannot haggle) has to call off a shopping trip. She tells her friend (who is not impressed) "mum says there are seven car bombs waiting to go off any minute, it's in the news, she won't let me go for an errand as stupid as this one, sorry!." But it turned out to be the opposite of what she expected:
It was the finest day of the lot; no sickening news of bloody carnages or sectarian wars, no political analyses or grim speculations, no mention of conflicts; it felt like the old days...
April 10 was exactly the opposite. Once the Azan was concluded, people flocked to the gas station and the mosque and I finished my prayers, a car bomb went off. Back to real life! Somebody's calendar has been jumbled up!

I was there discovers how many young men felt about the Americans then and now from the pictures on their mobile phones. Apparently Saddam pictures and tunes are very popular. He asked the owners of some mobile phone shops:
“Many young men come every day and ask us to download some pictures for their mobile phones and a lot of them they ask for Saddam Pictures, we bring any thing the costumers want to make more money and we have to look for some thing new every day”...

“The young men used to ask for American flags when the Americans invaded Baghdad, the demand on these desktops [pictures] is not much any more the demand on Saddam desktops is much more, they did not gain from the Americans the things they were expecting”, another mobile shop owner said.

And finally

The Konfused Kid celebrates the Profit Mohammed's birthday in an original way:
I was subtly entranced by an array of sounds that pretty much resembled a mighty crash of so many kettles, teapots, and some other assorted faux-aluminum pans and pots all crashing together at the same time. Word? turns out it's the Birthday Surprise Party for Prophet Mohammed at the local they apparently hurled out the nearest cassette they can find of Prophet Praise, which I think was recorded in a kitchen... I just couldn't take it anymore and decided to join in the celebration my own way, by locking the room tight and shedding out my Gibson Airguitar Extravaganza and accessory longhair wig for a lean'n'mean session of headbanging classics, a ritual I haven't done in a looong time

[Aha - I can hear my 4-year-old stirring. Time to end this post. Normal service will be resumed next week..]

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Flying Over the Iraqi Blogodrome

Here for your commenting pleasure is my weekly GlobalVoices review of the Iraqi blogs...

This weeks post is going to be short (at least that is what I am planning as I type). I am on holiday - but the blogs keep turning.

Blogging is coming of age as a source of news that rivals big media, and the word from the street is about a change of tactic from the insurgents. Now it is the newspapers that are the target. Omar is addicted to them but had a surprise one morning:
Me: what have you got for me today bro?
Papers guy: What are you looking for? No papers anymore my friend
Me: What? Why?
Papers guy: Don't you know? Oh, you didn't show up in a few days…well, we stopped selling newspapers.

Apperently, insurgents started threatening the newspaper distributors and publishers. And the effect was immediate. There was a 40% drop in newspaper circulation in one week.

I was there reports that the insurgents are also targeting the bookshops that sell the newspapers. He travels to one that was gutted by a bomb and hears the owner's story: "I can not say any thing, I am afraid to say any thing that will make every thing worse, thanks God that we are all alive and no one was hurt" and he is told why it started:
"when the newspapers started putting the wanted Iraqi insurgents pictures and names advertisement in their papers they were threatened, some papers were threatened...This is how it started, the threatens was not for the newspapers it self but for the newspapers that runs this advertisement but later on the word separated that any one will deal with newspapers will be killed and because the people do not want to take chances they just stop dealing with newspapers."

Close Shaves in the Lawless Streets:

Just doing the mundane in Baghdad is like taking a life or death decision. I was there stops to do something so normal in any other metropolis but so wrong in Baghdad. He pauses to enjoy the view of the river. Then:
"Few seconds later I heard another round of shooting but this time it was closer and louder so I had to turn my face and look but when I turned my body toward the direction of the shooting, I saw several red spots on my chest, “Oh no, I know those red spots that comes from the laser beam locater attached to the Americans rifles”, I told my self..."

Even a simple shopping trip has its risks. Sanyora narrowly escapes being crushed by an American tank and is caught up in a half-hour gun battle. "I wasn't sure that I would get back home I thought I would open my eyes in the hospital! :-) . Thanks God who helped us to stay safe... But there's something I would realy love to say that these days are the begninng of the Spring ; so why can't we live it peacefully?!?!?!"

Baghdad Treasure tells us how the gun has become like water and food to Iraqis. He says: "“Lawless” is the best word to describe Baghdad for the meantime... Do you think police will come for rescue? Huh! Of course not because they might be the ones who are shooting."

In other worlds:

Mama looks back three years and describes how, over time, her feeling towards American soldiers transformed from one of gratitude:
"I remember how I wished that I can shake hands with all the soldiers to show them my gratitude .I used to stand near my kitchen's windows to see the troops coming, I used to pray for their safety."
to one of fear and suspicion:
"we started to witness explosions in the streets... and the Americans reaction is usually random shooting toward the walkers and many many civilians died since then."

Aunt Najma is at her happiest when she is studying. And we can see why, she is off school to study at home and: "Dad put a small fridge in my room. I filled it with food and drinks. It was a very good idea. I am gaining weight and I'm happy about it. Still have to gain 4 kilos and then I'll stop." Oh the luxury!

Chikitita has learnt to love dogs. Her step-dad feeds the local strays who then swarm around his house. She used to hate them but:
"Only recently I found out that dogs are not as mean as I used to mistake them for. I realized that they too have their own fears and they too can tell – or SMELL – a friend from a foe... Few days ago, the mosque next door came under attack. It seemed that the dogs smelled a rat and unleashed their chorus of noisy barks, which kept the mosque guards and the neighbours so vigilant that they shooed the vicious hounds in black"

Quote of the week:

Zeyad's little secret is out. He has been offered a place at the new graduate school of journalism at the City University of New York. He decided to accept because:
"quite frankly there is nothing that I can add to dentistry in Iraq, whereas the field of Iraqi online and print journalism is lacking in many aspect"

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The real problem with the media (update)

I heard a lot of talk at the Reuters event for and against the media. But here is the problem - things happen and the media is flailing around for answers. There is no good background reporting to explain why things are happening.

Why are people blaiming journalists - when it is the editors who are failing to inform the public or put the politicians on the spot.

Update - my question gets answered - but it had to be asked twice and there are no editors willing to explain themselves. One former editor blames the correspondents. Oh dear.

So what about all the comment and analysis? What about all those panel shows held in CNN and the like where the speakers only argue two sides of the same point? People sit there pointing at journalists and no editors are taking the blame.

Here is the point - if we had a full debate in the media on Iraq would this tragedy have been allowed to happen in such a disastrous way? Would there be some understanding for when and how troops are to leave Iraq? Would the Pentagon have felt safe to throw away the State Department's Future of Iraq plan and go for its scorched-earth-year-zero plan?

Up to now the media as a whole has not done its job as a pillar of democracy - and its failure will be felt for years to come.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The real problem with the media

I heard a lot of talk at the Reuters event for and against the media. But here is the problem - things happen and the media is flailing around for answers. There is no good background reporting to explain why things are happening.

Why are people blaiming journalists - when it is the editors who are failing to inform the public or put the politicians on the spot.

Update - my question gets answered - but it had to be asked twice and there are no editors willing to explain themselves. One former editor blames the correspondents. Oh dear.

So what about all the comment and analysis? What about all those panel shows held in CNN and the like where the speakers only argue two sides of the same point? People sit there pointing at journalists and no editors are taking the blame.

Here is the point - if we had a full debate in the media on Iraq would this tragedy have been allowed to happen in such a disastrous way? Would there be some understanding for when and how troops are to leave Iraq? Would the Pentagon have felt safe to throw away the State Department's Future of Iraq plan and go for its scorched-earth-year-zero plan?

Up to now the media as a whole has not done its job as a pillar of democracy - and its failure will be felt for years to come.

Live Blogging??

Yes I am - with Reuters and Global Voices for this event right now

Reuters - Newsmaker debate: Iraq: Is the media telling the real story?

Just post a comment if you want to ask me anything or join us on IRC chat (if you know how to do that) join the #globalvoices channel on

Or just stay tuned for more posts.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Follow the Money...

...was the advice 'Deep Throat' gave journalist Bob Woodward who broke the Watergate scandal. Michael Schwartz in Tom Dispatch does just that to explain the Iraqi insurgency. His conclusion is that the bulk insurgency is motivated by economics rather than religion or support for the old regime. This stemmed from a complete failure of the local economy because of a combination of factors. The obvious one was the shut down of the army and the closure of the state-owned factories that suddenly created a huge amount of unemployed who were driven to join or support the insurgency.

Not so obvious was the opening of the Iraqi markets to unrestricted imports and foreign competition. This allowed foreign companies to use their own reserves to undercut any local competition and apply for contracts or sell products at a loss just to capture the market. This is a common strategy in world markets. But in Iraq, after a crushing war, the result was devastating to the local economy. These companies had little interest in using Iraqi labour or expertise and Iraqi companies were, apart from a few exceptions, in no position to compete.

As soon as the situation started to turn pear-shaped in Iraq these companies simply pulled out leaving a void behind them. And driving a new wave of Iraqis towards the insurgency. Bottom line is, if you want to sort out Iraq, you need to sort out the economy first. So what are the various parties around the current government offering?

Well Jaafari gave a nice summary of the Shia parties' economics in his Washington Post article:
"We must encourage entrepreneurship and enterprise, while establishing adequate safety nets for the less privileged. Economic rehabilitation also requires some tough and unpopular changes, such as the reduction in government subsidies for gasoline that my administration began a few months ago."

In other words just the same policy that has already failed so spectacularly.

How about the pro-American economists? Sabri Zire Al-Saadi writes in the US Naval School's journal Strategic Insights his vision for an economic strategy. he gives a very good analysis of what went wrong in the past but falls flat talking about the future. He suggests:
"a careful compromise must be reached between high dependence on oil revenues, and the need to increase the contribution of the private sector to the GDP."

What private sector? Would that be the same private sector that fleeced Iraq for all it was worth and then buggered off when the money ran out. Or was it the private sector that speculates on the currency and repatriates all its profits abroad? Again, the message is 'same old disaster, but lets try to slow it down this time'.

Why on earth do all these people think privatization is a cure-all? It really does not take a PhD in Economics to see the mess it has created. Privatization failed in Russia, it failed in Romania and the only place it can be argued to have worked was in East Germany. And only then because they had one of Europe's largest economies to bail them out.

Unfortunately, the only people that have been shown to have at least a credible economic policy were the Baathists. They managed to rebuild Iraq in 1991 and create a sustainable economy that survived the severest sanctions regime of modern times.

Frankly, I do not want to return to those times because it will only drive Iraq back into the equally destructive cycle of dictatorship and war. But what alternative are the Americans and the current people in the Iraqi government offering the people?