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http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/ Saturday, September 27, 2003 Worried in Baghdad... Aqila Al-Hashimi was buried today in the holy city of Najaf, in the south. Her funeral procession was astounding. Rumor has it that she was supposed to be made Iraq’s ambassadress to the UN. There are still no leads to her attackers’ identities… somehow people seem to think that Al-Chalabi and gang are behind this attack just like they suspect he might have been behind the Jordanian Embassy attack. Al-Chalabi claims it’s Saddam, which is the easy thing to do- pretend that the only figures vying for power are the Governing Council, currently headed by Al-Chalabi, and Saddam and ignore the fundamentalists and any inter-Council hostilities, rivalries and bitterness between members. What is particularly disturbing is that the UN is pulling out some of its staff for security reasons… they pulled out a third tonight and others will be leaving in the next few days. Things are getting more and more frightening. My heart sinks every time the UN pulls out because that was how we used to gauge the political situation in the past: the UN is pulling out- we’re getting bombed. Someone brought this to my attention… it’s an interesting piece on some of the companies facilitating the whole shady contract affair in Iraq. The original piece is published by The Guardian Unlimited and discusses contracts, the Bush administration and how Salem Al-Chalabi, Ahmad Al-Chalabi’s nephew fits into the whole situation- Friends of the family [http://www.guardian.co.uk/elsewhere/journalist/story/0,7792,1048204,00.html] There’s a shorter, equally good version of the same on Joshua Marshall’s site that is worth reading- Talking Points Memo. [http://talkingpointsmemo.com/sept0304.html#0925031058pm] - posted by river @ 3:00 AM Freedom of the Press Apparently our leader of the moment, Al-Chalabi, isn’t pleased with the two leading news networks in the region. I can’t really blame him… he has had some of his worst interviews on Al-Arabia and Al-Jazeera. He always ends up looking smug like he’s just done something evil, or conniving like he’s planning something evil. When is he going to learn that there is no network in this wide world that has the technology or capacity to make him look good? A few days ago, Intifadh Qambar, Ahmad Al-Chalabi’s sidekick, was on-screen, shifty-eyed and stuttering, claiming that the two major Arab news networks, Al-Arabia and Al-Jazeera, were ‘encouraging terrorism’. It gives me chills to hear someone like Qambar talk about terrorism. He sits behind the microphones looking like a would-be mafia king in his pin-striped suits, slicked-back hair and arrogant smile. He seems to have forgotten that the INC, a few months back, were a constant source of terror on the streets of Baghdad while they were ‘confiscating’ cars at gunpoint. The allegations are purportedly based on the fact that the two news networks have been showing ‘masked men in black’ as resistors to occupation. This, apparently, promotes terrorism. The truth is that Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabia have been black-listed since May, when the first attacks against the troops started getting some real publicity. They were also covering some of the not-so-successful raids that had been carried out by the troops, and the indignant families or victims who suffered them. Back in May, though, there was no Governing Council and the CPA evidently realized that expelling, or banning, the two major Arabic news networks would look less than diplomatic. They were ‘warned’. Their reporters were yelled at, detained, barred from press conferences, expelled from news sites, and sometimes beaten. The Governing Council have fewer scruples about looking good. Our media frenzy began in April. Almost immediately after the occupation, political parties began sprouting up everywhere. There were the standard parties that everyone knew- Al-Daawa, SCIRI, INC and PUK- and there were the not-so-famous ones that suddenly found the political vacuum too tempting to pass up. Suddenly, they were all over Baghdad. They scoped out the best areas and took over schools, shops, mosques, recreational clubs, houses and bureaus. The ones who were ahead of the game got to the printing presses, set up headquarters, and instantly began churning out semi-political newspapers that discussed everything from the ‘liberation’ to Jennifer Lopez’s engagement ring. We would purchase several papers at a time, awed by the sudden torrent of newsprint. Some of them were silly, some of them were amusing and some of them were serious, polished, and constructive; all of them were pushing a specific political agenda. It was confusing and difficult, at first, to decide which newspapers could be taken seriously and which ones were vying for the coveted position of the best scandal paper in Iraq. Regardless of their productivity, their crossword puzzle or their horoscopes, they all ended up either on the floor or on the coffee table, under platters of hot rice, flat bread and ‘marga’. I don’t know if it’s done in other parts of the Arab world, but when Iraqis don’t feel like gathering around a dinner table, they have a cozier meal on the coffee table in the living room or gathered in a circle on the floor. The table, or ground, is spread with newspapers to keep it clean and the food is set up sort of like an open buffet. During July and August, when it was particularly hot, we ate on the floor. Houses and apartments in Iraq are rarely ever carpeted during the summer. At the first signs of heat, people roll up their Persian rugs and carpeting and store them away in mothballs for at least 5 months. So before lunch or dinner, we mop the tile floor in the living room with cold, clean water, let it dry and set up the newspapers on the ground. The floor is hard, but cool and somehow the food tastes better and the conversation is lighter. As plates and forks clash and arms cross to pass a particular food, I keep my eye on the papers. It has become a habit to scan the bold headings under the platters for something interesting. I remember reading the details of UN resolution 1483 for the first time while absently serving rice and ‘bamia’- an okra dish loved by all Iraqis irrespective of religion or ethnicity. It’s funny how although we get most of our information from the internet, the television or the radio, I still associate the smell of a newspaper with… news. When all is said and done, there are just some things you’re not going to get anywhere but an Iraqi newspaper (like the fact that SARS came from a comet that hit Earth a couple of years ago- I’ll wager no one has read *that*). This media free-for-all lasted for about two months. Then, some newspapers were ‘warned’ that some of their political content was unacceptable- especially when discussing occupation forces. One or two papers were actually shut down, while others were made to retract some of what they had written. The news channels followed suit. The CPA came out with a list of things that weren’t to be discussed- including the number of casualties, the number of attacks on the Coalition and other specifics. And we all began giving each other knowing looks- it’s only ‘freedom of the press’ when you have good things to say... Iraqis know all about *that*. Then the Governing Council came along and they weren’t at all comfortable with the media. They have their own channel where we hear long-winded descriptions of the wonderful things they are doing for us and how appropriately grateful we should be, but that apparently isn’t enough. So now, Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabia are suspended for two weeks from covering the official press conferences held by the CPA and the Puppet Council… which is really no loss- they are becoming predictable. The real news is happening around us. __________________________________ Do you Yahoo!? The New Yahoo! Shopping - with improved product search http://shopping.yahoo.com _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email email@example.com All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk