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Voices of Iraq

MEMRI provides a glimpse into what the free Iraq press is saying about America and reconstruction.

12:00 AM, Jul 24, 2003 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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PAY ATTENTION to Ishtar al-Yasseri. She's the editor of Baghdad's Habezbouz, one of the hundreds of Iraqi media outlets now operating throughout the country--over 85 newspapers and periodicals have launched since May 1 alone--that will shape public opinion there for years to come. And thanks to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), non-Arabic speakers can read what al-Yasseri and other members of the new Iraqi chattering classes are saying.

Opinions on the Coalition Provisional Authority, for instance, run the gamut from supportive to critical. Take Al-Aswaq, the daily newspaper of the Iraqi Industry Federation. One of its recent editorials asked, "Isn't it better to assist the council in doing its job than looking for reasons and justifications to make it fail?" A news article in another issue reported a spokesman for the Shiite Al-Sadr organization saying "As of today, we have no qualms with the members of the council, but they should remember that they are to serve Iraq's interests . . ."

In contrast, an editorial from Al-Rassed, a daily published by the Islamic Education Center in Noor City, said "The implementation of democracy by the American administration suffers from hypocrisy because of its reluctance to allow the Iraqi people to practice democracy by selecting its representatives even for the sake of experiment."

Security is also a concern. A newspaper called Tareeq Al-Sha'b printed an open letter to Gen. John Abizaid (who recently replaced Tommy Franks as the head of Central Command). The letter writers noted that the International Food Program has been a recent target of thieves, and asked for more troops to protect aid shipments: "Why don't you redeploy [American troops] in areas from where they withdrew in order to put an end to looting food intended for millions of Iraqis?"

But some are downright hostile. On July 13, Abdul Sattar Shalan, the editor of Baghdad's Al-Mustaqila (The Independent), wrote that his paper would reveal the names of locals who were cooperating with Americans, "so . . . the people can issue their verdict on them." He went on to say that "spilling the blood of spies is a religious and patriotic requirement."

Under an order issued by chief American administrator L. Paul Bremer in June, the Iraqi media are forbidden from inciting violence or ethnic hatred. So it came as no surprise when coalition forces stormed Al-Mustaqila's offices on Tuesday and shut down the paper.

Bremer's office has also closed Sawt Baghdad (Voice of Baghdad), a Baghdad radio station, because of its ties to Mohamed Mohsen al-Zubaidi, the self-proclaimed "mayor of Baghdad." (Al-Zubaidi had been encouraging people to rob Baghdad's banks.) In another incident, a newspaper in Najaf associated with the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq was shut down for making inflammatory comments, too. But the vast majority of the Iraqi press has followed coalition guidelines.

As a result, Iraq is now the only Arab nation with a free press. "In terms of the Iraqi media's attitude regarding the governing council," says Nimrod Raphaeli of MEMRI, "the sentiments are not much different from the rest of the Middle East. The difference is that the Iraqi people are free to speak their minds."

Matthew Continetti is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.