10 April 2003, Volume
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A TOPPLED IRAQI LEADER.
U.S. and British officials cautioned on 9 April that military operations in Iraq are far from completed amid images broadcast all over the world suggesting that coalition forces have already achieved a huge symbolic victory. As coalition tanks rolled into the heart of Baghdad, Iraqis gathered in the city center and, with U.S. Marine help, toppled the massive statue of deposed President Saddam Hussein that towered over Firdaws Square. Then, as the crowd cheered and trampled on the fallen icon, reports emanated from Sulaymaniyah, Al-Basrah, and other Iraqi towns of celebrations in the streets. For the celebrants on Day 21 of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the long-awaited day of liberation appears to have arrived. This special edition of "RFE/RL Iraq Report" looks at some of the challenges facing Iraqis as they embark on a new, post-Saddam era.
By Kathleen Ridolfo
Iraqis face a momentous task as they begin the process of rebuilding their country after decades of war, sanctions, and neglect by Saddam Hussein's regime. Iraq today finds itself with a shattered political system based on a corrupt ideology. Old divisions and political rifts are sure to come to the fore. Not only will Iraqis need to come to terms with the political situation on the ground, so to speak; they will also have to fuse the wants and ideas of an opposition that has itself been historically divided in its vision of a post-Hussein Iraq.
In addition, its once-vital economy shows the wear of 12 years of sanctions, stagnated development, and environmental damage so extensive that only time will allow the country to become again sustainable.
Ba'athist ideology was the cornerstone of the Iraqi regime. The brainchild of a Greek Orthodox thinker, Michel Aflaq, Ba'athism was based on an idea of Arab nationalism that transgressed state boundaries. The Hussein regime transformed that ideology into one of Arab superiority, one in which Saddam Hussein placed himself at the top, seemingly as a "father" of the Arab nation. He later co-opted a vision of Islam into his secular ideology, blurring the distinction between secular Ba'athist ideology and Islam. Iraqis seeking to rise through the political or military ranks were required to subscribe to this ideology, and the top echelon of the Hussein regime and its security apparatus was staunchly Ba'athist. In fact, no other political party was allowed to operate in Iraq under Hussein.
The Ba'ath Party under Hussein infiltrated and controlled every aspect of Iraqi life. The neighborhoods of every major city had their own Ba'ath Party headquarters, and the party's hierarchal structure effectively obstructed infiltration at the upper levels. In order to attain full membership, each member was required to pass through four levels: sympathizer, supporter, nominee, and trainee. Each member belongs to a cell, which itself consists of a handful of members, with only one member linked to the next level. The structure bred corruption and secrecy, as members were encouraged to spy on their neighbors and report any threats to the regime.
Members of the Iraqi opposition and the U.S. government agree that it will be necessary to allow many technocrats from the Hussein regime to remain in place, and, indeed, the experience and expertise of technocrats would be an asset in the effort to ensure a smooth transition to a post-Hussein government by keeping government offices and public works running. But one must ask whether they will, in the end, also perpetuate a corrupt system.
As they struggle to rebuild a political system in the post-Hussein era, the new Iraqi leadership must also build a new sense of nationalism, one which transcends ethnic and religious boundaries. A cohesive national identity rests at the very core of the issue.
An overhaul of Iraq's economy is also needed. While Iraq possesses enormous natural resources, reviving the economy is not simply a matter of opening the oil taps. Oil revenues, however, will surely contribute to rebuilding efforts. Under the UN's oil-for-food program, Iraq exported 12.7 million barrels during the week of 8-14 March alone, which translated into $340 million in revenues. As oil-for-food is revised (and eventually eliminated) and the oil infrastructure revamped, Iraq's earnings in that sector will skyrocket. But the results will be far from immediate. Decades of neglect, war, and sanctions have taken a toll on the oil sector -- just as they have on other vital sectors, such as water and telecommunications.
Opposition members have worked out a plan for economic restructuring that includes rebuilding the neglected oil infrastructure, upgrading the telecommunications system, converting Iraq's vast military-industrial complex for civilian use, developing a new currency, reforming the banking sector, and addressing foreign debt incurred by the Hussein regime. Iraq's health-care sector is also in urgent need of improvement. Providing jobs for Iraqis will constitute a major challenge. It is unclear how many of the 26 million Iraqis are employed, but in the newly liberated areas, unemployment is surely a problem. In addition, economic revitalization will be most important in the areas oppressed by the regime, namely in Shi'a-dominated southern Iraq. A massive job-works program is one way of meeting the needs of a crumbling infrastructure while providing jobs to Iraqis, 41 percent of whom are under the age of 14 and nearly 56 percent is between the ages of 15 and 64, according to U.S. government estimates.
Severe environmental degradation has occurred in Iraq over the past 30 years. Public-works projects initiated under Hussein have resulted in the destruction of 90 percent of Iraq's lakes and marshlands in the lower Tigris-Euphrates river valley, according to the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) website (http://www.unep.org). Iraq's forests have been reduced from 4 percent of land in 1948 to just 0.02 percent today. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) study, Iraqi agriculture uses 95 percent of all available water resources to produce 30 percent of the country's food requirements. In addition, the USDA reports, "Land degradation, salinization, declining crop yields due to mismanagement of land resources and lack of inputs are serious problems, especially in the irrigated lands." Although the country is situated at the heart of the "fertile crescent," mismanagement, poor planning, and years of conflict have caused serious damage to the environment.
Many also warn of the effects of depleted uranium from years of conflict in Iraq. The UNEP released a statement on 6 April calling for a study of the effects of depleted uranium in Iraq. "Although our assessments to date, under conditions prevailing in the Balkans, have concluded that [depleted-uranium] contamination does not pose any immediate risks to human health or the environment, the fact remains that depleted uranium is still an issue of great concern for the general public," UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said. "An early study in Iraq could either lay these fears to rest or confirm that there are indeed potential risks, which could then be addressed through immediate action."
The challenges ahead are enormous, but Iraq is better placed than many states that have faced a similar task. Iraq has a state system, an infrastructure, and an economy. All are in dire need of revitalization. The opposition boasts that hundreds of Iraqis from the diaspora are prepared to lend their expertise in a number of sectors -- from telecommunications to judicial reform -- to rebuild the state. In addition, the United States and the international community are committed to helping Iraqis achieve that goal.
By Bill Samii
The Shi'a Hizballah-Iraq organization, which is led by Abu-Hatim al-Muhammadawi, claimed that on 5 April it battled and defeated elements of the Iraqi Army and Saddam Fedayeen in Al-Amarah Governorate, and it added that this was the first military action by a Shi'a opposition group since Operation Iraqi Freedom began on 20 March, Kuwait's "Al-Ray al-Amm" reported on 6 April. This assertion by a little-known group represents an effort to speak on behalf of Iraq's 14.4-15.6 million Shi'a Muslims (according to the "CIA World Factbook," 60-65 percent of Iraq's population of approximately 24 million is Shi'a Muslim).
There are several opposition organizations that are dominated by Shi'a Muslims. The oldest Shi'a opposition group is the Islamic Call (Al-Da'wah al-Islamiyah), which was founded in Najaf in the late-1950s or early-1960s, according to Hanna Batatu's chapter in "Shi'ism and Social Protest" (Juan Cole and Nikkie Keddie, eds.; New Haven, 1986). Da'wah's first antiregime act took place in 1974, and Saddam Hussein subsequently engaged in many acts of anti-Shi'a repression, including mass expulsions.
Da'wah and other Shi'a groups came together in Tehran in 1982 to create the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI; see below). Within two years, Da'wah began to distance itself from SCIRI, and it rejected the leadership of Islamic revolution founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the concept of Vilayat-i Faqih (Guardianship of the Supreme Jurisconsult).
Since that time, there have been splits within Da'wah, with one faction remaining in Iran and maintaining an affiliation with SCIRI and with another faction remaining distinct and being headquartered in London. On the one hand, Tehran-affiliated Da'wah official Abu Bilal al-Adib frequently has questioned Western intentions in Iraq. On the other hand, Da'wah representatives met with U.S. government officials as recently as January. Moreover, Da'wah officials interviewed by RFE/RL in March 2003 said that the party looks forward to a new relationship with Washington.
The best-known Shi'a group is the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which won the exclusive right to appoint the Shi'a representatives to the 65-member council created by the Iraqi opposition meeting in London in December. SCIRI was created in November 1982, is led by Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim and a collective leadership, and is headquartered in Tehran. SCIRI's armed wing, the Badr Corps, is estimated to number about 10,000 and fought on the Iranian side in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. The Badr Corps has been linked with the Iranian Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).
These close ties with Tehran have resulted in Iraqi perceptions of the SCIRI as an Iranian mercenary force. Moreover, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has turned many Iraqi opposition figures into "Iranian government apparatchiks," according to "The Daily Star" on 24 March. The Iraqi oppositionists have been in Iran so long that they are "more Iranian than Iraqi," according to the Beirut newspaper.
SCIRI's post-Saddam plans are unclear. Although the Badr Corps was present in northern Iraq, it did not participate in any fighting and its leadership announced that it would not act on behalf of the coalition or of the regime. Al-Hakim said of the postwar period, "We have said from the beginning that we reject any American bid for a post-Saddam order because it will simply be an occupation force," according to the 3-9 April issue of Egypt's "Al-Ahram Weekly Online." Al-Hakim's nephew, Muhsin al-Hakim, said on 6 April that his uncle would return to Iraq soon to support the Iraqi nation and to teach in Najaf, IRNA reported.
Another Shi'a opposition group is the Tehran-based Islamic Action Organization, which is headed by Muhammad Taqi al-Mudarrisi. It is linked with SCIRI, and the two groups have similar views. Islamic Action Organization Secretary-General Jawad al-Attar said, "The current battle is between Saddam and the Americans; it is not the battle of the Iraqi people. It is known that the United States does not want any change in Iraq achieved through the independent will of our people," according to the 21-27 July 2002 issue of London's "Al-Majallah."
The Al-Khoi Foundation, which was created mainly as a religious body in Najaf in the 1970s, has become politically prominent recently. During a January speech in the Iranian holy city of Qom, Abd-al-Majid Khoi stated that the United States had its own reasons for wanting to depose the Iraqi regime, but because this coincides with the Iraqi peoples' interests they should take advantage of the situation, IRNA reported on 9 January. This suggestion did not go down well, and Tehran has since claimed that Khoi is the U.S. choice to head the predominantly-Shi'a southern part of Iraq. Khoi dismissed such speculation, but it is noteworthy that U.S. forces facilitated his early-April arrival in Najaf, according to "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" on 4 April.
Al-Khoi also tried to put to rest allegations spread by Ba'athist officials, as well as Iranian religious and political leaders, that coalition forces had damaged holy sites in the cities of Najaf and Karbala. "Believe me, not a single bullet has hit the wall of the shrine [of Imam Ali in Najaf]," he said, according to IRNA on 8 April.
It is not just Hizballah-Iraq, Al-Da'wah, SCIRI, or the Al-Khois who represent Iraq's Shi'a community. Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi, for example, is a Shi'a Muslim, as is Iraqi National Accord leader Ayad Alawi. A meeting of all Iraqi opposition leaders might take place as soon as 12 April, and the role of the Shi'a opposition in Iraq's future will become clearer then.
By Victor Yasmann
As the military phase of the operation against the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein comes to a close, the political tasks associated with preventing this country -- rife with ethnic and social divisions -- from disintegrating into chaos and anarchy are coming to the fore. Former Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov -- who has grappled with the problems of the Middle East and, particularly, Iraq for more than 40 years as a scholar specializing in Arab affairs, as a journalist, foreign-intelligence officer, and as a major Soviet and Russian political player -- is among the analysts around the world who have commented in recent days about possible approaches to solving the problems of postwar Iraq.
Primakov was a Middle East correspondent for "Pravda" in the 1960s. He first met Hussein in 1969, and has maintained personal contact with him ever since. He last visited Hussein in Baghdad on 22 February. Primakov speaks fluent Arabic, which has enabled him to speak directly with leading political figures in the Arab world for the last 30 years. In the 1970s and 1980s, Primakov became a leading figure in Soviet Arab and Middle East studies, while simultaneously being involved in some extremely sensitive Soviet intelligence missions, some of which dealt with the Kurdish problem.
In 1991, Primakov was named head of the Soviet (later, Russian) Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), a post he held until 1996. In the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War, Primakov spearheaded Soviet efforts to head off a conflict, conducting an exhausting round of shuttle diplomacy between Moscow, Baghdad, and Western and Arab capitals.
In 1998, he became President Boris Yeltsin's foreign minister and in 1998-99 he served as prime minister. At present, Primakov is a deputy in the Russian State Duma and the chairman of the influential Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He is considered a voice of the Soviet tradition in Russian policy, especially foreign policy, and is highly regarded within the Kremlin. In February, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent him to Baghdad on a still mysterious mission to speak with Hussein. There have been rumors in the press that Primakov attempted to secure Hussein's secret-services archives, but Primakov has categorically denied discussing this with Hussein.
On 6 April, Primakov gave a lengthy interview to Russia's NTV television station in which he outlined some of the political uncertainty that confronts the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. Primakov emphasized that there are no suitable leadership figures among the current Iraqi opposition, meaning that the coalition or the international community will have to take on the functions of a transitional administration. "If the United States had an opposition leader who could unite the antidictator forces around them, it would have pushed him to the forefront a long time ago," Primakov said.
He also said that he does not expect civil war or even widespread social unrest in the wake of the collapse of the Hussein regime. However, the main problem facing the country will be the differences among the three large ethnic groups that comprise the Iraqi population. Shi'ite Muslims predominate in the south and account for 60 percent of the population. Sunni Muslims, to which Saddam Hussein and most of his administration belong, live in the center of the country, and the north is settled by Kurds.
Primakov said these groups have not responded to the U.S.-led military operation entirely as coalition planners expected. Despite cruel suppression under the Hussein regime, the Shi'ites have remained largely loyal to Hussein. "This loyalty cannot be explained merely by fear of repression. If they had broad and popular support, they would not be afraid to rebel against Baghdad," Primakov argued.
Primakov, who has studied the Kurdish situation for many years, said he does not believe there is "any danger of the creation of an independent Kurdish state." The Kurds in northern Iraq already have autonomy and many other attributes of independence. However, they covet the oil fields surrounding Mosul and Kirkuk, which they consider their own. Coalition politicians must weigh this desire against Turkey's fear that Kurdish control over this wealth would give the northern Iraqi Kurds real power and serve to draw Turkish Kurds toward them.
In an interview with Russia's ORT television on 8 April, Aleksandr Konovalov, a leading political analyst and director of the Moscow Center for Strategic Forecasting, expanded on Primakov's analysis. Unlike Primakov, Konovalov is a specialist on U.S. and Canadian studies and belongs to the liberal wing of the Russian political spectrum. He argued that coalition forces face the difficult choice of deciding whether to appoint an Iraqi administration or to hold elections. Konovalov said that holding democratic elections in Iraq at present, in view of the deep divisions among its three major ethnic groups, is problematic because no viable government could emerge. There is also the danger that Islamic extremists could prevail in an Iraqi election, Konovalov continued.
However, he argued, a government comprising coalition-appointed figures from the anti-Hussein opposition would also be problematic and would not be welcomed by the country's ethnically diverse population. Therefore, the only short-term solution for the coalition will be to impose a military administration similar to those imposed upon Germany and Japan following World War II. This scenario, however, has its own problems, not the least of which is that the local population has no feeling of guilt for causing the war and such an administration would be expensive. Sooner or later, the questions of who will pay to administer the country and who will supply the forces necessary to maintain security and order will become acute. It might become necessary for the United Nations to take over these functions, Konovalov concluded.
By Daniel Kimmage
The abrupt evaporation of Saddam Hussein's regime, from ministers to military to the policeman on the corner, in its own capital on 9 April left much of the Arab press wondering at narratives of the war it had woven and now suddenly found frayed. Images admit only so much interpretation. The dominant narratives in the Arab press did not allow for pictures of Iraqis welcoming U.S. soldiers who had been presented as occupiers or venting pent-up hatred on representations of a dictator who had been presented as the embodiment of steadfast resistance.
Some chose to avert their eyes, others found ready explanations, others still took rueful comfort in seeing their criticisms vindicated. A few found cause for joy, and many more looked with apprehension to the future.
Confronted with a stark event and a limited array of images, those responsible for headlines and front pages had perhaps the easiest task. The two best-known pan-Arab dailies -- both London-based and Saudi-owned -- stuck to the understated style that is their common hallmark. "...And Saddam's Regime Falls" read the headline in "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" above an enormous photograph of the Iraqi leader's statue, a chain around its neck and two grotesque metal pipes still connecting severed legs to the pedestal where it had stood only a moment before. The headline in "Al-Hayat" was "Baghdad...and a Statue of Saddam Fall on 9 April," above a photograph of Saddam pulled forward to the breaking point, but not yet broken, against the looming backdrop of a domed mosque. "Al-Quds al-Arabi," also based in London, but affiliated with Palestinian expatriates and bitterly antiwar, headlined its edition "Chaos Engulfs Baghdad After the 'Disappearance' of the Regime...and Saddam," over a photograph of a U.S. Marine clinging to a still upright Saddam, a U.S. flag covering the Iraqi leader's face.
The American flag that was briefly draped over the face of Saddam Hussein's statue served as a lightning rod for fears of an impending, open-ended U.S. occupation of Iraq. Other front pages focused on the suddenness of the regime's collapse. A few examples:
Algeria's "El Khabar":
"Marines Occupy Baghdad" (picture of American flag over Saddam)
"'Disappearance' of Saddam's Regime...And The Search For Him in Tikrit" (picture of U.S. soldier watching falling statue)
"Al-Rashid's Capital Under American Occupation" (distant shot of U.S. tanks on Firdaws Square) [The reference is to the Caliph Al-Rashid, who ruled Baghdad from 786-809 A.D.]
"Sudden Collapse of Saddam's Regime" (picture of a child with the caption "Tears of an Orphan")
Editorial pages indicated that even at this early stage the discussion in the Arab world consists of more than mere shock and dismay.
Algeria's "El Khabar":
Al-Arbi Zawaq expressed surprise, closing with a hopeful conjecture that resistance might still be in the offing:
"Despite all the expectations that analysts based on steadfast Iraqi resistance in Umm Qasr, Al-Faw, Al-Basrah, Karbala, and Al-Najaf, the capital of Al-Rashid fell without any resistance to speak of. This poses a thousand and one questions about what happened....
"...We can only say that all of our statements here merely form questions. We would not be surprised if Baghdad's occupiers tonight encountered violent attacks from all directions."
Jubran Tawini struck an optimistic chord:
"Baghdad has not fallen. The regime of Saddam Hussein has fallen.
"The people of Iraq and the people of Baghdad have not been defeated. Saddam Hussein and his cohorts have been defeated!
"This is the situation 21 days after the beginning of the war on Iraq. The images we saw yesterday reminded us of the fall of [Romanian dictator Nicolae] Ceausescu, the fall of [former Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic, the fall of the Berlin Wall. A huge prison has opened its gates to release millions of prisoners to freedom. The reaction of people in the streets is the best proof of the years of oppression, tyranny, fear, poverty, and hunger that Saddam Hussein's regime imposed on the people of Iraq."
Egypt's semi-official "Al-Ahram":
The editors made a pointed decision to ignore specific events in Baghdad, focusing instead on the need to deliver medicines to Iraq to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe. Similar logic was evident in Jordan, where the editors of "Al-Dustour" lauded a royal initiative to extend "urgent humanitarian aid to the fraternal Iraqi people." The editors of Syria's official "Tishreen" waxed abstract about the United Nations, international law, and weapons of mass destruction, yet left aside concrete developments in Iraq.
Saudi Arabia's "Al-Jazeera":
The editors noted carefully that the "rapid collapse in Baghdad reflected a dissolution of political authority and the true nature of the connection between the regime and the Iraqi people." They went on to chide Iraqis for unruliness:
"The pressing tasks in Iraq now are to restore security and order. Iraqis themselves must do their part by putting a stop to the unfortunate looting and chaos that were so much in evidence yesterday. They must realize that they need to preserve what they have, especially in the presence of foreign military forces that might find such behavior a temptation to do whatever they want to a state whose people does not hesitate to attack its property."
Britain's "Al-Quds al-Arabi":
Editor Abd al-Bari Atwan has been a harsh critic of the United States and a staunch proponent of resistance to "invasion and occupation" since the war began. Faced with the "sudden and inexplicable collapse" of Baghdad's defenders, Atwan sounded a grim warning of possible regime change in Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia:
"Finally, we wonder about the feelings of the Arab leaders who abandoned Iraq and connived with the invasion. How do they feel when they see statues of their colleague Saddam Hussein falling one after the other in Al-Basrah, Baghdad, and Al-Nasiriyah. Have they thought hard and taken heed? We believe that the statue of Saddam Hussein will not be the only one to fall. It will be followed shortly by other statues in more than one Arab capital. The army and security forces, no matter how repressive they are, cannot defend a dictatorial regime, especially if its masters and protectors want to change it. Our information indicates that the British and American administrations have begun to look for alternatives and sift through names in preparation for regime change in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran."
Britain's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat":
Editor in Chief Abd al-Rahman al-Rashid has been a passionate critic of the pro-Saddam Arab media. Images of ecstatic Iraqis in Baghdad inspired him to broaden his criticism to encompass the dire status quo that a mendacious media establishment serves to maintain:
"The images from yesterday morning shocked the Arabs from the east in Manama on the Gulf to the west in Casablanca on the Atlantic Ocean. Between them are cities where people hardly slept, marching continuously in the belief that they were defending the Iraqi people when they were defending Saddam."
"Yesterday morning, television stations, including Al-Jazeera, that took part in the campaign to defend Saddam and his regime in the war, were unable to conceal the pictures of popular joy in the capital. They were unable to explain them. Yesterday's images...unmade the greatest lie in the modern history of the Arabs -- the Arab television and print media that have insisted for 20 years on trying to convince the people of the region that they are seeing the people's army, the people's government, and the people's ruler."
"The Arabs have split into two groups in this war. One group rules; it claims that this is a war of existence, a war of honor, and a war of conspiracy. And there is a silent group, most of whose members come from Iraq and lack the means to express themselves because they are exiles abroad or oppressed at home. They knew that this is a war of liberation, or they at least were indifferent to its purpose because it is a war to remove a murderous and corrupt regime. The regime must leave just as it came. It is a historic, unprecedented event for the region. All the wars of the past were wars with Israel or wars of regimes. This is the first war of its kind -- a war against the terrible Arab plight."
By Kathleen Ridolfo
With collapse of the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, issues of postconflict reorganization assume a new immediacy, particularly in the face of widespread calls for a speedy transition to native Iraqi administration. One aspect of the country's infrastructure that will need considerable attention is its media system, which initially must serve to disseminate information about security and policing issues and the distribution of aid, but which will soon be called upon to facilitate the transition to a transparent and democratic political system. Ideally, "free and fair" media will relatively soon be called upon to play a leading role in "free and fair" elections in a country rife with ethnic and religious divisions.
Like virtually all other aspects of the Iraqi state and society, the media were completely incorporated into Hussein's totalitarian structure, a reality that was symbolically represented by the fact that Hussein gave his eldest son, Uday Hussein, responsibility for it.
Under the Hussein regime, there were two official state television channels, Iraqi Television 1 and 2. These were indubitably the main sources of news and information -- all prepared by the state-controlled Iraqi News Agency -- for the Iraqi population. In addition, Uday Hussein ran a third channel, Youth TV, which offered situation comedies, films, and music. In a controversial move that was criticized by Western media groups, forces of the U.S.-led coalition against Hussein's regime targeted Iraqi television beginning on 24 March in an effort to knock it off the air, an effort that was largely successful despite intermittent Iraqi efforts to broadcast from mobile transmitters.
State-run Iraq Satellite Television was produced exclusively for consumption abroad and is generally not available domestically, although there have been some reports that some Iraqis are able to view it. Satellite dishes were illegal in Iraq for many years, but in 1999 the government announced that it will allow some access to satellite broadcasts through a state-controlled subscription mechanism. However, it took three years to turn that announcement into reality. Last June, "Alif Ba" reported that 14 Arab and other foreign channels would be offered via satellite to Iraqis for 110,000 dinars ($60) per year. In addition, however, subscribers would have to buy decoders for about $150 each, a considerable sum considering the average Iraqi income is estimated at about $600 a year.
Al-Jazeera reported that the government's package of satellite channels is "confined to artistic, sports, cultural, musical, and adventure channels." Undoubtedly, the purpose of such restrictions was to limit and control the perceptions of average Iraqis about the outside world, and the longer-term consequences of these limitations will make themselves felt as post-Hussein Iraq opens up.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, Iraq Satellite Television carried a range of broadcasts from government-spun updates on the fighting to summaries of headlines and editorials from the state-controlled domestic press. It focused strongly on official statements, reports of meetings held by Saddam Hussein, and announcements of awards offered by the regime to those willing to fight against coalition forces. It also carried footage of international antiwar protests, played patriotic songs and video clips, and featured poetry exalting Hussein's virtues. As late as 6 April, it continued broadcasting and as of 10 April there were still indications that it could resume in some limited capacity.
According to U.S. government estimates, in 1998 there were 19 AM stations in Iraq (of which, five were are inactive), 51 FM stations, and four shortwave stations. However, it is important to note that many Iraqi stations have operated only intermittently or have ceased broadcasting altogether since the 1991 Gulf War. In mid-October, there were reports of Iraqi plans to maintain state-radio broadcasts in the event of war by using mobile transmitters. In fact, Iraq Radio has continued to operate throughout the conflict, but according to reports from inside Iraq, its signal has been weak and sporadic.
In terms of content and style, Iraq radio follows the same pattern as Iraqi state television. It has broadcast official pronouncements on the fighting, mixed with Iraqi government statements and pro-Iraqi pronouncements by foreign leaders. It has also doled out generous helpings of patriotic music and other inspirational material.
RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) was established in 1998 in an effort to bring independent and balanced information to the Iraqi people. With correspondents embedded with coalition forces, and based in northern Iraq, Kuwait, and neighboring Arab states, as well as London and Washington, RFI provides a wide range of coverage that simply cannot be compared with fare of Iraqi state media. Its coverage includes summaries from the Iraqi, Arab, and Western press; international news, interviews with opposition figures and political and military analysts; economic reports, and reports on human rights issues.
There are five major Arabic-language dailies in Iraq and nine major weeklies, all of which are under state control and several of which are run directly by Uday Hussein. Economic sanctions have resulted in newsprint shortages, leading to print-run limitations since 1993. However, in February 2002, Uday's daily "Babil" doubled its format from 12 pages to 24. Reports on the status of the Iraqi press since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom have been limited, but there are indications that papers have continued to appear, and Iraq Satellite Television has regularly reported on news and opinion pieces appearing in Iraqi dailies. The state has also maintained a total monopoly on printing facilities and the press-distribution mechanism.
Internet access in Iraq, which was only launched in 1997, was severely restricted by the Hussein regime. In 2001, the U.S. government estimated that there were just 12,500 Internet users in Iraq, which has a population of more than 26 million. Internet services in Iraq are provided by a telecommunications network in Syria and there are frequent interruptions. In November, for instance, service was cut off for about 10 days due to "a halt in the service of the supplying satellite," according to one report.
The country has one, state-controlled Internet service provider and two portals. The Iraqi State Company for Internet Services (http://www.uruklink.net) hosts all Iraqi government sites and those of all the country's dailies except "Babil," which is hosted by the Iraqi National Olympic Committee (http:www.iraq2000.com). That site also hosts the sites of the Iraqi Journalists Union, the National Union of Iraqi Students, and the General Union of Iraqi Youth. Both portals have been inaccessible since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Private Internet access is forbidden, and modems are banned. In 2002, the Iraqi State Company for Internet Services announced a plan to open Internet cafes in Baghdad, but it is not known if it actually did so. As of the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom, there were an estimated 50-70 Internet centers in Iraq, located in places such as luxury hotels, universities, state ministries, and research and industrial facilities.
A 26 January 2002 article in "Al-Ittihad," reported that the State Company for Internet Services was offering Internet browsing for 1,000 dinars per hour ($0.50, according to black-market rates), and e-mail for 250 dinars per message sent and received. Again, to the average Iraqi citizen, this is costly, and there is no information about how popular these services are. Internet subscriptions are reportedly only granted to corporations at an annual rate of between 1 million-6 million dinars ($500-$3,000).
"Alif Ba" ran a feature article in May 2002 on e-mail availability in Iraq that quoted an annual subscription fee of 100,000 dinars ($50) or a daily rate of 250 dinars. In addition to the fee, applicants were required to "produce a photocopy of [their] personal-status identity card and their residency card, [and] the subscriber must specify his user name and choose a password so that his messages remain confidential," "Alif Ba" reported. The article noted that 5,000 Iraqis had signed up for e-mail access. Contrary to Iraqi reports, other sources estimate that e-mail subscriptions run about $80 per year.
Providing information to the Iraqi public that is not filtered through the Hussein regime has been an important aspect of Operation Iraqi Freedom since even before the beginning of military operations. U.S. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, deputy director of operations at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), told reporters during a 1 April briefing that the United States has been conducting radio broadcasts into Iraq 24 hours a day since around 17 February via five frequencies. The United States is also operating one television station. In addition, Brooks noted, British forces have recently launched radio broadcasts in southern Iraq. "Recent captures of enemy prisoners of war say that the broadcasts are readily accessible and they are also very popular," Brooks said.
In addition to the radio and television broadcasts, CENTCOM is continuing its leaflet campaign, adjusting messages to the Iraqi people as warranted, Brooks said. Asked why the broadcasts have not led to high-ranking military defections, Brooks replied on 1 April, "The regime is still present in many areas, and it is the regime and the brutality of the regime keeps many people from taking the steps that they would like to take. This is a very high-risk proposition for military leaders who would decide they're not going to fight for the regime, or civilians that would rise up against the regime."
British military spokesman Colonel Chris Vernon explained the British broadcasts to a press briefing in Kuwait City on 3 April. "We are running radio stations, which are transmitting into Al-Basrah," Vernon said, according to an RFE/RL report. "It's a mixture -- its all in Arabic, of course. There's a mixture of Arabic and, indeed, Western music, with the broad message that our argument is not with you, the people of Al-Basrah, it is with the regime and, particularly, the Ba'ath Party officials in Al-Basrah who support that and the militia whom they are controlling, the irregulars."
At the Pentagon on 5 April, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke told reporters: "The communications and what people in Iraq can see and not see or hear and not hear is up and down. Sometimes it's on. Sometimes it's off." Clarke added that she was unsure of what Iraqis were actually seeing on Iraqi television. Army Major General Stanley McChrystal -- vice director for operations, J-3, Joint Staff -- told reporters at the same briefing that the Iraqi regime has a "very redundant system" in place, "starting with fixed sites, [and including] mobile vans that it uses to put out its signal." McChrystal added that coalition forces have degraded the regime's ability to communicate, adding, "We believe that it is sporadic, at best."
Meanwhile, Major General Victor Renuart told reporters at CENTCOM on 5 April that it appeared that Iraq Television -- by which he presumably meant Iraq Satellite Television -- had purchased broadcast time from a number of satellite companies. Renuart added that coalition forces were broadcasting to the Iraqi people on Iraq's Channel 3 television. He added that the coalition was working to assist liberated Iraqis in broadcasting over satellite television. "We're beginning to see many more leaders in the communities of Al-Basrah and Al-Nasiriyah, Al-Samawa, Al-Najaf, even now toward Karbala, become much more supportive, openly supportive of the coalition forces as they see the threat from these other irregular troops go away," Renuart said. "And some have expressed interest in helping to get that message out�And so we're sensitive to try to create the opportunity for Iraqis [to] broadcast on their network."
U.S. Brigadier General Brooks told reporters at CENTCOM on 6 April that CENTCOM is broadcasting "nonstop" over the radio. Messages include instructions for approaching coalition checkpoints and warnings to the Special Republican Guard and special security forces to "surrender, flee, or fight and face certain destruction." The broadcasts also advised Iraqis to avoid dangerous areas such as Baghdad International Airport.
"We do know that radio is the most common and popular medium that is used by the Iraqi population," Brooks said.