Pre and post Saddam Iraq - despotism to despotism

More than a decade after the imperialists toppled the Baath Party, Iraq hasn’t yet been able to build up a democracy, not even a nascent one.  Thanks not only to the imperialists, but also to Riyadh and Tehran.

The bane of sponsoring militancy by Saudi Arabia has been devastating enough. On the other hand, Iran isn’t helping either with all that hubris and cult-like influence of the man from Qom.

Representation of Iranian interest in post-Saddam Iraq has become a vital mainstream political issue that can instigate greater violence in addition to what’s already being perpetrated by the AQ splinter groups in the country.

Unlike Al-Jazeera and Press TV, Al-Sabah Al-Jadeed is the only independent national press in Iraq which is not the mouthpiece of the Iraqi government.  But the path has been rocky.  Four weeks after Al-Sabah Al-Jadeed was established in 2004, there was a horrifying incident of attempted kidnapping of its chief editor, Ismael Zayer.  The attempt failed but his bodyguard and chauffeur were killed.   Preposterous as it may sound, until today guns are required to be kept within reach in the reception area.  It still isn’t safe for journalists to write a story of their choice nor to write on everything they know.  Nonetheless, Al-Sabah Al-Jadeed has set a new standard for newspaper journalism in Iraq and the region.

Its latest showdown with its critics says loud and clear how unprepared Iraq is for free speech .. almost as distant as Iran or Saudi Arabia.

On February 6, Iraq's al-Sabah al-Jadeed published a cartoon of the Iranian supreme leader, Ali Khamenei by cartoonist Ahmad Rubaie in its supplement on the 35th anniversary of Iran's 1979 Revolution.   Soon after the newspaper began receiving threats before it was hit by three bombs, damaging its office in central Baghdad and destroying its facade. Fortunately no one was hurt.  Immediately after the controversy erupted like a rumbling volcano, the editor of the newspaper, Ismael Zayer, issued a clarification that the portrait was not meant to be offensive nor derogatory (not that there is any plausible reason to prohibit a light-hearted joke about Ali Khamanei).   Yet the flood of threats didn’t halt and Al-Sabah al-Jadeed began being accused of "serving Mossad," a standard political slush fund for crushing independent thoughts and expressions. 

The editorial board of al-Sabah al-Jadeed has a tradition of publishing portraits of figures in their weekly intellectual supplement.  The board explained this aspect, further clarifying that drawing Khamenei’s portrait in its supplement "was not meant to mock him" rather it was meant to compliment him as an important personality.

Yet the senseless parochialism didn't taper off and neither did the threats stop.   The scenario got still worse when the local non-independent newspapers began taking advantage of this showdown, pitting public opinion against al-Sabah al-Jadeed.  On February 10, From 3 a.m. until 10 a.m., three bombs were planted outside Al-Sabah’s building.  Each time the security agencies succeeded in detecting a bomb and disabling it, another would be planted.  One of them was a sound bomb.  Fortunately none of them detonated and no one was injured.

According to the staff of al-Sabah al-Jadeed, such needless hostility was being expressed by certain political factions that intended to participate in the approaching parliamentary elections.  "Each side is trying hard to prove to its public that it is closer to Tehran and that it represents Iranian interests in Baghdad. Iran, after all, has influence over the formation of the future government and the choice of the prime minister and his cabinet,"  stated by al-Sabah al-Jadeed. 

Such crazy reaction rattled the staff.  The newspaper has been temporarily shut and most staff members have left for Kurdistan until they are sure it's safe to return and resume work.  The Iraqi government took no action nor made any statements on this despicably intolerant attitude of Iraqi political activists.  The Iraqi public remained silent too, not by choice but by fear, similar to the Iranian people who dare not open their mouths to promote the slightest of free speech; forget about lampooning the shortcomings of their politicians.   Talking of repression ….    What a bunch of sleazeballs !!