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Daily Column
Iraq Papers Tues: "Mysterious" Assassinations
US, Iraqi Government Still Incapable of Producing Skillful Propaganda
By AMER MOHSEN 09/22/2008 11:26 PM ET
Iraq news was relatively scarce today, but a worrisome trend was recorded by several papers: a steady increase in political assassinations and attacks with “unexpected” targets. For example, al-Hayat said that a bomb exploded in front of the headquarters of al-Bayyna newspaper, in central Baghdad. The interesting bit is that al-Bayyna is the unofficial mouthpiece of Hizbollah- Iraq, a radical Shi'a group that is often mentioned among the “Special Groups” that the US accuses of conducting armed attacks against Coalition forces.

The attack against al-Bayan comes a mere week after the killing of four journalists in Mosul that worked for an anti-government station, and a day after an attack targeting the Iraqi Journalists’ Syndicate. From Basra, al-Hayat reported on a marked rise in “organized assassinations” in the city, which were crowned with the killing of a major Mahdi Army leader in southern Iraq last week. The victim, 'Uday al-Zamil, led the Mahdi Army militia in the city of Samawa, and – according to security sources – the assassination took place less than a week after al-Zamil’s “return” from Iran, where he was residing for the last months.

Illegal armed militias such as the Mahdi Army or Hizbollah-Iraq are usually mentioned in relation to assassinations as “potential culprits,” which makes it surprising to hear of so many attacks where the armed Sadrists are, in fact, the victims. As is well-known, the Mahdi Army is locked in intense conflicts: with the government Shi'a parties, the Wahhabi extremists, the Coalition Forces- not to mention inner rivalries. Some Mahdi Army practices have also garnered personal enmities: a Basra police official attributed many of the recent assassinations to “tribal, personal and financial reasons.” Is there, however, an organized campaign targeting the organization? Some Sadrist officials have already hinted at the possibility, blaming the government for not providing security to its citizens.

In other news, the Lebanese al-Akhbar daily indicated that the US SOFA negotiating team is due to return to Baghdad in the coming days to resume negotiations over the Security Agreement. According to the paper, the thorny issue of “legal immunity” for US soldiers had placed the talks on hold for the last week.

The paper also said that the Iraqi Parliament has failed – yet again – to pass the provincial elections’ law. Tuesday’s session could not even be held, al-Akhbar said, due to lack of quorum.

Lastly, Az-Zaman (Iraq edition) exhibited – on its front page – a glaring example of why US propaganda (or “efforts to win hearts and minds”) in the Middle East is so ineffective. As was previously reported in this column, Iraqi and Arab papers often carry political ads supportive of the Iraqi government or Coalition troops. In most cases, the ads do not mention their sponsors, but their frequency and the prime advertisement space that they occupy indicate that they are financed and directed by a resourceful organization.

The front page of Az-Zaman today carried a large ad with a message lionizing the Iraqi Army. The Army logo was displayed with the background of the Iraqi flag (“Saddam”’s flag, not the current official one!) fronted by an Iraqi Army HUMVEE (also adorned with the old flag) and – in the center – what appears to be the professional “oath” of Iraqi soldiers. The problem, however, is that the “oath” was clearly written in English (or another foreign language,) and badly translated into a weak, faulty Arabic. A term like “my superiors” was translated into – literally – “those who are above me;” several stylistic mistakes were also present in the three-liner. After five years of nation-building, the Iraqi state is still incapable of producing its own propaganda!


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