Cartoonists Draw Black Humor From Iraq’s Woes: Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times

May 15, 2005
BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 14 – Iraq is awash in carnage and politics, and Muayad Naama is on hand to help people laugh at it.
Using jagged lines and potato-shaped figures, Mr. Naama, a 53-year-old cartoonist, tells the story of Iraq today. It is a place where people have become inured to street violence; state corruption exists on a giant scale; politicians argue endlessly.
A dealer points out which vehicles are best for car bombs in a cartoon by Muayad Naama.
As violence has surged throughout Iraq, and in Baghdad in particular, over the last few weeks, Mr. Naama has sketched images that make light of the very dark situation, in which car bombings and killings tear through Iraqis’ schools, and follow them to the market, to work and home. His cartoons appear in several daily newspapers.
In one recent cartoon, a sneaky-looking character in a dishdasha, the traditional men’s gown, looks around a used car lot while a salesman points out which brands are best for car bombings. In another, a man drinking tea watches as an exploding car bomb sends heads, hands and steering wheels sailing in all directions. “Don’t worry,” he reassures his friend. “It’s not our car.”
Perhaps five other professional cartoonists of such note work in Iraq today, using wit to give Iraqis exhausted by war and dread an honest, if dark, moment of humor. One, Abdel Rakhim Yassir, showed the Iraqi under Saddam Hussein as a painter at an easel, surrounded by brick walls – and painting those walls on canvas after canvas. In another cartoon, two modern Iraqis, surrounded by the same brick walls, squabble and hit each other at the base of a single escape ladder. The next frame has each man standing alone, with the ladder sawed in half. Neither piece is tall enough to reach the top of the wall.
“Some people think the cartoon is only for fun,” said Mr. Naama, sipping spicy Arabic coffee at a hotel cafe in central Baghdad, his cartoons spread before him. “But here we have the black joke. You may laugh at it, but it’s painful.”
Corruption crops up frequently in Mr. Naama’s cartoons. Iraqis complain bitterly about theft by government officials, which they say has ballooned since the fall of Mr. Hussein. In a drawing published in March, a doctor operates on an obese patient labeled “Government Ministries.” His arm deep inside the man’s belly, the doctor declares the diagnosis: an enlarged pancreas from “too much public money.”
Mr. Naama works in a small room in an apartment in western Baghdad. His paintings decorate the purple walls, and his tools – pencils, pens, erasers and a small desk – fit neatly into a corner of the tidy room. He prefers to work at night, when there are no distractions, he said. Mr. Naama is far more unassuming than his cartoons.
“They say that when he talks, you don’t hear his voice,” said Athir Haddad, a professor of finance at a private university and a fan. “But when you see his drawings, you feel he is boiling up inside. That he is someone who feels the people’s pain.”
Mr. Naama’s fortunes have risen and fallen with Iraq’s own painful history. He was born in 1951, almost two decades before Mr. Hussein’s Baath Party took control of the country. At the time, Baghdad was a bustling, cosmopolitan city with lively cafes and bars.
But when Mr. Hussein began in the late 1970’s to clamp down on political opposition, including by the Communist Party, of which Mr. Naama was a member, his life quickly changed. In 1979, he was arrested and beaten. He still barely hears out of one ear as a result of the beatings.
Now, after decades of dictatorship, a chaotic political scene has burst forth. And unlike Mr. Hussein’s government, under which open criticism brought dire, often fatal, consequences, the new Iraqi government appears to be fair game.
For that, and many other reasons, Mr. Naama said, life is better now. People can speak freely and practice their religion as they like, he said. The chaos and lack of rules, he said, must eventually improve.
But democracy is slow going. Iraqis voted in nationwide elections more than three months ago, and it was not until May 7 that the government was fully formed. In a recent Naama cartoon, an Iraqi family huddles hungrily around a caldron, labeled “Iraqi Constitution.” It is cooking over a pitifully small candle.
“People are hungry,” he said. “They want rules. They want a government.”
Zaineb Obeid contributed reporting for this article

Trajectory of violence: Faleh Jabar*

Trajectory of violence
The new multi-ethnic, multi-religious political class in Iraq wishes to curry favour with voters not bombers, writes Faleh Jabar*
Two years have elapsed since the deposed president’s statue crashed down at the Firdaws Square, at the centre of Baghdad. The Iraqi army had been defeated in the south and the middle of the country; military formations in the northern, predominantly Sunni, provinces negotiated surrender and went home. In the eyes of US planners the landscape seemed promising for a thorough liberalisation scheme to transform Iraq after the US experience in post- WWII Germany and Japan.

Continue reading Trajectory of violence: Faleh Jabar*

Abdullah Muhsin: writes in Tribune

Most readers of Tribune will, like me and my comrades in the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), have opposed the war. I don’t regret doing so and I would do so again.
I believed that the Iraqi people had other ways to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s despicable fascist-type dictatorship.
But things have changed for us Iraqis. Our new priorities are to keep Iraq intact (the risks of Iraq descending into civil war are still real), to build a strong independent and democratic trade union movement and to create a federal democratic and fully sovereign Iraq.
The election at the end of January represented an historic breakthrough. 60 per cent of Iraq’s population

United we understand: John Lloyd, Financial Times, 22 April 2005

United we understand
By John Lloyd
Published: April 22 2005
Kurdistan, in north-eastern Iraq, is one of those AK-47 lands. All along its roads, shortish men in camouflage fatigues stop cars and peer in at the passengers, the AK clips on their shoulder straps scratching against the windows. Eventually, they wave the drivers on. Clumps of the same men sit in restaurants, scooping up rice and lamb, their AKs resting on the plastic table tops. These are the peshmergas, the guerrilla fighters who fought off Saddam Hussein

‘What now for Iraq?’, Abdullah Muhsin – Fabian Review

What now for Iraq?
Abdullah Muhsin
15 March 2005,
Fabian Review (quarterly publication of the Fabian Society)
The January 30 election was an historic breakthrough in the development of the new Iraq as a free, democratic and open society. Iraqis defied the totalitarianism of Saddam’s loyalists and the fundamentalism of Al Zarqawi, and they refused to heed the advice of cultural imperialists on the hard left who said: ‘we know what is good for you! Dare not to disagree with us or else!’ Both they and the Saddamists were simply wrong: 60 per cent of Iraq’s population

Beyond interpretation: Faleh A Jabar* unravels the seeming paradoxes of the Iraqi election

Faleh A Jabar* unravels the seeming paradoxes of the Iraqi election
Sunday’s announcement, 13 days after the poll took place, of the results of Iraq’s first contested elections in half a century, will determine the make up of local provincial government, the Kurdish regional government and, most importantly, the constituent assembly charged with drafting the permanent constitution.
Even before the votes were counted sundry interpretations were made. Salafis, like the Jordanian extremist Abu Musaab Al-Zarqawi, denounced the elections as a failure. US President George W Bush extolled them as a slap in the face of terrorism. Iran, top of Bush’s second term hit list, viewed them as a rebuke to Washington. In the West the left dismissed elections held under occupation as little more than a conspiracy and they were quickly joined by Baath restorationists and their Arab supporters. Iraqi voters, rightly or wrongly, thought of them as a miracle of kinds, a feat of defiance on the part of the voter. Iraq’s elections, at once a defeat and a victory, the vehicle of both honour and shame, for Iraq, the US, the Arabs, exhibited all the paradoxes of globalised liberalism.
Hardly had the polls closed before the event itself was overshadowed by interpretations of what it might portend. Iraq stands at a crossroads and, like Janus, the Roman god of doorways, faces in more than one direction. This multi-ethnic, multi- religious and multi-cultural nation is, under occupation, on the brink of breaking the sectarian monopoly of power and national wealth. The chronic divorce of nation and state could well be reaching an end. And it is a transition characterised by a tilt towards Islamist conservatism, with all its geopolitical consequences.
It was the Iraqis who pushed for elections. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), under US appointee Paul Bremer, wanted a 3-5 year period in which to restructure Iraq at will along radical liberal lines. What they had failed to factor in to their equation was Iraqi nationalism.
The transfer of sovereignty in June 2004, and last month’s elections, came about because of Iraqi, and not CPA, demands.
That elections, symbol of a popularly mandated and peaceful transition, should so capture the imagination of the majority of Iraqis wrong-footed the media, taking regional commentators as much by surprise as it did those, hailing mainly from Sunni areas, driving violence.
Radical Sunni groups, Salafis and restorationists, abhor any peaceful or institutional political process. Sunni liberals, on the other hand, toyed with the idea of boycott but at the last moment took an active part in the process. The moderate Islamic Party — the old Sunni Muslim Brothers — adopted a different position: it pulled out of the contest while announcing it was prepared to take part in the post-election constitutional process.
Those forces, both Iraqi and regional, seeking to derail elections, failed miserably. The twin tactics of intimidation and boycott failed to prevent 8.5 of some 13-14 million eligible voters from going to the polls. Thirteen suicide bombers, one suffering from Downs Syndrome, were sent on their missions. A handful of poll centres were targets of mortar rounds and there were two reports of gunfire. And that, more or less, was that.
Voters had expected worse. Early birds showed up before 9.00am to avoid attacks. The more audacious ventured out at what many suspected would be the most hazardous time. The bulk waited. Then, by midday, voters rightly guessed Salafi attackers had deployed all they had. The masses poured into voting stations, amazing themselves and the world.
Violent opposition groups had singularly failed to grasp the depth of pro-election sentiments. More than two hundred political entities registered. Tens of thousands stood as candidates. Volunteers flooded to help the Independent Commission for Elections in Iraq, manning 600 registry offices and 9,000 voting stations nationwide in the face of threats, car bombs and assassinations. Their presence was a questioning of the legitimacy of such tactics. The majority of Iraqis viewed elections as means of restoring sovereignty. They could not understand how voting stations could become targets for paradise-bound Jihadists.
As expected the lowest turn out was in the Anbar province (two per cent). Diyala, another violent province, had 34 per cent of voters go to the polls. Baghdad, a mixed city, registered 45 per cent. The highest turnouts were in Kurdish areas, which recorded an average of 80 per cent, and in the Shia provinces of the south, where between 60-80 per cent of voters turned up at the polls.
That more than 150,000, many of them supporters of Interim President Ghazi Al- Yawar, voted in Sunni Mosul came as a surprise, while even Saddam Hussein’s home province of Salahuddin (Tikrit) saw 29 per cent of the electorate casting its vote.
Iraq’s first pluralistic ballot betrayed a crisis of identity. As grand ideologies — Arab socialist-nationalism in its Baath or communist guise, radical Islamism — wane so local identity politics came to the fore, either confessional — Shia versus Sunni — or ethnic — Kurdish versus Arab, Turkmen or Assyrian. And these new aggregate identities, a protest against earlier exclusion, were themselves fractured from within by city, tribal and family loyalties.
Religious institutions, freed from state control, developed into centres of mobilisation and recruitment. Several blocks emerged, most significantly the Shia bloc and the Kurdish list. Beyond these two broad coalitions dozens of liberal, leftist, Iraqi nationalist, tribal, monarchist and ethnic and religious groups orbited.
The Shia and Kurdish blocs had considerable resources at their disposal, both financial and organisational and including extensive infrastructure — mosques, offices and, in certain cases, private militias — in addition to the symbolic capital furnished by religion and ethnicity. The Shia list could also draw on the charisma of Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, with Shia preachers repeatedly warning congregations of the wrath of God should they not vote for Al- Sistani’s list.
The Shia bloc received 4,075,295, or 48.1 per cent, of votes. The Kurdish bloc secured 2,175,551, or 25.7 per cent. Interim Prime Minister Iyad Alawi, effectively single- handedly, secured 1,168,943 votes, or 13 per cent, appealing to the middle classes and stressing strong leadership and security, currently Iraq’s most popular political commodities.
Dozens of other lists failed to secure the 30,000 votes required for a single seat in the constituent assembly. Only a few others survived, including the Iraqi Communist Party with 70,000 votes, the Al-Sadr faction, competing as Kawadir wa Nukhab (Cadres and Elites), with 65,000, and, on the back of his personal vote in Mosul, the list headed by Interim President Ghazi Al-Yawir.
Overall, Iraqis voted against the deposed Baath, for peaceful transition, for power sharing, for religious leaders, for an end to the monopolising of power and against chaos and violence.
The three successful blocs — Al-Sistani, Kurdish and Alawi lists — will determine the future of Iraq, while the failure of Sunnis opposed to elections to have them postponed has many repercussions.
It has strengthened the resolve of other groups to advocate legal ways of balanced power sharing and to restore Iraq’s national sovereignty — i.e. end the occupation — peaceably. The dynamics of the Palestinian elections and national consensus-building have provided Iraqis with a strong case to cite and emulate.
The elections have legitimised national politics and created a momentum behind the constitutional process. Radical Sunnis, such as the Society of Muslim Ulama (Society of Doctors of Religion) led by Dr Harith Al- Dhari, an advocate of violent opposition, appeared stunned by the massive turn out and by their ensuing marginalisation. Their boycott of the process not only deprived them of any meaningful representation but allowed over representation of the Shia bloc. Had Sunnis gone to the polls the number of votes required per seat would have risen to 50,000. There are already signs that radical Sunnis are rethinking their position and searching for a face-saving exit.
While the success of the Shia bloc inevitably alarms secular and moderate players, domestic, regional and global, it should be remembered that it is an alliance of more than a dozen organisations and that half the list comprised independent candidates. The list encompasses trends in favour of Khomeinism, communalism and Islamic-liberal compromises. And while, for the time being, they will unite in their drive to elect a presidential council and form the transitional government, divisions will become apparent when the constitutional debate begins next month.
Already there is fierce competition between three candidates for the premiership — the moderate Adil Abdul-Mahdi of SCIRI, the conservative Ibrahim Al- Jaafari of the Daawa Party and the notorious liberal opportunist Ahmed Chalabi. It is against such a backdrop that Sunni groups might stage a comeback, initially by involving themselves in drafting the constitution and then, should the outcome be unsatisfactory, by mobilising support so as to prevent the necessary quorum in the ensuing referendum. Should they succeed, then the elections that will have to follow in December 2005 will be far more inclusive.
Two days before the elections the first armoured Iraqi division was deployed and applauded by the public. If two other divisions can be combat ready by the end of this year, as planned, the confluence of political legitimacy and capacity building is likely to bring the insurgency to breaking point. At which time the possibility opens for a gradual reclaiming of the centre ground in Iraq’s politics and the promotion of a more moderate trajectory.
* The writer is an Iraqi sociologist, research fellow at Birkbeck College, University of London, and author of many books on Iraqi state, religion, tribes and discourses. His latest publication is: The Shi’ite Movement in Iraq , London, Saqi Books, 2003.