In May 2001 Saddam Hussein was re-elected leader of the Baath party, in power since 1979. Apart from this title, he has the functions of State president, Prime Minister, president of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) - the highest state authority - and head of the armed forces. Iraq is the only Arab country that did not condemn the 11 September attacks in the United States. In response to the US air strikes on Afghanistan, the Iraqi president vigorously criticised the retaliation policy and denounced the "silence" of the United Nations. In November Oudai Hussein, the president’s son, called on all the media to rally against the "Anglo-American-Zionist plot".
For the past 20 years Saddam Hussein has controlled the media with an iron fist and has given them the single mission of relaying his propaganda. Oudai Hussein, chairman of the editorial committees of many newspapers, is also responsible for the broadcasting media, including the most popular of three television channels, Shabab Television, and the radio station Voice of Iraq which broadcasts on FM - in English!
Both at home and abroad the government seeks to silence all dissident voices. In March, 30 journalists were reportedly excluded from the journalist’s union on orders from Oudai Hussein, also general secretary of the union, under the pretext that they no longer practised journalism. The real reason was reportedly that they refused to work under the orders of the new editors-in-chief appointed by the president’s son. The union has a list of all journalists who left Iraq in the past ten years. In just one year, 2001, close to 50 journalists are said to have left the country. At the same time, the information minister asked all the press services of foreign embassies to give him the names of journalists who write in opposition media. Some 300 journalists and writers are reportedly on the list.
The best way for Iraqis to get news other than official propaganda is by listening to foreign radio stations like RMC-Moyen-Orient, the BBC or Voice of America. Despite repeated promises by the government to allow satellite dishes, the only Iraqis who have access to foreign channels are the country’s elite.
The Internet is accessible from several cybercafés in the capital but is strictly controlled by the security police. Users are limited to sites authorised by the government, the only access provider.
The contrast with Iraqi Kurdistan is striking. There are reportedly 200 newspapers and magazines, two satellite television channels, about 20 local television channels and about ten radio stations for a territory no larger than Switzerland. Yet although these media have far more room to manoeuvre than those in the rest of Iraq, most of them, financed by political parties, practise self-censorship.
Two journalists kidnapped
On 1 January 2001 the authorities still deny detaining any journalists and categorically refuse to open an inquiry. Aziz al-Sayed Jasim, journalist with Al Qadissiya, Al Ghad and Al Thawra, was taken to a secret detention centre in April 1991 for refusing to write a book to the glory of Saddam Hussein. He has never been seen since. Hachem Dharam, journalist with the daily Al QadissiyaI, also disappeared in April 1991 without leaving a trace.
A journalist jailed
In late September 1999 Hachem Hasan, editor-in-chief of the daily Al Thawra, was arrested by Iraqi security police on the Jordanian border. The journalist allegedly tried to flee the country after being threatened by Oudai Hussein for refusing the position of manager of the magazine Arrafidayne. He is reportedly detained in a jail in Tribel province.
President Saddam Hussein has been denounced as a predator of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders.