After increasing the number of restrictions on the press during the Gulf War, the Iraqi government shows no sign of allowing other voices to be heard, despite repeated promises.
’Western democracy provides a breeding ground for minority influence over the majority’, Saddam Hussein explained on the official Radio Baghdad on 17 September 1991. The Iraqi leader added that the western press was ’under the influence of capital’ and that in Iraq, control of the media by private capitol would not be ’in the interests of the masses’. In support of these statements, the low introducing a ’multiparty’ system come into force the some day after much wrangling - it had been approved by parliament on 4 July, amended on 24 August because it was ’too liberal’ and was finally promulgated an 3 September by the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), the country’s highest authority. According to the new law, political parties are allowed to have their own objectives but they must he in favour of ’the notion and the people’. Those that promote ’atheism, religion, racism or sectarianism’ ore banned, as is any political activity within the ormy. And while the new low allows parties to own a political newspaper or magazine, it bars them from having any ’direct or indirect’ contacts with foreign states. There was no rush to take advantage of this offer and the only new publications to be registered were launched by the head of state’s own son.
After the Gulf War when extremely strict censorship was imposed on all the foreign media, and the suppression of the Shi’ite rebellion in the south-east and the Kurdish uprising in the north-west, during which many special correspondents were arrested or detained, Iraq’s military rulers opporently had no intention of keeping their promises about democratisation. One of the four journalists killed in Iraq during 1991 was shot by the Iraqi army. The amnesty declared on 21 July, which independent Kurdish sources said should have meant the release of 3,000 political prisoners, apparently did not concern the seven Iraqi journalists held in Baghdad jails since 1979 and 1980. They were even joined by two others. Even now, the only alternative to official propaganda - which talks about ’the great victory won against 30 nations’ - is a British videocassette called ’Desert Storm’ which is passed around under cover.
Mahmoud Abdel Azim Megahed, a journalist with the Middle East News Agency of Egypt, was reported missing on 13 January 1991. His employers said he returned to Egypt a month later. On 19 January, the 25 foreign correspondents who stayed in Baghdad ofter the launching of the American offensive two days earlier were confined to the Rachid Hotel on the orders of the Iraqi authorities. Four were allowed to stay in the country : the correspondents of the American TV company Cable News Network (CNN) and the Spanish daily EI Mundo, a photographer from the Soviet news agency Novosti and a Lithuanian journalist The other 21 were told they would be ’expelled temporarily for a few days’ because ’proper living conditions con no longer be guaranteed’. They were bundled hastily into toxis, forced to leave their equipment behind and charged a high price for being driven to Jordan under escort. Three photographers, Frenchmen Lourent Van der Stockt of the Gamma agency and Patrick de Noirmont, and German Thomas Kern, were arrested for ’spying’, detained blindfold throughout the night of 19 to 20 January and beaten up before being put in a taxi for Jordan.
A crew from the American TV company CBS disappeared near the border between Iraq and Kuwait on 21 January. They had been arrested by Saddam Hussein’s troops and were held in Baghdad until 2 March. The following day Bruce Cheesmon, an Australian journalist reported missing on 17 January, resurfaced.
Fifteen foreign journalists were given permission to enter Iraq on 30 january. Until 8 February, when all except Peter Amen of CNN were taken back to Jordan, they worked in the some conditions as before, obliged to submit their reports for prior censorship.
Aziz al-Sayed Jasim, a writer, former editor of the Ba’ath party daily Al Thowra (The Revolution) and contributor to the newspapers Al Ghad and Labour Voices, disappeared from circulation in February. Some reports said the former political prisoner (he was held from 1988 to 1989) had been arrested by Iraqi security forces and was being detained without charge. The authorities denied this, saying that the journalist had last been seen at Karbala, south of Baghdad, in March.
On 4 February, offer the Allied Forces’ bombing of Baghdad, the radio station set up in Kuwait City by the Iraqi army on 25 January, Radio Ournel Moorek (Mother of All Battles), stopped broadcasting. Shortly afterwards The Voice of Free Iraq, on opposition radio broadcasting from Syria, took its place on the same wavelength.
Peter Arnell admitted on 9 February that iraqi officials had used his satellite telephone to communicate with other countries. He had reportedly refused this ’service’ to other American journalists in Baghdad. As fighting raged between Iraqi forces and Shi’ite rebels in the southern port of Basro on 5 March, a convoy of foreign journalists trying to get to the oreo was stopped by members of Iraq’s elite Republican Guard. After five days during which many contradictory statements about what had happened to them were released, the 43 correspondents (18 French, 11 American, four British, three Italian, two Brazilian, two Norwegian, one Uruguayan, one Spanish and one Irish) were handed over to a Red Cross representative and sent back to Jordan.
On 6 March, the Iraqi authorities gave foreign journalists 48 hours to leave the country, with one exception - a TV crew from World Television News. Iraqi troops launched a major offensive on 29 March to recapture areas in the north-west of the country ’liberated’ by the peshmergas (Kurdish guerrillas). Fifty-three foreign journalists whom the rebels had allowed into the area without visas were forced to flee - and sometimes swim - to neighbouring Turkey- Three were arrested by Iraqi soldiers near Kirkuk. God Gross, a German photographer from the American agency JB Pictures covering the war for Newsweek magazine, and the journalists’ Kurdish guide were immediately shot. Alain Buu, a photographer with the French agency Gamma, and Frank Smith, a freelance working for CBS and the American newspaper The Village Voice, were only spared because an army officer arrived on the scene. Taken to Kirkuk and accused of being ’CIA agents’, they were interrogated blindfold for several hours. On 3 April they were transferred to a Baghdad prison before being released 12 days later.
Three British freelances covering the war in Iraqi Kurdistan for BBC Television, Nicholas Della Casa, his wife Rosanna and brother-in-law Charles Maxwell, were lost seen at Dohuk on 31 March. The bodies of the two men were found by British soldiers on 23 May and identified in London five days later. In late August, their Turkish guide told British detectives he had killed them after a row about how much he was to be paid. On 3 June Kurdish sources said Rosonna Della Cosa had been killed by Turkish soldiers as she was filming them ill-treating Kurdish refugees in a camp near the Iraqi border. The Turkish government denies this. The body found on 17 July by British investigators was believed to be hers.
Richard Binet, Didier Dahan and Fabien Briand from the French TV channel Antenne 2 were stopped by Iraqi soldiers on 9 April as they were travelling from Kuwait City to An Nasiriya in southern Iraq. Accused of ’illegally entering Iraq’, they were taken to Baghdad and held until 20 April.
Dharam Hachem, a journalist with the national daily AI Qadissiah published by the Defence Ministry (the name refers to an Arab victory over the Persians in the year 636), was arrested outside the information Ministry in Baghdad in late April. He had apparently written on article criticising the new press law under discussion. He has not been seen since. Americans Bud Mills and Barry Severson of CBS and British journalist Richard Parrot were arrested by Iraqi troops as they were travelling from Kuwait City to Basra on 6 May. They were taken to Baghdad for questioning and freed 48 hours later.
Mark Fritz, special correspondent for the news agency Associated Press, and his interpreter-guide were arrested near Safuan, southern Iraq, on 12 May. They were released on 14 May after being detained and interrogated in Basra.
The correspondent for the German television channel Deutsches Fernsehen, Elisabeth Schmidt, was stopped by Iraqi police near Kirkuk on 29 May. After eight hours of interrogation in Kirkuk, she was token to Baghdad and detained in a hotel until 3 June.
The editor of Al Thawra, Hami Sad, was relieved of his duties on 22 June and transferred to the ’office of people’s organisations’ which is directly answerable to the RCC. The newspaper did not appear that day and no reason was ever given for the move. Hami Sad was replaced by Sabah Yassine, general secretary of the Union of Iraqi journalists.
Radio broadcasts to Iraq by the BBC and The Voice of America were jammed again from 11 August. On 18 August, because of the international embargo against Iraq, the national press - six dailies, one weekly and a sports newspaper - cut both circulation and the number of pages by 25 per cent. The dailies Al Thawra and Al Qadissiah cut the number of pages in their 16-page weekly supplements by half, while the government daily Al Joumhouriya (The Republic) stopped producing a supplement of all.
As the Iraqi army relaunched an offensive against the Kurdish guerrillas on 7 September, the official radio Idaa’a Sawt Al Jamahir (The Voice of the Masses) began putting out programmes in Kurdish, Aramaic and Turkic again. These broadcasts had stopped in January 1991. The government’s propaganda aim was to counteract the pirate radios set up by the rebels.
The Kurdistan Patriotic Union, one of the eight political parties in the Iraqi Kurdistan Front coalition opposing the Baghdad government, started the Kurdistan People’s Channel, the region’s first television station, on 13 September. It broadcast three hours of programmes every evening, including 20 minutes of news, within a 10-mile radius around Zhako near the Turkish border.
Ouda Soddarn Hussein, the Iraqi leader’s son and editor of the capital’s new daily Babel (Bobylon), launched in April, founded the league of Arab Writers and journalists on 17 October. Its stated objective : ’to mobilise energy for the defence of democracy and freedom for Arab writers and journalists, and in particular the freedom to express their opinions through all the democratic channels available’.
Ouda Saddam Hussein’s burst of creativity continued on 24 October with the launching of Al Rafidan (The Two Rivers), an 80-page colour weekly aimed at’unmasking and exposing those (Arab) politicians and intellectuals who harm the interests of Iraq and the Arab nation’.
Publication of both Babel and Al Rafidan was ’temporarily suspended’on 9 November. Mouzher Aref, editor of the two titles, hinted that the decision was the result of paper shortages due to the continuing’international embargo and the refusal of other Iraqi newspapers to’cooperate’ with the newcomers, forcing them to buy paper on the black market. The weekly was back on the newsstands on 23 November, when its editor stated that the suspension had not been decided in high places but dictated by the desire to ’take a break and get off to a fresh start’. The next day, the Iraqi national council (parliament) authorised Babel to start publishing again - the first time a newspaper had asked the national council for permission to publish. The reason given was that the Cabinet, responsible under the Press Code for dealing with such matters, had not taken a decision within the statutory month after Babel’s original request in April. The daily was on sale again on 30 November because, according to Ouda Saddam Hussein, it had been ’Well received by the people’. He implied that the newspaper had been suspended because of differences of opinion among the ruling class. Babel had indeed made attempts to tackle sensitive issues, calling openly for Stronger measures to deal with prostitution and even pointing the finger at certain ministers. In his 30 November editorial, Ouda Saddam Hussein said Babel planned to ’keep the some line’ but would avoid in future giving the names of ’deviationists and lawbreakers’ so as not to give them a chance to put their evil intentions into effect.