News / Middle East

    After Iraqi Army Crumbles, Maliki Turns to State TV for Help

    A member of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) takes his position during patrol looking for militants of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in a neighborhood in Ramadi, July 23, 2014.
    A member of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) takes his position during patrol looking for militants of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in a neighborhood in Ramadi, July 23, 2014.
    Reuters

    State television is working overtime to persuade Iraqis to help Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki confront an al-Qaida offshoot that  has seized wide tracts of the country, but its unifying call has been blunted by his sectarian reputation.

    Since the humiliating loss of much of Iraq's north to Islamic State insurgents, the official Iraqiya channel has been churning out patriotic videos of marching soldiers, heavily-armed commandos and even singers and actors to rally the public behind the government.

    The theatrics are reminiscent of life under Saddam Hussein, whose propaganda machine put a positive spin on disasters like his 1990 invasion of Kuwait or 1980-88 war with Iran.

    Instead of increasing confidence in Maliki, the campaign has highlighted what critics say is the Shi'ite Muslim premier's failure to unite Iraq against Islamist insurgents who have put the country's survival as a unified state in jeopardy.

    "We laugh, of course with pain, when the government repeats the same bullshit as Saddam," said Qassim Sabti, a 60-year-old artist.

    Mohamed Abdul Jabar al-Shaboot, head of the Iraqi Media Network that broadcasts Iraqiya, said feedback on the videos had been generally good across Iraq's communal spectrum.

    "There have been some voices that did not approve of these kind of activities, saying they recalled the patriotic songs that filled TV screens under Saddam Hussein," he told Reuters.

    "But there's a big difference because our songs emphasize  love of homeland and steadfastness and tolerance while the songs of Saddam's time glorified one person, certified worship of the one and only leader focusing on Saddam's personality."

    Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, center, attends the funeral ceremony of Major General Negm Abdullah Ali, commander of the army's sixth division, at the Defense Ministry in Baghdad, July 7, 2014.Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, center, attends the funeral ceremony of Major General Negm Abdullah Ali, commander of the army's sixth division, at the Defense Ministry in Baghdad, July 7, 2014.
    x
    Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, center, attends the funeral ceremony of Major General Negm Abdullah Ali, commander of the army's sixth division, at the Defense Ministry in Baghdad, July 7, 2014.
    Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, center, attends the funeral ceremony of Major General Negm Abdullah Ali, commander of the army's sixth division, at the Defense Ministry in Baghdad, July 7, 2014.

    Still, many Iraqis see Maliki as a polarizing figure who has deepened sectarian divisions, and Iraqiya as his propaganda arm rather than the unifying public service it says it is.

    His marginalization of Sunni Muslims has caused some to find common cause with the Islamic State, which aims to reshape the Middle East and impose its radical ideology.

    Maliki, who has served in a caretaker capacity since an election in April, has defied calls by Sunnis, Kurds and even some Shi'ites to step aside in favor of a less polarizing leader needed to lead a unified response to the insurgency.

    The man who spent years in exile plotting against Saddam seems content to use the same tactics the dictator, a Sunni, employed to create the impression of invincibility.

    Impression of invincibility

    "Maliki is presenting himself as a national leader pitted against Sunni militants. The message is: if you're against me, you're with the terrorists," said analyst Ramzy Mardini.

    "In his mind, now is not the time to compromise and look weak and vulnerable," said Mardini, a non-resident fellow at the Washington think-tank Atlantic Council.

    For many, the television clips are a reminder that Iraq's turmoil never seems to let up: war and misadventure under Saddam and now a repeat of the sectarian bloodshed that brought the country to civil war during the U.S. occupation that ousted him.

    Since 2003, slick ads demonizing "terrorists" have often been aired. Both state television and pro-government channels have broadcast confessions of captured men, which critics have dismissed as propaganda.

    State TV has recently been giving plenty of air time to footage of columns of Iraqi soldiers marching in a Baghdad parade ground near a huge crossed-swords monument to the war with Iran erected by Saddam and left intact by his successors.

    While Saddam had a firm grip on his army, Maliki has presided over the decline of the 800,000-strong force built and trained by the United States into a hollow institution riven by corruption and sectarian splits.

    Soldiers deserted their posts en masse last month in the cities of Mosul and Tikrit, which fell at an alarming pace to the Islamic State and allied Sunni groups.

    A fighter from the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), mans an anti-aircraft gun mounted on the rear of a vehicle in Mosul, Iraq, July 16, 2014.A fighter from the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), mans an anti-aircraft gun mounted on the rear of a vehicle in Mosul, Iraq, July 16, 2014.
    x
    A fighter from the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), mans an anti-aircraft gun mounted on the rear of a vehicle in Mosul, Iraq, July 16, 2014.
    A fighter from the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), mans an anti-aircraft gun mounted on the rear of a vehicle in Mosul, Iraq, July 16, 2014.

    Iraqis now see Iranian-trained Shi'ite militias as a powerful force rivaling the military in the ability to challenge the well-equipped, disciplined militants, whose conquests are documented on social media websites.

    Iraq's government, meanwhile, has pressed privately-owned media to create the same narrative as state television.

    Shortly after Mosul's fall, the official Communications and Media Commission ordered Iraqi media to "focus on the security achievements of the armed forces" and avoid reporting anything that "may be interpreted against security forces."

    Such a directive would improperly shield the government from criticism and some private media have complained of being threatened with the loss of their broadcasting licenses if they do not comply, Human Rights Watch said in a July 3 report.

    Documented viewing habits of Iraqis are hard to come by, but many among all communities often tune in to non-state satellite channels such as BBC Arabic and al Jazeera where they get a very different take on the news.

    Some skepticism, some hope

    State television's best efforts to inspire confidence in the country's armed forces are met with skepticism.

    One video often broadcast pays tribute to “The Golden Division”, a Shi'ite-dominated anti-terrorism unit under Maliki's command that Sunnis say has targeted their community.

    “We are lions ... We are the red death,” croons Mohamed Abdel Jabar, a popular singer known for his romantic ballads.

    The pudgy man wearing a uniform to match the commandos twirls a pistol and bounces to the beat as the heavily-armed men march in a crouched position, their weapons cocked.

    Still, in an increasingly fragmented country, such images offer hope to some.

    A 22-year-old soldier watching traffic in central Baghdad while fiddling with his machinegun said the songs were “a good thing because they motivate us ... Soldiers play them after they pray and before they go attack [militants] and before they storm buildings and carry out raids.”

    Abu Abdullah, a 45-year-old electrical engineer, agreed.

    “I think a lot of people watch these videos, because the situation is difficult and we need this psychological support.  Of course we have no interest in terrorism taking over, we just want our lives to continue,” said Abu Abdullah.

    Some, even those involved in the morale-boosting drive, fear that the videos will only stoke sectarian strife.

    “These bloody songs are part of the problem and not part of the solution,” said poet Amr Asi Jabar, who wrote the lyrics to “Righteous Men”, one of the songs frequently aired on television since rebels began hanging their black flags on captured land.

    Maliki has also tried to fire up Iraqis against the Islamic State during weekly televised addresses to the nation.

    But Iraq's top clerics have been much more successful in this respect. In a June 13 speech telecast by Iraqiya, Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani urged Iraqis to take up arms against the Sunni insurgents and tens of thousands, ranging from teenagers to the elderly, heeded his call.

    Shaboot said the state network has produced more than 10 videos: “Art and artists are playing an important role in the current battle Iraq is fighting against terrorism.”

    But the campaign has not reassured people like Abeer Majid. The Sunni mother of three who works at a central Baghdad travel agency fled Shi'ite Sadr City for the neighborhood of Dora, fearful for her family's safety.

    Dora residents say Shi'ite soldiers and militiamen have been conducting random house-to-house searches since the Islamic State's lightning advance in the north, unnerving Sunnis who feel they will pay a heavy price for the insurgency.

    “We don't need songs. We need more tangible steps,” said Majid.

    You May Like

    Self-doubt, Cultural Barriers Hinder Cambodian Women in Tech

    Longtime Cambodian tech observer Sok Sikieng says that although more women have joined profession in recent years, there remain significant factors hindering women from reaching tech potential

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Annual festival showcases the region's harvested agriculture, fine wines and offers opportunities to experience the gentle breeze in a hot air balloon flight

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora