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Saddam's Archives: Iraq's Media War

| 5 Comments

Revelations concerning Saddam's network of influence are coming thick and fast in the wake of his regime's collapse. Take "Saddam's Cash," a very interesting article in the current Weekly Standard.

Saddam's media campaign was actually based on a very common intelligence practice, the concept of "agents of influence." What's especially interesting about Iraq's approach is the completeness of its infrastructure... not to mention the likelihood that this is just the beginning of a flood of revelations. Remember this?

REUTERS, April 1, 2003 (Merissa Marr): "IRAQ IS WINNING the battles in the propaganda war with a modest media strategy, despite a multi-million dollar U.S. campaign featuring painstakingly choreographed briefings and Hollywood-style sets. Undeterred by America's elaborate media plan, Iraq is making its mark on the airwaves with its decidedly basic approach, media pundits say..."
It certainly was basic. Just not modest. Or cheap:
"Some of the transactions were straightforward cash payments, often in U.S. dollars, handed out from Iraqi embassies in Arab capitals - luxury cars delivered to top editors, Toyotas for less influential journalists. "This was not secret," says Salama Nimat, a Jordanian journalist who was jailed briefly in 1995 in that nation for highlighting the corruption. "Most of it was done out in the open."

Other transactions were surreptitious or deliberately complex--coveted Iraqi export licenses for family members of politicians, oil kickbacks through third parties, elaborate "scholarship" arrangements. In a region where leaders count their fortunes by the billion and workers by the penny, such payoffs are common. The Saudis, of course, have financed public works throughout the Middle East and Africa. But no one played the game like Saddam Hussein."

The rest of the article describes a network that reached throughout the Arab world, and into Europe and the United States too. Arab publics, stunned already by the obvious reality inversion they were subjected to during the war, should brace themselves for another set of shocks. They probably won't be the only ones.
One "top Egyptian editor" told the Wall Street Journal back in 1991 about a conversation he had with Saddam. "I remember his saying, 'Compared to tanks, journalists are cheap--and you get more for your money.'"
Yes, you do. Just ask CNN. Nor is this the end of the matter.

Like the Soviet and Nazi states upon which Ba'athist ideology is based, Saddam's bureaucracy kept documents. Lots and lots of documents. In the war's aftermath, Saddam's bureaucratic paper-mine has a lot of claim-stakers. Sifting through the haystacks has just begun, and there are sharp needles aplenty to be found. With help, of course, from Iraqi factions and Western intelligence agencies. They, too, have reasons to cultivate journalists.

British MP Geroge Galloway, known to be living beyond his obvious means for years, was simply the first revelation. He made himself a large and obvious target; clearly, some digging has been done to ensure his exposure. He was first, but he will not be the last. Nor should he be.

UPDATE: Laughing Wolf comments.

5 Comments

In the Stasi Headquarters (now a museum) it said that West German TV's most famous East Berlin correspondent was on their payroll.

Hmmmm. For each cruise missle we could have sent a Bentley. I wonder how the war could have been avoided if we spread enough of those around?

Avoided? Not at all, unless you believe a raging mob of journalists would have been driven to overthrow Saddam. At best, the war would have been covered more nicely.

Bribes are Saddam's game, and following that lead just entrenches the blatant media corruption that is the central problem of Arab media (ours too, as CNN shows - but not to the same extent).

The information in Saddam's vaults is currency of a different kind. Used properly, it can create real changes in the dynamics of the region. Give a jornalist a Bentley, he's set for 10 years. Help him establish a reputation in his field with solid scoops, and he's set for a lifetime.

Vietnam: the first real media war.

I think 1st Lt. Mark V. Shaney USMC said it best when he said:

"Responsible journalism should include responsibility for one's actions in publishing a news story in such a way that puts many other people in harm's way; has a direct result of publication of a particular story might have on other people."

Raymond Onnard
And as always: "Quidquid excusatio prandium pro!

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