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IRAQ: Female bomber cartoon stirs anger

September 23, 2008 |  1:13 pm

The weekly newspaper that calls itself Al Esbuyia, or Iraq Weekly, offers a regular diet of sports, culture, features and sarcasm to readers, and one of its key features is the cartoon that accompanies each new issue. Most of the cartoons poke fun at the hardships endured by regular Iraqis, but some Iraqi lawmakers found the one published Sept. 14 to be not very amusing.Cartoon_2

It shows a Muslim woman clad in a burka holding a burning bomb fuse in her raised left hand, a la the Statue of Liberty, who stands beside her. The drawing reflects the growing number of female suicide bombers in Iraq, but members of Iraq's parliament denounced it as an insult to Iraqi Muslim women and voted Sunday to sue the newspaper for defamation.

It's too early to say where, if anywhere, the lawsuit will go. For months, Iraqi lawmakers haven't been able to pass pressing legislation to hold provincial elections or share the nation's oil wealth, so the chances of them getting organized enough to push through a lawsuit like this seem remote.

But the action itself is another sign of the Iraqi government's prickly relationship with the media, which were hobbled for decades under Saddam Hussein. His ouster ushered in press freedom, sort of. Iraqi journalists and media company employees get gunned down, kidnapped, threatened and roughed up with alarming frequency. They also get detained and held, sometimes for months, by U.S. forces.

The head of the national syndicate of journalists escaped an assassination attempt last week, which came less than a week after three journalists and a driver working for the independent Sharqiya newspaper were kidnapped and killed. A law passed in May 2007 bans photographers from bomb sites, and those who have defied the law have been shot at or had their camera gear seized.

Cartoon2 The weekly cartoons in Al Esbuyia highlight the violence as well as the other hardships facing Iraqis. One shows a man, apparently a typical Iraqi, with his head virtually bursting with worry about electricity, water, food and explosions.

The most recent cartoon, published Sunday, shows a skinny Iraqi man in tattered clothing announcing that he is fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, not just from sun-up to sundown as faithful are obliged to do, but after sunset as well. The message is a jab at the financial difficulties facing many Iraqis as they struggle to feed themselves and their families.

See more of the newspaper's cartoons here.

The newspaper's supervising editor, Mustafa Abed Latif Kahdimy, said the lawmakers' reaction to the cartoon in question was unreasonable. He dismissed legislators' claims that it was insulting to Muslim women. "The caricature was ... clearly against Al Qaeda and terrorism," he said. There have been at least 30 female suicide bombers in Iraq so far this year, compared with eight all of last year. U.S. and Iraqi officials say Al Qaeda in Iraq is recruiting women because it is finding it harder to find male bombers.

Kahdimy said the attempt to punish his newspaper, which began publishing last December, was politically motivated. Iraq's parliament is dominated by conservative Shiite Muslims. "What is happening is dangerous, and it contradicts our constitution," he said.

During a speech Tuesday night to Iraqi media, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki praised journalists for doing their job in the face of threats from insurgents. He said the media under Hussein were "imprisoned behind the cells of dictatorship" and that their talents were allowed to flourish under the new government. But Maliki said journalists had duties that go along with freedom, including being accurate and not exaggerating.

He said the government was still  "seeking the proper mechanism for protecting journalists, because their profession is sacred." 

But Al Esbuyia's editors remain skeptical of the government's support for their profession. "This act demonstrates one thing," the paper's general manager, Nawfal Abed Majeed, said of the lawmakers' response to the cartoon. "There is no democracy or free journalism in Iraq."   
 
— Tina Susman and Caesar Ahmad in Baghdad

Graphics: Courtesy of Al-Esbuyia

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