Thursday, December 22, 2005

24 Steps To Liberty, Iraqi Journalist

Where The Sea Meets The Shore - Art Littoral by MG

Young, Baghdad-based Iraqi Journalist, 24 Steps To Liberty, runs the very fine and appropriately named 24 Steps To Liberty Blog, where he provides his readers with a Reporter's and Personal Perspective on the Events, Dramas, Politics, and Happenings in Iraq and his Life, as well as his chosen profession of Journalism.

It's The In T View: 24 Steps To Liberty, Iraqi Journalist

MG: Hello 24 Steps to Liberty. Why don't you introduce yourself to the World Audience. Who are you, What are you, Why are you?

24 Steps: I am just an average Iraqi who had the chance and good luck to hookup with one of the best newspapers in the world and has been
working for it as a reporter for almost three years now.

MG: 24 Steps, What is the Most Important Thing to you in Life?

24 Steps: To be able to produce and try to change what should be changed. Mainly, to be part of some era's influence.

MG: Why is Libya's Moammar Ghadaffi still a Colonel and not a General?

24 Steps: Because it doesn't matter if he was a general or soldier. He rules the country and will be ruling it for a long time.

MG: Is he just a Modest Man?

24 Steps: No, he is a hollow, tough-like man with wired ideas.

MG: What makes you Laugh?

24 Steps: Stupidity of some foreigners, who think they know my country more than I do.

MG: What makes you Cry?

24 Steps: My country. My life.

MG: What book that you've read, has had the most influence on your life?

24 Steps: I don't remember the name, it was something like Leave Worry and Start Living, or something like that.

MG: Tell me about Iraq's Children: Are they being Traumatized by the Violence and Destruction? Is there a whole generation of Iraq's Youth with a Void in their Psyches, a Cloud of Darkness in their Souls? And what would you like to see done to alleviate the situation?

24 Steps: We'll have mentally unstable community for the coming 100 years. Mark my word.

MG: 24 Steps: What is your Ultimate Hope for the Children of Iraq?

24 Steps: I just hope one day they can breath freely and not feel targeted or lost, like how I felt while growing up. I wish they can find their future.

MG: How were you or your family members affected by Saddam and the Baathist Government?

24 Steps: Not directly, but we were affected


MG: Who, What, Where, Why, and How: What is the Most Important Question you as an Iraqi Journalist can ask when getting to the Heart of a Story?

24 Steps: What? I love this question. From there, I lead the way to wherever I want.

MG: What is the Typical Day of an Iraqi Journalist like?

24 Steps: Wake up in the morning at about 7am, dress up, and tell himself or herself in the mirror that "No one and nothing will make me upset today." then drive (if has a car) to the office ignoring the stupid government's decision of cars with even car license number could drive a day, and with odd drive the next!!! Arrive to the office. For those who work for foreign news outlets, they read the Iraqi newspapers to get an idea of what is going on. At least eight newspapers. Then read his or her newspaper, then the competition. Then start working. As for me, I look if there is any press conference I should go to do any interview I already set up and go to. Or, as usual, for those who cover violence, go out to the every-day-bombings. By the time they come back from all this stuff, it is almost 4 or 5 pm. They file and, as for me, go back home at around 9pm. That's it. (that's in fact a typical day for me)

MG: The hotel near your office in Baghdad was recently targeted by Suicide Bombers causing some damage to it: So, how Dangerous is it to be a Reporter in Iraq?

24 Steps: It is one of the most dangerous and unappreciated jobs in Iraq now. You never know when you are going to be in the wrong place.

MG: Have you lost any Journalist Friends or Aquaintances to the violence?

24 Steps: No.

MG: Do you feel safe/secure returning to your workplace after a close explosion, or is the thought always in the back of your mind, the next time they're going to strike directly at me?

24 Steps: No, in fact that day, when they hit a few yards away from the office, I was on my way driving to the office, but the shooting afterward and targeting any car drove by the scene prevented me from entering the compound. So I had to wait for another hour to go back. And this is not the first time this happens near the office, we had car bomb pretty much the same distance as the one happened while ago. So, it is not a big deal. It became an expected drama.

MG: Is it a tight-knit community of Iraqi journalists? Do you know each other and watch out for each other?

24 Steps: No.

MG: Do you have be secretive when discussing your job, especially in your own neighborhood?

24 Steps: I don't even discuss it. That would be attempting suicide.

MG: How does the Average Iraqi view Journalists, especially those working with the Western Media?

24 Steps: Well, it differs according to level of education, but mainly they think we are "rich" people and don't care about our country or conveying the truth and that we just follow what the foreigners say.

MG: Do Iraqi Journalists fall in love with each other? Is Inter-Journalism Dating common?

24 Steps: This issue is not a big deal here, so I don't hear about it at all.

MG: Is there Government Censorship of the Media in Iraq?

24 Steps: Of course there is, but hidden. And they cannot prevent you from writing something, but they would target you through the irregular armed militias, which all belong to parties that dominate the government.

MG: Is there Religious Censhorship of the Iraqi Media? Can you or any of your fellow reporters write an article critical of Islam?

24 Steps: No, we are free to write, but again, it is the tradition. You would be also targeted just because you violated the rule of traditions.

MG: Are there some reporters in Iraq who are Gore Junkies? People attracted to the Death, Destruction, and Misery?

24 Steps: I haven't hear this before.

MG: After interviewing the family members of victims of the various Massacres, Explosions,
and Shootings, how do you Decompress, Escape from Trauma And Refresh your Mind? Do you take the events of your work day home with you?

24 Steps: I just don't think about it after I am done. I've never thought of a bombing scene after I filed the report to the newspaper or my bureau chief. Otherwise, I would be mentally sick now.

MG: What's the most annoying thing to you about the Foreign Media in Iraq?

24 Steps: Many of the news outlets have their own agenda. Plus, they come to Iraq with no idea about the country and its tradition, which leads to exchanged misunderstanding and disrespect.

MG: Tell me about your Mother. What is Special about her?

24 Steps: She is very sacrificing. She spent her life trying to make my siblings and I be the best. My parents lost the best of their years just to give us the best always.

MG: You tell us via your Blog, that you don't like Tomatoes. Neither do I, but I like tomato sauce for some reason. So, what foods do you like? And what is a Perfect Meal to you?

24 Steps: I like what the Americans would call "junk food." And I love pastry. My favorite meal though is Cheeseburger and fries, or onion rings.

MG: What do you do to Relax, to get away from it all?

24 Steps: Sleep. Nothing else to help in my country now.

MG: Can Islam and Democracy Coexist? Because as Dennis Prager notes via a Freedom House study on Democracy:
Of the world's 47 Muslim countries, only Mali is free. Sixty percent are not free, and 38% are partly free. Muslim-majority states account for a majority of the world's "not free" states. And of the 10 "worst of the worst," seven are Islamic states.
So, what exactly is the problem between Islam and Democracy?

24 Steps: Islam cannot work parallel with democracy. That's just impossible. But that doesn't mean Islam is a bad religion or includes bad ideologies. For many people, it works well by itself. But to combine it with democracy?? Never.

MG: Are you upset at the Jordanians for their double standards? When the Jordanian Jihadists
and others were terrorizing Iraqis, there was silence, even support for the terror from the people of Jordan, but after the Hotel Bombings in Amman and Sunni on Sunni violence, now there's suddenly 200,000-strong Jordanian protests? Is there a Hypocricy here?

24 Steps: We have lost thousands of innocent people to terrorism, we have the right to be upset. And the Jordanians lost a number of their citizens to terrorism too, and the have the right to protest.

The United States

You recently accompanied a group of Foreign Journalists visiting the United States: What was the experience like to you?

24 Steps: A five-year-old child, who has to do nothing but live peacefully. And work-wise, it was perfect to meet with my audience and know how much they lack information and how much they are misinformed.

MG: What's the Best Memory you have of the United States?

24 Steps: How generous and hospitable people are.

MG: Tell us about some of the preconcevied notions or beliefs about America that were expressed to you in Iraq? You mention in your Blog, that people kept telling you to watch out, the Americans would hurt you?

24 Steps: Yes, I was told and asked to be careful and not to stay out late at night and that I shouldn't advertise that I am a Muslim from Iraq because people might hurt me, for example, be mugged or stabbed to death. My reaction was that I stayed out late every night. Went out with strangers, whom I didn't know but for a few hours. And wherever I went, I advertised myself as a Muslim HUMANBEING coming from Iraq.

MG: During your visit to the US, you were impressed with all the American Flags that were present, and you saw this as the presence of a National Identity. Do Iraqis lack a similar National Identity?

24 Steps: The Iraqis don't lack this feeling. They are just tired of decades of false calls for the national feeling. And they need to know how to appreciate their country, the one they've never felt safe living in.

MG: Your encounter with the Ocean during your US Visit had a powerful effect on you. Can you describe this feeling to us?

24 Steps: I've been careful all my life, in what I say and what I express. That was because of the tyrant government we were living under. I was imprisoned in a very big cell, that is Iraq. When I faced the ocean, it just gave me a huge space to look at and be free to shout and scream my feelings, which I did at night.

MG: Would you like to come back to the US?

24 Steps: Sure, I would like to meet all my friends there again.


MG: 24 Steps, your Blog name is derived from an encounter you had with the Statue of Liberty, when you were on your American Journey. Can you tell us about it, the meaning of 24 Steps To Liberty?

24 Steps: I was 24 years old when I went to the statue, or ending the 24th. When the guide said "now you will take 24 steps to liberty" I was thrilled. It was like I was liberated, but very late. Every step I had to take to liberty took me a year. That is all about the name.

MG: How did you become interested in Blogging and how did your Blog: 24 Steps to Liberty come about?

24 Steps: Well, very simple. A colleague of mine was doing a story about bloggers and we talked about how much help it would be to myself if I speak things out in a blog. And I was convinced.

MG: Is there another Iraqi or Kurdish Blogger you would like to meet in person and why?

24 Steps: No.

MG: Is there another Iraqi or Kurdish Blogger you'd like to meet in person and give them a kick in the behind, because you can't
stand them?

24 Steps: No. Everyone is allowed to say what he or she wants to say. There is no limits on polite and well-behaved blogging.

MG: Besides your own blog, what other Blogs do you like to read and can Recommend?

24 Steps: Many. In general, whatever feeds my mind.

MG: If the Automobile Genie stopped by your home and said to you, "24 Steps, I grant to thee the wish of any Car in the world of your Choosing - Make Your Choice!" What vehicle would you
select, 24 Steps?

24 Steps: Jaguar, any Jaguar car.

MG: Five Years from Now, Iraq will be?

24 Steps: My country, home, identity, and citizenship.

MG: Thanks very much for a Nice In T View, 24 Steps, and Final Question: Have you ever seen a Ghost?

24 Steps: Not yet!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Iraqi Election: Vahal Of The Iraqi Vote Blog

The Mountains of Northern Iraq, Kurdistan By MG

Iraqi Kurd Vahal Abdulrahman has done an excellent job tracking and profiling this Historic Iraqi Election through his Iraqi Vote Blog, and has graciously consented to answer questions about what could be a Watershed Democratic Moment in the Troubled but Hopeful Nation of Iraq.

It's The Iraqi Election In T View: Vahal Of The Iraqi Vote Blog

In T View and Artwork By MG

MG: How is the News and Media in Iraq covering the Election?

Vahal: For the past at least three weeks, the election has been the single most important issue in the Iraqi media and the coverage has been outstanding.

MG: What party/list do you think Saddam would cast his vote for?

Vahal: That’s a tough question, I don’t think Saddam knows what it means to have choices, his elections used to ask Iraqis, “Do you want Saddam? Yes or No?” So this would be a very novel process for him.

MG: What Worries you about this Election?

Vahal: While it is unlikely, the matter that worries me the most is if the United Iraqi Alliance got enough votes to form a government on its own without a coalition, in which case, we are likely to see the country become increasingly more Islamist.

MG: The Iraqi Expat 2005 Election Voting Experience: Can you share your experience as an Iraqi Expatriate casting his vote, thousand of
miles away from the motherland?

Vahal: I haven’t voted yet, but I plan on voting the morning of the 15th. I waited until the 15th for two reasons, first I wanted to vote on the same day all Iraqis voted and secondly, I wanted to cast my vote with my father who will be in town that day.

MG: Will there be many Dead Iraqis voting in the election? Or many Live Iranians - Do you see a lot of Fraud happening with the election?

Vahal: Undoubtedly there will be some voter fraud, however, I hope the fraud will be balanced with the large turnout that is expected to occur.

MG: What's the latest information on the New York Times report of Iran smuggling forged ballots in to Iraq by tanker truck?

Vahal: Officials from the Ministry of Interior have denied the allegations. But keep in mind that even if that particular incident was false, there will still be voter fraud, I just hope that it will be minimal and that it will not have a great impact on the results.

MG: And How strongly will the Iranians try to influence this election?

Vahal: They will try very hard, however, they realize that there are many people in Iraq who are not crazy about their meddling, not to mention that Iraq has a free and aggressive media that will simply expose them and their allies if need be.

MG: Can Democracy really blossom in Iraq, when the two main Shia Parties and likely leaders
of the new government: SCRI and DAWA have Terrorist Origins?

According to ex-CIA Agent Bob Baier, who dealt with
DAWA back in the 1980s, they were involved in the bombing of the US Embassies in Beiruit and Kuwait.

And the other main Shia party SCIRI, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, according to a 1984 Washington Post story, was put together
by the Ayatollah Khomeni, as an agglomeration of four different terrorist groups for the express purpose of gaining control of Iraq.

Vahal: Iraq cannot become a secular democracy if al-Da’awa and SCIRI are the only ruling parties in the next government, however, that is unlikely to happen. As for the terrorist origins, I want your readers to remember that both of these parties sacrificed a lot during the time when they were anti-Saddam forces. You always see me criticize these religious parties and I will continue to do that, but believe me, they, especially al-Da’wa were very significant oppositionists against the tyrannical Ba’ath regime, and thousands of young Shi’a men were executed for having ties to these parties. Again, the thought of a United Iraqi Alliance of which both SCIRI and Da’awa are part, winning enough votes to form a government on their own scares me, but I don’t think it will happen.

MG: So, have the American Citizens given
over $200 Billions of their Tax Dollars to hand
over Iraq to American-Hating, Iran and Islamo-Fascism/terrorist-supporting groups?

Vahal: No, most Iraqis are grateful for the efforts of the men and women of the United States armed forces. That is why it is crucial that the U.S. stays the course in Iraq and ensures that those who are calling for the murder of U.S. soldiers have no say in the New Iraq. As for Iraq being handed over to Iran, that’s an exaggerated claim and Iran’s efforts will ultimately fail because of the differences between the two countries. Let me give you an example, Iran’s president, Ahmadinajad is calling for the removal of Israel, while Iraq’s Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Ja’afari has just said that he doesn’t rule out normalizing relations with Israel.

MG: What are your Family and Friends back
in Iraq saying about the Election? Are they eager
to participate and planning to vote?

Vahal: Well they’re very excited about the elections and, like most Iraqis, they are eager to see a change in Baghdad politics. This government has miserably failed at providing the Iraqis with security and other public services, so to have a chance to try to change things is absolutely exciting.

MG: There's been a lot of complaints originating from Kurdistan/Northern Iraq about
the stranglehold the two parties -- KDP & PUK
-- have over the political process. Will this
turn the Kurds off from Voting? Could there be a protest vote from them, selecting any lists but the Kurdish one?

Vahal: While there are some in Kurdistan who have expressed their dissatisfaction toward the status quo, the overwhelming majority realize that
a strong presence of Kurdish representatives in Baghdad will help the Kurds in meeting their demands, so like the last election, I anticipate that most Kurds will vote for the Kurdistan Alliance (730) to simply affirm their identity as a separate group from the rest of Iraq, very little has changed in Kurdistan since last January.

MG: Will this be the Last Election the Kurds of Iraq participate in before forming their own Nation?

Vahal: That is a tough question considering the next elections will not be held until 2009. I don’t think the Kurds will opt for independence that quickly and if things in Iraq turn out to be okay, independence may not happen at all.

MG: Dr. Iyad Allawi, head of the Iraqi Nationalist List, #731 and formely the Interim
Prime Minister of Iraq: Do you think the memory
of the Corruption that plagued his administration will hurt his list's chances of obtaining the majority vote?

Vahal: Well I hope that Iraqis have not forgotten about the corruption of that brief term over which Allawi presided. But what you have to remember is that the Ja’afari government wasn’t any better, things didn’t improve and in the case of security, they worsened. Allawi is running on a very clever platform, that of appearing as a tough leader who can take on the terrorists and that will help him get votes, but certainly nowhere near a majority.

MG: Vahal, can Islam and Democracy coexist? Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch thinks that Iraq, "will always be under pressure from the adherents of political Islam, and will have to buy its continued existence via a mixture of force and
concessions." In other words, True Democracy won't occur in Iraq, because there will be external forces acting on and modifying the Political Structure.
Are you more optimistic than Spencer?

Vahal: With all due respect to Mr. Robert Spencer, I would like him to have a look at the lists that are running in the elections, so many of them are led by liberal democrats. Sure we will always have a battle between secular liberals and Islamists, but that battle is being fought by ballots today in Iraq. So I don’t know how to answer your question about “true democracy,” because I don’t know what that means, but it looks like we’re going to have our own democracy where there is respect for the rule of law and human rights. We are striving to build an Iraq that protects minority rights, an Iraq where freedom of religion, _expression, press are rights that cannot be taken away and an Iraq where there is gender equality. But no, it will not be Jeffersonian democracy.

MG: Final Question, Vahal, and Thanks Very Much for a Nice Election T View: Can you tell us
who you voted for or is it a secret?

Vahal: If you don’t mind, I would like to not answer that. However, know that I am a liberal democrat, a secular humanist, I firmly believe in de-Ba’athification and I am committed to efforts at memorializing Saddam’s decades of horror, so if there’s anyone on the ballot with the a similar platform and set of objectives, then I will vote for him or her.

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