By: TAREK EL-TABLAWY, Associated Press Writer
(AP) Iraqis, still stunned Saturday by sectarian violence that killed more than 200 people in four days, find themselves under a propaganda bombardment from all sides as the Americans and the Iraqi government duel insurgents for the hearts and minds of a battered people.
The most recent broadside showed up in al-Mutammar, a secular daily newspaper, as an anonymous paid advertisement denouncing al-Qaida in Iraq as “followers of the devil.”
In language aimed at Arab sensitivities to family and tribe, the ad denounces al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his mentor, Osama bin Laden, as men who strayed from Islam and their Arab roots.
“There are two things in this world that warrant the direst of punishments: arrogance and cruelty against members of the same family,” read the ad in Saturday’s edition of al-Mutammar.
“Arrogance leads them (al-Zarqawi and bin Laden) to believe they are above the law, that they can decide what Islam is … as if they were princes and judges.
“But where is the humility … which the prophet, peace be upon him, embodied.”
The anti-al-Qaida diatribe was just the latest salvo, however, in a media battle in which insurgents have used the Internet to show brutal hostage beheadings and to declare war on Iraq’s Shiite majority, U.S. forces and the American-backed government.
For its part, the government routinely televises interrogations in which alleged insurgents confess their brutal crimes while encouraging citizens to call anonymous tip lines to report insurgent activities.
And the Americans just as routinely say the security situation steadily improves and will be better still as Iraqi political institutions take root. Reporters have been flooded with good news of schools opened after U.S. military refurbishment, water systems repaired and al-Qaida leaders captured.
Saturday’s ad was different from the norm, however, because it could not be definitely linked to anyone, although it was most prominently displayed in the newspaper of Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress _ a largely Shiite political organization.
The Associated Press, despite repeated efforts, could not learn who paid for the ad. A senior editor at al-Mutammar said it was placed by an advertising agency but declined to name the organization or its client.
Basim al-Sheikh, editor-in-chief of the independent daily Ad-Dustour and a media analyst, viewed the anti-al-Qaida broadside with skepticism, saying he believed it was most likely the work of the government or a pro-government political group.
The sponsor chose anonymity, he speculated, because Iraqis have a nearly genetic mistrust of officialdom after decades of tyrannical governments. He predicted the attack would have little effect.
“This style of paid advertisement won’t have much resonance with the Iraqi people, unlike stories that detail, through description and death tolls, clear images of the attacks,” al-Sheikh said.
Nevertheless, he said, the ad was “clearly timed to coincide with the march toward political progress and to … discredit those against the process.”
And, it comes as Iraqis are voicing growing frustration with all sides — the government, U.S. forces and the insurgency — and their tactics.
Al-Zarqawi, after more than a dozen bombings in Baghdad on Wednesday, purportedly released a tape on the Internet declaring that those who cooperate with Iraq’s “national guards, police or army are agents of the Crusaders … (who) will be killed and his house will be demolished or burned — after evacuating all women and children.”
Iraqi officials responded quickly. Defense Minister Sadoun al-Dulaimi, a Sunni, warned al-Zarqawi and his colleagues that “we will not retreat or be silent. There will be no room for you in all of Iraq. We will chase you wherever you go.”
Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said, “These people have no focus whatsoever in their fight. … They are just enemies of humanity at large.”
“What do you say to terrorist attacks that focused not only on places of worship, but also on children,” the Iraqi leader told CNN.
U.S. military officials said increases in violence were “predictable” in the days before the Oct. 15 referendum on the country’s new constitution.
“Remember, democracy equals failure for the insurgency,” Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the chief American military spokesman, told reporters earlier this week.
Yet nothing spoke as loudly to Iraqis last week as the brutality of the bombings that terrorized the capital.
Shiite clerics and, more tellingly, their Sunni counterparts, condemned the killings, called on all Iraqis to take a stand against violence and urged restraint in the face of potential civil war.
Saturday’s anti-al-Zarqawi ad, under cover of anonymity, was far more damning: “Al-Zarqawi and bin Laden continue their lies to mask their intentions, but we know very well that it is Satan who is the source of their lies and the reality is that they are … followers of the devil.”