Seeking Man-on-the-Street Views of Iraq, U.S. Reporters Turn to Bloggers

By: Brian Orloff While Iraq's many newspapers get little notice in the American media, the country's citizen bloggers are drawing increased attention, as reporters in the United States try to gauge views within that country during the lead-up to this month's elections. One reason for the interest: Many of the Iraqi bloggers' postings are written in English, unlike the commentary in local newspapers.

This new fame and scrutiny peaked yesterday, with a major story by Sarah Boxer on the front page of the the New York Times Arts section.

Boxer's story, unthinkable several months ago (before blogmania erupted), focused on one site, Iraq the Model, once run by three brothers who expressed pro-American stances. Online controversy rages about the brothers' views, their funding and identities and, after two of them toured the United States, the legitimacy of their opinions. Since the tour, the brother who stayed behind, Ali, split, creating his own blog called Free Iraqi -- which still expresses a pro-American perspective -- citing concerns for his family's safety and disagreements over his brothers' meeting with President Bush.

But media looking for more from the blogger-in-the-street (or, perhaps, bloggers-hiding-under-a-bed), can consult the Web site Iraqi Bloggers Central, which provides handy links to many Iraq-based blogs.

Naturally, the elections are a hot topic among these bloggers. Some discuss living in fear -- fear of instability and the fear of knowing so little about the candidates. In a blog called Diary From Baghdad, the blogger, who identifies herself as Rose, worries about the safety of her family and her three-year-old daughter if she votes. In a January 17 post, she wrote: "About the elections. I still wish to participate in it and I still think about it everyday, should I go? What if I die? Who will raise my daughter? ?

A somewhat more optimistic post comes from a blog titled Democracy in Iraq (Is Coming), written by 25-year-old Husayn Uthman, an Iraqi whose father was educated in Europe. He is heartened by what he deems "new measures that will stop the insurgents." In a January 17 post, he writes of the actions, "Most important is allowing people in certain areas to register on the day of elections. This is a fantastic idea as it makes it much harder for insurgents to threaten people."

On President Bush, Uthman writes that the president "seems to be a simple man. He is not very elegant, and this is why many people criticize him. However, he is not the monster that some make him to be in the media."

Other criticize the president, especially after the conclusive report that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. One blog, Baghdad Burning, offers the reflective thoughts of its writer, Riverbend, who provides no biographical information. Riverbend criticizes the president, members of Congress who supported the war, and the American people for re-electing Bush.

"I always had the feeling that the only people who actually believed this war was about weapons of mass destruction were either paranoid Americans or deluded expatriate Iraqis -- or a combination of both," she wrote. News that there are no WMDs in Iraq was not news in Iraq, she added, but it was ?upsetting because it just confirms the worst: right-wing Americans don't care about justifying this war. ... When they saw their idiotic president wasn't going to find weapons anywhere in Iraq, they decided it would be about mass graves."

Blogger Khalid harbors even stronger resentments. In a lengthy, vitriolic posting on January 15, he wrote: "Americans are occupation Forces, anyone that helps the occupation to stay one day longer is a legal target for the resistance."

While politics and passions run high, one blog, called Baghdad Dweller, offers some humorous Iraqi insight into American pop culture. The writer references information cards that help soldiers acclimate to Iraqi culture and avoid potentially offensive situations or questions. Tips include the sagacious: "Never offer a Muslim alcohol or pork."

In a January 15 post, the blogger wonders what a similar card might ask of Iraqis. "Try to consume Coca Cola and McDonald's Hamburger as much as possible for cultural integration reasons," he wrote. "'What's up' can be a greeting.?

And what about Ali, who left Iraq the Model to his brothers and now runs his own effort?

His most recent post, from January 17, returns its focus to the elections. He presents a climate of danger, focusing on the potential: "I'm more than sure [terrorists] are planning for some serious attacks on that day and it's not going to be like Afghanistan where there were only few attacks on few voting centers. The stakes are too high for them just as they are for us. We've been waiting for the moment when we can decide our future all our lives and now it's happening and I can't tell you how excited that makes me and all freedom loving Iraqis. I feel like after voting I would not care what would happen to me."


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