Baghdad, July 21 (Reuters): Want to know about life in post-Saddam Iraq' Then visit Baghdad’s Pavement Paper which thrives on “printing” news it says Iraqis really want.
Iraq’s publishing industry, once tightly controlled by the ousted government of Saddam Hussein, is now booming. At least nine daily newspapers are printed in the capital alone.
But the Pavement Paper, with its two-man staff, seems to have come up trumps because it costs nothing to read and is full of critical articles readers say accurately reflect their lives under an unpopular American occupation.
Spread out on a sidewalk on the city’s busy Saadoun street, the handwritten paper is a hotch-potch of sheets weighed down by rocks and glass shards which editor-in-chief Ali al-Amshary displays for four hours a day, six-days a week.
Amshary, who was a calligrapher in the disbanded Iraqi army, started his venture right after US forces toppled Saddam on April 9 and boasts of a 6,000-strong daily “circulation”.
“We’re popular because we reflect the trials and tribulations of all Iraqis. We print the truth,” he said today.
Caricatures of a cigar-chomping Saddam behind bars are particularly popular, as is an Arabic limerick telling readers their deposed president is neither dead nor gone, but living somewhere in Iraq under US protection.
“Only the Iraq people are dead and gone,” the ditty ends.
The Pavement Paper also has a poetry corner, a “letters to the editor” section and obituaries.
Amshary writes an editorial illustrated with more scathing caricatures — this week’s image deals with Iraqi “collaborators” who work with the Americans and shows a man salivating dog-like as a US soldier hands him a bone.
“This paper is the best because it writes about our problems. We don’t see lies about how good the Americans are. Other papers are also expensive,” said Hussein Ali, an unemployed builder.
Heated political discussions often erupt between the Pavement Paper’s readers and Amshary said he gets his wide-ranging story ideas from these shouting matches.
Iraq’s infrastructure, weakened by 12 years of UN sanctions and neglect under Saddam, was further battered by the war and Baghdadis complain bitterly about the lack of power and the gunmen and looters that roam the streets.
A photograph of a weary-looking toddler clutching an empty water can captioned “No to security, No to water and electricity, long live the Americans” fills a whole sheet.
The latest edition also features an article on the“immoral” programming of the many satellite networks as well as a piece on pop singer Kassem al-Sultan.
Driver Saadi Hilal, who parks his public transport bus in front of the paper, is a faithful reader and contributor.
”The Pavement Paper taps into the heartbeat of the city, it helps us release some of our frustration. It is perhaps one of the best things about post-Saddam Iraq.”