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Heard on the Iraqi airwaves...

Iraqis sitting in a Baghdad coffee shop watch a television news channel showing the Iraqi parliament live.
Iraqis sitting in a Baghdad coffee shop watch a television news channel showing the Iraqi parliament live.
Here's a little taste of what RFE/RL's Iraq service has been broadcasting recently:

"Cedar Revolution" council backs al-Maliki in Iraqi-Syrian dispute

The president of Lebanon's "Cedar Revolution" council, Joe Ba'aini, has sent a letter of support [Arabic] to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki regarding the increasingly hostile Iraqi-Syrian diplomatic dispute over Syria's alleged harboring of terrorists targeting Iraq. This declaration of support for the Iraqi government's position comes following Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's recent announcement that he found Iraq's evidence of Syrian-based terrorists' involvement in the August 19 Baghdad bombings "convincing," and would attempt to help mediate between the two sides.

Syria has thus far refused Iraq's demand to extradite individuals that the Iraqis have claimed are involved in terrorist attacks [Arabic] inside Iraq, and the two countries have withdrawn their respective ambassadors [Arabic]. Al-Maliki has also recently claimed that 90% of the foreign Arab fighters in Iraq entered through Syria [Arabic].

Is a "culture of debate" emerging in Iraqi society?

Radio Free Iraq reports that some Iraqis believe that the country has witnessed the development of a robust culture of debate [Arabic] and exchange of opinion within Iraqi society since 2003:

"After the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, there emerged a culture of debate at all levels [of society], not at the level of the educated classes only," said Iraqi journalist Jamil al-Khattat. "This is something of a new reality in Iraqi life, with the development of open symposiums and forums, and the Iraqi family having access to all points of view through satellite TV in their homes."

Another writer, Muhammad Ali, disagrees, saying that such a culture is forming but will take a long time to develop fully...College student Amad Taher also disagreed, saying that "Iraqis have not yet gotten used to a culture of debate...because many people are still influenced by the dictatorial legacies of the previous regime, which repressed the freedom of the individual a result, many Iraqis still base their personal thoughts, opinions, and decisions on the opinions of others."

Iraqi film director: "For me, the dream of returning home has ended"

Muhammad al-Khattab, an Iraqi film director now living in Dubai, was featured in RFI's "Exiles" series [Arabic], which profiles various prominent Iraqi expatriates living abroad. Al-Khattab told RFI how he grew up falling in love with music, photography, and the arts, but was discouraged by his family to continue his studies in these topics. Defying his family's wishes, he persued his passion, eventually graduating with a bachelor's degree in television and radio production from Baghdad University's Academy of Fine Arts.

After becoming frustrated by the repressive monopoly which Saddam's regime maintained over "all forms of media and culture," al-Khattab decided to leave Iraq in 1996. His films have won many awards, most notably his documentary Al-Risala ila al-A'alam (Message To the World) highlighting the plight of Iraqi children under the sanctions regime in the 1990s. A few clips and a poster from the movie can be seen in this YouTube video:

As for the possibility of returning to Iraq, however...

Al-Khattab believes that Iraqi artists and directors face many difficulties and obstacles in the [Arab] diaspora countries where they now live, which tends to limit their activities. However, he also adds that their situation is still better than that of their colleagues inside Iraq. There is no “magic wand" for stopping the violence, he says, and believes the Iraqi state will have to continue to devote considerable resources to maintaining security in the near future. Therefore, he believes that under these circumstances it is "wishful thinking" to hope for substantial Iraqi state support for the arts and cinema. It is impossible to advance Iraqi cinema without a return to security and stability, he says – but nevertheless, he is optimistic about his country’s future.

Yet after more than 13 years in exile, Muhammad al-Khattab says that the dream of returning to his country is over for him.

Separation between mosque and state?

Radio Free Iraq also reported last week about the ongoing debate in Iraq [Arabic] over which (and whether) political topics should be raised in mosques:

[A] number of observers and citizens believe that there is a need to keep these sermons as a platform for [religious] guidance in acting with love and tolerance [according to Islam], and not as a platform for inciting [political] problems. Other citizens believe there is nothing wrong with raising political topics [in mosques], as long as those topics are concerning the public interest, and not seeking to promote a particular party or politician.

Other citizens, such as Omar Sa’ad, believe that politics are an integral part of religion, and that mosques are an acceptable forum for discussing these issues. Citizens with the opposite view believe that there is a need to limit sermons in mosques to aspects of religious instruction and guidance, and that religious leaders in the current age should move away from politics.

--Alex Mayer