January 26, 2005

My New Gig – Iraqi Election Coverage

By Michael J. Totten

Jim Hake from Spirit of America brought me on to edit the Friends of Democracy site during the week before and the week after the January 30 election in Iraq.

We have more than a dozen local Iraqi correspondents, at least one in each province, filing daily reports. These reports include news, interviews, quotes, photos, whatever they can get in a day. They aren’t professional journalists. They are more or less ordinary Iraqis. Some of them you already know – Omar and Mohammed from Iraq the Model, for example. Others you don’t know because they don’t speak or write in English. Their reports are translated from Arabic before they are uploaded to the reports site.

My job isn’t to edit the reports, exactly (they are published raw here), but to run a blog on the main site which summarizes, excerpts, and links to the reports from the field. I’m also going to be excerpting and linking to essays and posts in the Iraqi blogosphere and - on occasion - stories in the mainstream and Middle Eastern media. The idea is to let Iraqis themselves tell their own story of their own first free election. What I do on the site has nothing to do with me. You won’t find me bloviating there as I do here. I am invisible. My name isn’t even on it.

The site is called Friends of Democracy: Ground level election news from the people of Iraq. To the best of my knowledge there is nothing else like it anywhere out there, at least not in English. (We also have a site in Arabic here.)

If you have the time, the inclination, and your own blog, please give us a link. This isn’t about me or my ego. This is for, about, and mostly by the Iraqi people themselves.

I feel honored that Jim asked me to do this. I’ve supported Spirit of America from the beginning, donated a bit of my money, and raised thousands of dollars from readers of this site just like you. Please, give us your support one more time. This time it’s free. All we need now is a link and some readers. Thanks kindly in advance.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at January 26, 2005 12:15 AM
Comments

Right ON, my liberal friend!

I'll be reading, count on it.

Posted by: TmjUtah at January 26, 2005 01:03 AM

Good luck.

But the elections are not free.

Posted by: Benjamin at January 26, 2005 01:54 AM

linked

Posted by: Zed at January 26, 2005 02:30 AM

Democracy or Death Squads.

Freedom is also not free. The Iraqis being murdered by the death squads are among the future heroes of Iraq -- and those too afraid to vote, will be claiming they "did" vote. Because there will be shame in not voting.

The Sunnis need to accept that they are not now, and may well never again be, the rulers of Iraq. Death Squad activity will be less and less tolerated as Shi'a and Kurds take over "security".

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at January 26, 2005 02:30 AM

Yes, I did link, too. Thanks for heads up. Looks great.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at January 26, 2005 02:31 AM

Thanks for the link. I'll pay a lot more attention to the opinions expressed there, by people who are actually living through the experience, than to the armchair, long-distance pontificators on your site.

Posted by: A.Canuck at January 26, 2005 03:29 AM

A free and fair election?

"The ongoing conflict will prevent many more from participating – the several hundred thousand refugees from Fallujah, for example, who are currently busy trying to survive. Nor will international observers be able to monitor the election inside the country....

The interim government has forced the independent al-Jazeera TV station and critical newspapers to shut down. Former US proconsul Paul Bremer banned all reporting on the rebirth of the Baath Party and all protests calling for an end to the occupation.

Baghdad-based journalist Borzou Daragahi reports that Iraqi reporters are under threat from US troops, Iraqi police and insurgents: "We're unable to get access to anybody," one journalist told him. "We're frightened." (Daragahi, Arab Reform Bulletin Vol. 2, December 11, 2004)

The same is true of electoral candidates who are unable to canvas voters and even reveal their names. Voters, therefore, are not in a position to make any kind of informed choice.

While US-subsidised media broadcast freely, officials working for interim prime minister and former CIA asset, Ayad Allawi, have been handing journalists envelopes stuffed with $100 notes for simply turning up to press conferences...

Washington-funded organisations with long records of manipulating foreign democracies in favour of US interests are deeply involved in the election.

The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) are part of a consortium to which the US government has provided over $80 million for political and electoral activities in Iraq. NDI is headed by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, while IRI is chaired by Republican Senator John McCain.

Professor William I. Robinson of the Global and International Studies Programme at the University of California calls NDI and IRI "extensions" of the US State Department: "I suspect that [NDI and IRI] are trying to select individual leaders and organisations that are going to be very amenable to the US transnational project for Iraq"...

And Iran:

"On December 15, the New York Times reported that on a list of 228 candidates submitted by a major Shiite-led political alliance to Iraq's electoral commission, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim's name was entered as No.1. The Times reported that Hakim has close ties to Iran's ruling ayatollahs:

“For the United States, and for Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which have Sunni Muslim majorities, the prospect of Mr. Hakim and his associates coming to power raises in stark form the brooding issue of Iran's future influence in Iraq.” (John F. Burns and Robert F. Worth, ‘Iraqi Campaign Raises Question Of Iran's Sway,’ The New York Times, December 15, 2004)

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman warned ominously: “Iran [is] actively using its influence and money to push its candidates.” (Friedman, ‘Neocons need Iraqi neo-Baath,’ The Times Union, December 19, 2004.)"

Posted by: Robert Smith at January 26, 2005 03:31 AM

According to the New York Times: Recently, a number of for-profit colleges have faced inquiries, lawsuits and other actions calling into question the way they inflate enrollment to mislead/increase the value of their parent company’s stock.

In the last year, the Career Education Corporation of Hoffman Estates, Ill., has faced lawsuits, from shareholders and students, contending that, among other things, its colleges have inflated enrollment numbers. The company acknowledged that it was under investigation by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In February 2004, F.B.I. agents raided 10 campuses run by ITT Educational Services of Carmel, Ind., looking for similar problems.

Kaplan is wholly own by the Washington Post Company. I provided the S.E.C., Department of Education, and federal courts information that appears to prove Kaplan inflated the Concord School of Law enrollment, telling investors that the “flagship” of its higher education division has as many as 600 to 1000 or more students.

Why didn’t the Justice Department and S.E.C. included Kaplan with their investigation?

Posted by: first_real_online_law_student@yahoo.com at January 26, 2005 03:46 AM

Linked at my humble blog of 75 hits a day.

Posted by: Leigh at January 26, 2005 04:02 AM

OK, got it. The Iraqi elections are neither free nor fair. The US is manipulating the outcome, as is Iran. The results of this "stolen" election will produce something that closely resembles an Ayatollah McCain.

Just want to make sure I got my leftist talking points ready. Can we use the invisible ink mantra again?

Posted by: Peter G at January 26, 2005 06:44 AM

Afghanistan was the first domino to fall. Iraq is the second. Which Middle Eastern country will be next? How does this sound?:

Friends of Democracy: Ground level election news from the people of Iran

Posted by: David Thomson at January 26, 2005 07:00 AM

Excellent.I of course will be glued to your coverage and to all the other Iraqi sources.You are doing something I know many of us wish we could be doing.
As to the 'leftists'who seem to find some deep inner satisfaction,in their cramped little lives,by deriding and belittling the Iraqi election,and the Iraqis risking their lives to take part ------ Oh why bother to be civil or polite ------ FOAD.

Posted by: dougf at January 26, 2005 07:29 AM

"The ongoing conflict will prevent many more from participating – the several hundred thousand refugees from Fallujah, for example, who are currently busy trying to survive."

Good point Robert Smith. At least under Saddam 100% of the population was able to get to the polls.

"The same is true of electoral candidates who are unable to canvas voters and even reveal their names. Voters, therefore, are not in a position to make any kind of informed choice."

Another good point. All things considered, it's probably better to have just one name on the ballot. It just simplifies things, you know?

"Iraqi reporters are under threat from US troops, Iraqi police and insurgents: "We're unable to get access to anybody,"

Darnit - where is Bagdhad Bob when you need him?

Posted by: Caroline at January 26, 2005 08:11 AM

The link to Friends of Democracy is up. I didn’t cross post it at Deans World because Dave Schuler already linked to it as part of the Carnival of the Liberated.

The individual voices behind the posts were so varied – ranging from Omar’s passionate rage against terror to Kasem’s deadpan report about the silly arguments that were part of an election debate.

In all, Friends of Democracy is more informative than the traditional news sources.

I think the people who are most threatened by uncensored Iraqi opinions aren't just CNN and the BBC. 'Experts’ like Juan Cole are also becoming redundant. We don’t need people like Cole to give us his biased view of what ‘the Arab world’ is thinking when Arabs can tell us themselves.

Posted by: mary at January 26, 2005 08:13 AM

Well, this should be interesting to watch. Here's hoping all goes well, or at least without any major disruptions.

dougf,
What does FOAD mean?

Posted by: sam at January 26, 2005 08:24 AM

dougf,
What does FOAD mean?---sam

Sam,I fear that if I actually spelled it out in full,our hostess might be compelled to issue a warning for 'language'.
Maybe a clue might help--------
F*** Off And Die !!!
I would be quite happy should the objects of my scorn end up doing either one of the two requested actions.Should they actually go for the gold and manage to accomplish BOTH,that would be OUTSTANDING.

Posted by: dougf at January 26, 2005 08:33 AM

Bravo, I've added the site to my blog roll at the very top as a "Must Read." I'll publish a posting linking your post this after noon or this evening. This is too important not to spread around. If you are a blogger, you need to link to Michael and Friends of Democracy even if you are not a hawk (liberal, conservative or otherwise).

Posted by: GMRoper at January 26, 2005 09:21 AM

This is great news, Michael. Can't wait for your reports of the Iraq election.

To the people of Iraq, the elections won't be pretty but it's a start. Many other demopcracies have started under far more dangerous circumstances. A lot of brave men and women have given their lives so that you can have the opportunity to live like free men and women. It's a gift that many want to deny you. Don't let them. Carpe Diem.

Posted by: MisterPundit at January 26, 2005 09:29 AM

dougf,
Thanks, I've always been bad with acronyms. I did manage to guess the first word though.

Posted by: sam at January 26, 2005 09:43 AM

Congrats, Michael. Awesome! I'll be glued to the tube...er, monitor. Any word on getting C-span coverage yet?

Will the doom and gloomers please step to the back of the room? Make way for history.

Posted by: PJ at January 26, 2005 09:44 AM

Great going, Michael!

You fill me with great respect and admiration.

Posted by: at January 26, 2005 10:02 AM

Michael, I should just clarify when I said I look forward to "your" reports, I meant all the guys and gals afiiliated with the web site you're going to be assisting.

I have been amazed at some of the interesting stuff you find on blogs, that you can't find in the mainstream media. This is one of the most important events of our lifetime and I wish the coverage was more substantive, more inclusive of the regions where enthusiasm for the elections is high and life is fairly "normal", and less politicised.

I'm tired of only getting Zarqawi's opinion of Iraq's democracy (namely, that it's "evil") when 80% of Iraqi's are days away from telling Zarqawi to kiss their ass.

Posted by: MisterPundit at January 26, 2005 10:19 AM

Many thanks, Michael, for your hard work on this.

I get even fewer readers than Leigh does. But for what it's worth, I've linked you too.

respectfully,
Daniel in Brookline

"I'm only one person and my contribution won't amount to much. But this is where I want to stand at this turning point in history."
-- from the book "When God Judged And Men Died"

Posted by: Daniel in Brookline at January 26, 2005 11:05 AM

PJ,

Yes, wer're getting C-SPAN coverage. I'll mention it on the blog at some point in advance. (It will air a week from today, most likely.)

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 26, 2005 11:07 AM

Extremely admirable, and way cool. Linked.

One suggestion: you should have a graphic artist make a button for people to put into sidebars. (Like your totten_button.jpg)

Posted by: Mark Poling at January 26, 2005 11:47 AM

D'OH! And there it is, right above the afformentioned totten_button.

Modifying my templates now....

Posted by: Mark Poling at January 26, 2005 11:56 AM

Hah. A North Carolina outhouse gets more traffic at three a.m. on a February morning than my site does, and I'm linking, too.

crickets

Posted by: TmjUtah at January 26, 2005 12:09 PM

For what it's worth, you've got a link here at my (low-traffic) blog.

Posted by: Bill Peschel at January 26, 2005 12:17 PM

Mark Poling,

That button isn't for Friends of Democracy. It's for the Washington think-tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Similar goals, way different organization. Sorry, you'll have to modify your template again.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 26, 2005 12:53 PM

Mark Poling,

There is a button on the site itself. It's the second graphic down on the right-hand side bar. It says "Spirit of America: Proud Support of Friends of Democracy." It is blue and green on white background. Click over, you'll see it.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 26, 2005 12:54 PM

Off-Topic Alert

The link below is from the BBC website,and refers to an incident in Kuwait.Maybe it really is not so off-topic afterall in the BIG picture.I was just revolted by this horrendous story.These 'people'need a collective lobotomy.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4209463.stm

Posted by: dougf at January 26, 2005 01:00 PM

I linked you both at Centerfield and at my own blog. I predict that you are in for a fascinating experience.

Posted by: Todd Pearson at January 26, 2005 01:28 PM

Michael, thanks. Updated.

Posted by: Mark Poling at January 26, 2005 01:29 PM

Michael,

RE : The aforementioned button graphic. Can we hotlink that button straight off the "Friends Of Democracy" site or do you want us to copy the graphic to our web sites, or is either way OK?

I'm talking specifically about this button :

http://www.friendsofdemocracy.info/election_news/SoA_proudsupporter.gif

Posted by: MisterPundit at January 26, 2005 02:33 PM

MisterPundit,

Please copy the graphic to your Web site so we don't have to pay for the bandwidth. Thanks. And thanks for asking.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 26, 2005 03:01 PM

Interesting story from Brian Williams in Amman, about Iraqis exercising their (absentee) right to vote:

Iraqis escape security fears in Jordan; 600 miles from Baghdad, expatriates build new lives

Posted by: SoCalJustice at January 26, 2005 04:39 PM

I love it! Candidates in an election reporting on the same election they are candidates for! WHAT WILL THEY THINK OF NEXT?

http://www.prweb.com/releases/2004/8/prweb150587.htm

Posted by: BiasCheck at January 27, 2005 07:32 AM

John Burns, who has been one of the bigger promoters of 'positive thinking'about the US occupation of Iraq now, has a very interesting article in the NYT this morning that seems to contradict the optimism of Iraq election marketers.

Posted by: erin at January 27, 2005 09:00 AM

Will Iraq's upcoming elections be an improvement over earlier elections? Well, assuming candidates don't routinely get 100% of the vote, I'm going to go out on a limb as say yeah.

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Posted by: ccxvxcv at December 25, 2007 09:55 AM
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