New York Times
IN Iraq today, there is a new corps of combatants who show no mercy.
Their targets are venal politicians, heavy-handed American soldiers and the dreaded suicide bombers. Armed with pen and sketchpad, they are the vanguard of Iraqi political cartoonists, taking aim at the state of the country three years after Saddam Hussein fell. With few restrictions on speech now, dozens of newspapers have blossomed in Iraq, and all the major ones seem to run one or two cartoons a day.
Under Mr. Hussein, political cartoons appeared, but they amounted to little more than state propaganda.
Mr. Hussein and his aides were, of course, immune from being satirized.
Now, no one is spared. Freedom of speech may be one of the few clear successes of the American-led invasion, but it has a price: the cartoonists refuse to buy into any narrative of a golden dawn for Iraq. A deep cynicism — about politicians in general, and policies that have turned Iraq into a sectarian bloodbath — emerges in virtually every cartoon.
Even top Bush administration officials have taken notice. On a visit to Baghdad this month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pointed to recent Iraqi cartoons as a sign of the ordinary people's restlessness over endless negotiations to form a new government.
In the four drawings here, all published in the past week, the black humor is evident.
1. Al Sabah, financed by the Shiite-led government, ran a caricature of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, after he said that Iraqi Shiites were more loyal to Iran than to Iraq. Shiite leaders here accused Mr. Mubarak of fueling tensions between Sunni Arabs and Shiites. In the cartoon, Mr. Mubarak's tie bears a Star of David, linking him to Israel, a common target of Arab anger.
2. A cartoon from Al Bayyna al Jadidah , a conservative Shiite newspaper, questions the idea of celebrating the third anniversary of the toppling of a Saddam Hussein statue in central Baghdad, an event intended at the time to signify a quick and decisive victory by the American forces. Empty boots symbolize the continuing toll of the war — nearly 2,400 American troops and more than 34,000 Iraqi civilians, soldiers and policemen.
3. The past week saw little movement in the political process, and Al Sabah al Jadid showed two men criticizing politicians' empty boasts of progress. The cartoonist, Khudair al-Hamiri, drew during Saddam Hussein's time.
4. One of Iraq's most famous cartoonists, Muayad Naama, had an even darker take on the war before he died last November of a heart attack. His jagged sketches often confronted readers with the violence ingrained in daily life here. Last week, Al Mada printed posthumously a cartoon showing a lovestruck man trying to impress a paramour by decapitating himself, and the woman chastising him for his banal gesture — a statement on how common beheadings have become.