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Observing Iraq

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 22, 2005 – Editor's Note: AFPS reporter Jim Garamone has traveled in Iraq since early January, covering the many news aspects about multinational and Iraqi security forces' efforts in preparation for upcoming Jan. 30 elections. During his travels, he's come upon interesting aspects of life in Iraq.

"Suicide Barbie"

If you want the latest DVDs, just go to the local souk, or market. Iraqi entrepreneurs have found lucrative business opportunities to pirate videos, games and software. But you'd be surprised about what you find.

Such is the case with what soldiers here call "Suicide Barbie." It's the typical brand-named computer game featuring the likes of Cinderella Barbie or Sleeping Beauty Barbie except for the cover picturing Barbie wearing a suicide vest.

Soldiers here hope this is just a sick joke, but they fear it could be an insidious way to influence a new generation.

Iraqi Women and the Hijab

In 2003, roughly half of Iraqi women wore hijabs loose clothing topped by a type of scarf worn around the head and under the chin. Today, almost all do. In fact, in public it is strange to see women without them.

In Baghdad's protected International Zone, many Iraqi women do not wear the hijab. But about 30 miles away in Baqubah during a Peace Day ceremony, all the women sat in the back of the room and all wore hijabs.

"I don't know what this says about changes in Iraqi society," a State Department official said. "We have noticed that women are speaking out more, and seem to be the most outspoken against the insurgents."

An Iraqi embassy employee said Baghdadis have always been more cosmopolitan than the rest of the country. Still, he said women are wearing the hijab almost in self-defense. "If they do not wear it, it calls attention," he said. "Not wearing it is like a political statement."

Parties and Politics

One surprise of a recent poll is the number of Iraqis who say they discuss politics at home or follow a particular political party.

More than half 54 percent of all Iraqis surveyed said they never talk about politics with other people. An overwhelming 88 percent said they would never join a political party. "After the experience with Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, would you join any political party?" an Iraqi officer in Mosul asked.

"Getting the Iraqis to trust their government is important," said a Multinational Force Iraq official. "They need to see the government working effectively and actually listening to their concerns before they will believe."

Who Is an Iraqi?

From reading the newspapers or listening to television, you would think there are only Arabs and Kurds living in Iraq. That's not the case.

Arabs and Kurds make up the largest proportion of the population, but there are many other ethnicities. There are Turks, Kildanians and Assyrians in Iraq.

The media stress differences between Shiia and Sunni Muslims. The percentage most often heard is 60 percent of the population is Shiia and 20 percent Sunni. But the Kurds are Sunni Muslims, yet they are not caught up in the struggle for power between Shiia and Sunni Arabs.

Plus, between 600,000 and 700,000 Christians live in Iraq also.

Not all Kurds want their own homeland. Not all Shiia want an Iranian-style theocracy. Not all Sunnis are opposed to the coalition, officials said. Shadings of beliefs exist among all Iraqi groups. Understanding the differences is a task decision makers face.

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