September 21, 2013

This week on the Listening Post: Presidents, propaganda and channelling the media to get the message out: a look at the similarities and differences between Syria in 2013 and Iraq 10 years ago. As the crisis in Syria deepens, the diplomatic battle outside the country – being fought out in the global media – intensifies. Newscasts have chronicled the summit meetings, various bilateral talks, the photo-ops that precede the gatherings behind closed doors – while waiting for a vote on a UN resolution that would mandate the Assad government to hand over all of its chemical weapons.

Once, Adil Ibrahim worked as a translator with American soldiers, introducing them to Iraqi culture and the streets of Baghdad and trying to bridge gaps of understanding. Now, he’s one of them. Ibrahim, an Iraqi who came to the United States on a media scholarship in 2008 and then sought asylum, is now a U.S. citizen and member of the U.S. military. He’s even been deployed to Afghanistan.

When Ismail Sheikho recalls his days at the Silopi refugee camp in Turkey--for Iraqi Kurds escaping Saddam Hussein’s 1992 crackdown--he remembers waiting all day just to hear the 15-minute Kurdish news broadcast of the Voice of America (VOA). “I bought a radio back then just to listen to the news,” says Sheikho, remembering that at the time the VOA was just about the only international broadcaster offering a Kurdish service.

There is a sense of optimism, cultivated with newly planted rosebushes and flowerbeds, in this capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. For a region that has seen decades of strife, Kurdistan is emerging as "the other Iraq," a place where progress is marked by the opening of new shopping malls and the pouring of concrete at countless construction sites. While other parts of Iraq remain volatile, Kurdistan is furthering both public and private sector investment.

UNICEF Ambassador and National Basketball Association (NBA) star Pau Gasol, returned today to Barcelona, Spain following a visit with Syrian refugees in Iraq. More than 1.7 million people - of which around 50 percent are children- have fled the armed conflict in Syria into neighboring countries, including more than 160,000 in Iraq.

"So far everything is fine, there is a lot of talk, but its quiet in Benghazi. As far as any of us can see, Gaddafi's troops are nowhere near the city." The satellite connection was more or less clear, if a bit tinny. On the other end, 5,000 miles away, my wife didn't sound convinced. It wouldn't help that the next morning found us fleeing Benghazi with the international press corps, on the back of a hastily flagged down truck.

For two weeks, American Voices offered performing arts lessons to 300 Iraqis from across the country. Classes were taught in the areas of jazz, piano, classical symphony, theater and hip hop & breakdance. I was essentially the Assistant Director of the YES Academy, and a veritable public diplomacy camp counselor. We also held smaller mini-YES Academies for close to a week in both Baghdad and Kirkuk -- the latter of which I ran as well.

No one ever doubted that saving Noor's life was a good thing. But was there any thought put into what would happen afterward to her and the family? Should she have been brought to America and then returned to a place like Iraq, where medical care was next to nothing and where her family paid a price for accepting help from Americans?