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3/26/04 - FREEDOM IN IRAQ - 2004-03-26

A year after the Saddam Hussein regime was removed by a U.S.-led coalition, the people of Iraq are joining the free peoples of the world. Today, a free press is flourishing in Iraq and providing the Iraqi people with access to a variety of news sources.

More than six-hundred journalists have credentials for the new international press center in Baghdad. Many of the journalists write for more than two-hundred Iraqi newspapers now in circulation. This burgeoning free press is encouraging democratic political debate in Iraq.

Some of the news appearing in Iraqi newspapers is critical of the U.S.-led coalition. But U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli says that what is going on today is “in marked contrast to what we were...seeing in Iraq a little over a year ago, with the stage-managed and controlled showpieces by Iraq’s Baathist minister of information”:

“We respect the rights of people to express their opinion -- even, and I suppose -- especially when they’re different from our own, because...nothing, I think, bears greater testimony and speaks more eloquently to the values that we are trying to promote in Iraq and trying to help the Iraqi people embrace and develop than the ability to dissent peacefully, openly, in full respect of each other’s differing views.”

Iraq’s writers, poets, and artists are also enjoying their newly won freedom. The Hassan Amji café in Baghdad was a place where many of Iraq’s artists congregated. But during the Saddam Hussein regime, they were afraid to express their opinions in public. Now, they have returned.

At the café is Adil Ali Safer, a writer of short stories and plays. He told a Washington Times newspaper reporter that, “A literary man has to be free, not to sell his talent, but to dedicate his talent to the truth.” Mr. Safer said he was “sorry that so many literary people devoted their talent to praising the former regime.” Now, with Saddam Hussein gone, he says, “It’s as if a huge boulder was removed from the chest of the Iraqi people."