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Alive in Baghdad


Maliki Coalition, Less Than Expected

Although there has been hesitance, today several outlets reported on Prime Minister Maliki's announcement of the formation of the State of Law Coalition. Unfortunately the reports are distressingly similar, and appear to reflect previous analysis and it almost appears that the journalists of Associated Press and Agence France Presse shared their notes and wrote essentially the same article! As Reidar Visser observes, "Maliki's list represents considerable progress, although it was not quite as wide-ranging as some had hoped for."

Reidar's report was taken from reading Arabic language reports on the press conference, which had a bit more detail. Unfortunately Prime Minister's Daawa Party had not released the full list of participants in the coalition as of this writing.

The New York Times, to its credit, makes a similar point to Reidar, at least thus far, the Coalition represents few "truly national leaders."

The Washington Post points out that Mahmoud Mashadani and Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, once thought certain supporters of the Prime Minister, have recently withdrawn their support. However, the presence of Ali Hatem Al-Suleiman is telling and will likely be a factor in ongoing negotiations to bring in Sunni leaders.

On the other hand, every English article seems to oversimplify Shi'a politics, as per usual. Ignoring the entwined history of Daawa and the Sadr Movement is done at the peril of accurate political analysis and prediction. Furthermore, I continue to believe the release of so-called "Asaib Ahl Al Haq" members may be playing one of several lesser-seen, but fundamentally important actions by Prime Minister Maliki to influence the election, as well as providing continuing potential for Muqtada Al-Sadr's followers to have a place at the table.

The "leadership" of this faction has close ties to the Muhammad Baqr Sadr, who is also the ideological father of the Daawa. If Prime Minister Maliki can bring some of the looser Sadrists into his coalition, which is still possible, with at least three months before the election, he may be able to pull in the votes he needs. If State of Law is given the first chance to form the new Iraqi government, whether or not Abu Risha, any more Kurds, or Saleh Mutlaq's post-Baathist group join, I believe its more likely they will fall in with the Prime Minister than the Iraqi National Alliance.

What the press seems to miss is that the makeup of the "List" doesn't matter as much as the likelihood that secularists and nationalists would rather see a non-sectarian nationalist government headed by Al Maliki. Despite the perception of some that Maliki may be something of a little Saddam, Ammar al-Hakim, though not his father, is an unknown quantity, while his backers, with a long history of ties to Iran, are not.



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New Media Could Reweave Iraq's Social Fabric

As most of you know, my focus has been on Iraq for quite some time. Increasingly it has also drifted into how to further leverage "new media" strategies and "web 2.0" technologies to increase our reach with a shrinking budget, among other difficulties. Although a State Department trip earlier this year was sold to the media as a trip where new media experts "will provide conceptual input as well as ideas on how new technologies can be used to build local capacity, foster greater transparency and accountability, build upon anti-corruption efforts, promote critical thinking in the classroom, scale-up civil society, and further empower local entities and individuals by providing the tools for network building."

The media's breathless excitement in covering this interesting new take on the Iraq conflict failed to mention how Iraqis such as Salam Pax, Raed Jarrar, and "Riverbend" to name a few began using "new media" to tell their stories from the beginning of the conflict in Iraq.

More than two years ago we heard another innovative story about Iraqis utilizing Google Maps to share information about checkpoints and sectarian violence around Baghdad. Although many Iraqis have adopted and adapted digital media tools to fit their special needs, there are still many who would benefit from learning more about new media.

In particular journalists in Iraq, as in many other countries, despite the limitations of technology, internet access, and even basic infrastructure in some cases(such as Iraq!) there are many ways new media could be utilized to improve their reach.

Unfortunately language is a major limitation for promoting stories from the Middle East internationally. Most blogs in English have tended to reflect a small subset of the Iraqi populace, typically the wealthy and educated. News sites that are produced in English by Iraqis, typically do not utilize RSS much less other new media opportunities available to them.

By integrating technologies that emphasize open distribution, such as YouTube or where high-quality videos can be distributed easily and embedded in other websites, agencies producing video content could dramatically broaden their visibility. There are no doubt risks involved, including potentially economic loss by opening access to their content. The enthusiasts and supporters of new media encourage transparency and openness as measures that grow the audience and increase visibility, thus agencies may be able to bring in greater revenue from advertising and sponsorship.

Journalists that produce audio content are coming closer and closer to a world where the convergence of technology, rather than leading to the death of radio, may be extending and encouraging the survival of this niche market. With only a mobile phone a journalist, or a "citizen journalist" who witnesses a bombing, a killing, or even street crime can make a short phone call and create an audio podcast. In fact, with this method they can report on the event live via audio updates posted to the web to an audience only limited by distribution, presence, and interest.

Using the same phone the said individual could conceivably take photos to provide realtime images from the scene. None of this is possible without also opening up the architecture of the distribution point itself. Today, with only a phone, Iraqis could be publishing reports that in 2006 and 2007 might have greatly reduced instances of sectarian violence, by reporting via SMS, MMS, audio, or email the location of a checkpoint or occupation of empty houses by militia elements.

Although widespread sectarian violence has dissipated for the moment, new media still has a place in Iraq. by increasing the participation of the citizenry in the media. This and expanding the reach and depth of coverage produced by Iraqi journalists can help restore bonds and rebuild communities. Transparency provides more than just visibility and access to news. Effective use of transparency and access can produce a wider faith in the strength of the social system and, potentially, the faith citizens have in their government to provide for their needs.

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Alive in Baghdad - Alliances Shift with Security

In 2003, after the "fall of Baghdad" or, as Iraqis refer to it, the "fall of the regime" "وسقوط النظام" pronounced "As-sikoot al-nadaam" chaos reigned in the capital. At the time Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissed questions of responsibility with the flippant, now infamous statement, "Stuff happens. Freedom is untidy." The speed with which the Iraqi Army, and the Iraqi State disappeared shocked the world, but perhaps not nearly as much as the violence, looting, and rioting that met the arrival of US troops. Unfortunately, rather than making attempts to understand why these things might happen, too often the international community has looked at events such as transpired with the disdainful eye that one uses to examine the Other.

In 2003 Iraqis rioted because of the utter destruction of the accepted social order. Within a matter of days the illusion of control with which Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq for more than 20 years was revealed for what it was.

Perhaps demonstrating the accuracy of Mr. Rumsfeld's statements, Iraqis continued ro demonstrate the messiness of their freedom, and their unwillingness to return to the status quo, Iraqis were rioting days after the statements at a bank in Baghdad, and rioted to greet the new governor of Mosul, they rioted over poor infrastructure, and they were still rioting six months later demanding back pay.

Although the implication has been that these were the actions of desperate, ignorant, or savage people (even organized acts by the old regime!) there is another explanation.. What if these are simply understandable symptoms of the utter destruction of an accepted social order? What if these are evidence of citizens, humans, pushing the limits, attempting to discover the rules of the new social order?

In 2005 it appeared Iraq's social order was reaching a manner of equilibrium, there was the occupation, and there was the resistance. The State may not have existed with a monopoly on coercion and violence, it could be said that there was something of a stalemate between the various competing interests. Some, myself included, might even suggest that the resistance elements were having such success with the establishment of a new social order that there was the risk they might succeed in supplanting the US Occupation as the accepted authority.

In the fall of 2005, just after the referendum on Iraq's new constitution, preparations were being made for the December elections. Many of the resistance groups and Iraqis in general expected the United States would withdraw after these elections. There were rumors that the various elements of the resistance, from loose affiliations of Sunni insurgents, to the highly organized Al-Mahdi Army of Muqtada Al Sadr, were negotiating toward a collective agreement about administering Iraq in the aftermath of the withdrawal.

In 2006, with the bombing of the Askariya Shrine in Samarra, this fragile new social order was also destroyed. The more radical elements of the Mahdi Army, and Sunni groups in particular Tawhid & Jihad, among others, gained the perfect opportunity to push their agenda of ethnic warfare. 2006 and much of 2007 saw Iraq slipping ever closer to civil war. Ethnic cleansing appeared ever more likely, as did an all-out internecine conflict between Shi'a groups.

This was possible because of competing interests and the success of some at delegitimting the Iraqi state. Until recently a measure of calm had returned to Baghdad and much of Iraq. I would argue that this is due to several factors; the appeasement of Sunni groups via the establishment of the Awakening, providing military support to these groups to defeat more extreme groups, the appeasement of Muqtada al-Sadr, the confrontations last year with the extreme Shi'a elements, and lastly the hard line Prime Minister Maliki has appeared to take with the United States, in particulr regarding the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

Fortunately, the recent Iraqi experience provides many lessons for Iraqi, American, and international politicians alike. Demonstration of Iraqi sovereignty has done a great deal to build the confidence of Iraqi citizens in their nation. More needs to be done to demonstrate the control and reliability of Iraqi security forces to eliminate crime and gang activity.

However, no amount of sovereignty or security will succeed longterm without reconciliation amongst the citizenry of Iraq. Perhaps its time to examine more carefully the potential of an international reconciliation effort in Iraq?




Alive in Baghdad, What's Next?

Many of you likely first heard of Small World News through our work on Alive in Baghdad, a web series produced by local Iraqi journalists in the midst of the ongoing Iraq conflict. Given all of our recent activity outside Iraq, in Afghanistan, Iran, Honduras, etc. you may be wondering what's up with the Iraq project. As I wrote recently, one of our difficulties in the last months has been that our Bureau Chief Omar was in hiding in Syria, due to threats related to his work with Alive in Baghdad. He's since been relocated to Sweden, leaving us without a full-time coordinator in the region. We are also in the process of rethinking how we move forward with Iraq coverage. As Iraq coverage continues to flag, despite the continuing presence of international forces and violence, it is a priority for us to return to regular coverage as well as analysis from Iraq.

Unfortunately with a flagging budget and recent staff losses, we have to figure out how to do Alive in Baghdad smarter, more effective and with more ease. All along our work on Alive in Baghdad has been very time-intensive. This is one of the difficulties inherent in producing documentary and news video. These difficulties are further exacerbated by the necessity of lengthy translations and coordinating staff across multiple countries and timezones.

We have been examining the integration of other social media and journalism tools within the Alive in Baghdad website. Specifically, with the coming Iraqi parliamentary election in January 2010 we hope to implement a process similar to our recent coverage of the Afghan election. We will crowdsource updates from Iraqis, and others present in Baghdad and around Iraq. We plan on integrating mobile submission as well as semi-realtime content.

We will temporarily shift gears, rather than focusing on a few highly produced videos each month, we hope to begin producing a variety of content, primarily short video clips, but possibly audio discussions, as well as photos, and written analysis, in particular examining events leading up to the elections.

We look forward to your comments and critiques, and welcome suggestions about how we can further involve the audience in our coverage of Iraq. We will also continue to need your support. Although we have a small amount of funds in our bank account, we will not be able to continue sustaining Alive in Baghdad, or build our other projects such as Alive in Afghanistan without your help. If you can support us with a one time donation, please do. If you are able to commit to a recurring amount, it would be a huge help to our work. We are currently investigating options for long-term and sustainable funding, but anything donated via PayPal from our audience will go directly to local producers and will not be subject to overhead costs to run support our American contributors.



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Small World News, it's big.

I'd like to imagine a world where an alternative global video news and documentary network has been established. A network that enables those in the areas most at-risk from human-trafficking, destruction of the environment, availability of deadly weapons worldwide, and internal disputes due to ethnic rivalries, competition for resources, and others. Such a network might have enabled Iraqis to learn from Rwandans and others about the dangers of ethnic conflict, and alternate realities behind its origins. It could enable those at risk from genocide or ethnic cleansing to speak directly to the international community rather than, as in Darfur, forcing refugees to depend on NGOs and States with their own agendas at work.

But the best thing about such a network is that its possible now. The only thing that limits our capability to build such a network is a moderate amount of funding and a vision. With the affordability of DV equipment, and more and more, HD and mpeg4 equipment, a broadcast quality mobile production studio, with archiving capabilities, can be outfitted for well under $10,000.00.

I believe within a few years time we can create an international network, with community video units, aka "bureaus" operating in five regions or more, producing and distributing content for their local community. However, what gets me really excited, is knowing that utilizing the internet we can now broaden the reach of those teams to one that is truly global. We can create a new "60 Minutes" style program, where the stories are defined by those most affected, where using twitter and blog commenting and other outlets the viewers and community members alike can drive the discussion and offer questions and feedback.

But we can also broaden our reach beyond video, utilizing tools such as Utterli to enable members of the community to make radio reports on an individual basis(see our work on Alive in Gaza), or partner with Ushahidi to assist mobile phone users to contribute from areas where a video unit has worked recently or is preparing to travel.

We can utilize video to build a focus, a groundswell of attention, and then broaden to other social media tools that in some communities will be better suited for long-term and regular usage.

Alive in Baghdad, as one of the most award-winning, though arguably one of the least-funded, web video projects, has shown the viability, the strength of this medium. We can distribute the stories of individuals and communities in crisis across not only their community, country, or continent, but the globe. In so doing, we may be able to curb many of the great intractable issues of our day.

All we need to accomplish this is possess the will to do it and, as always, a little funding.

We need your support to make this happen. If you're a grantwriter, or you know grantwriters, please write.

If you have suggestions about funding sources, or locations you'd like to see us put this model into action, please write.

If you have resources, whether funds, equipment, skills or otherwise that you'd like to contribue, please write.

Comment below or email us at smallworldnews at gmail dot com, and let us know how you can help or give us your own testaments about our work.

Together we can imagine a world of many voices, a big world made small. Together we can build Small World News.

On behalf of my colleagues worldwide, from Kenya to Iraq, Mexico to Afghanistan, I look forward to working with you in the future,

Brian Conley

Director, Small World News

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Ali Shafeya Killed, AiB to Continue...

Ali Shafeya was killed on December 14th. I've listed the details of his death below as they appear on Alive in Baghdad's blog. We're determined to continue and will be raising money for the future of Alive in Baghdad via a new ChipIn widget soon. We raised $2500 to cover the costs of his funeral and support the family. We hope you will continue to support Alive in Baghdad as it continues. You can also call the Committee to Protect Journalists and ask why they did not list Ali Shafeya in their annual list of Journalists killed in 2007. Here is their phone number: 212-465-1004 Thanks again for all your support.

***Original Blog below***

Ali Shafeya Al-Moussawi was born in 1984 on December 16th, he was killed on December 14th, 2007.

We are collecting donations for the funeral and his family. You can make a donation via Paypal to smallworldnews (at) . If you would like to make a donation by mail or via a different payment service please email us directly at the previous address. We have raised nearly $600 until now, but more will help. His mother and sister are displaced Iraqis leaving in Syria without employment.

Ali lived in Habibya, it's considered as a part of the Sadr city. On Friday the 14th at 11:30pm Baghdad time, Iraqi National Guard forces raided the street where Ali's house is, one of the neighbors heard a gun firing after 15 minutes from the arrival of the Iraqi National Guard convoy to the street, the force left at 3:00am. His neighbors kept calling Ali's phone and it was switched off all the time, so they called his cousin Amar because he lives one block away from where Ali lives.

Amar arrived in Ali's house and found Ali shoot dead in the living room, Amar called the Iraqi Police and told them the story as he heard it from Ali's neighbors. At 8:30 am Baghdad time the Iraqi Police took Ali's body to the morgue, his two uncles received the body at 10:00am and they headed to Najaf to bury him.

Amar said the  neighbor who lives in the front of his house was shot dead too during that raid, the guy's name is Hussein and he is 26 years old. He was in his place along with his brother and nephew. The brother and the nephew disappeared after the convoy left.

The morgue report says that Ali took 31 bullets between the chest and the head and died immediately. He will be missed and remembered. His two brothers were killed in the Firdos Square bombing in 2005. He is survived by his mother and sister. As written above, we are collecting donations for his family via Paypal and mail at smallworldnews (at) No amount is too small, and anything will be appreciated.

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Brian Conley on Johnny's Partay Wednesday, the 13th

This is just a note to let our readers and viewers know that Brian Conley will be on Johnny's Partay this Wednesday, November 13th. Come watch and join in the discussion. You can ask Brian questions via chat, or via live webcam if you have an Operator 11 account! Check out <a href="">Johnny's post about the event</a>, to learn how you can participate and engage in discussion! If you have questions for Brian about Alive in Baghdad's work, or stories you'd like to suggest, come join in!

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Alive in Baghdad News and Press!

We're fortunate to have some very good news to report! We have raised 1770.00 dollars since I posted that we were broke. That means we'll be able to continue the project for the time being, but we are still seeking support in the form of monthly subscription payments, which are currently stalled at about $225/mo (that's less than 10% of what we need to run the project each month). We hope you will consider making an ongoing payment if you haven't yet, and you value the work of Alive in Baghdad. We are lucky to have a colleague who has made a substantial loan to the project, which will keep us going at least through November. We are uncertain how long this arrangement will be tenable, and hope that the donation of $2200/mo by one dedicated supporter will encourage those of you who have not yet taken a moment to support the work of Iraqi journalists, who risk their lives each week to bring you they type of detailed stories you can't find anywhere else.

Last but not least, we have received a bit of media coverage of late! Please check out this great story by Dan Rubin of the Philly Inquirer, profiling Alive in Baghdad. Also, if you're in the New York Area, Brian will be speaking on the Bryant Park Project between 7 and 8am on Friday October 26th.




Small World News Renews Vitality of Old Media?

A friend sent me a link to this article in the Hollywood Reporter this morning. So apparently ABC thinks what we're doing is viable and the future of at least some portion of news. Make no mistake, we started opening new foreign bureaus in Summer 2006 with the establishment of a weekly program produced in Iraq. We're happy to see that other media are following our lead, now we hope a savvy investor will recognize we're doing it better than the old media, and cheaper. How? The answer to both is the same, we employ locals with local knowledge and relationships. ABC is still insisting on sending foreign nationals trained and salaried at ABC into the field. Hiring foreign nationals is expensive, and they don't have the same local contacts and networks.

I hope this is good news for our work and that we'll be able to locate individuals or organizations/investors to collaborate with at the Networked Journalism Summit next week, given this news and of course our own track record.

On the funding side, we've raised about $800 so far, which is approximately 1/3rd of our expenses to cover Baghdad staff and necessities. Please consider making a subscription payment if you haven't yet, and you appreciate our work. Also remember Alive in Mexico needs your support as well!




Alive in Baghdad has raised $650 in a week! Still need $2400!

We'd like to thank everyone who has donated money thus far, especially those of you who have decided to become ongoing supporters of Alive in Baghdad through subscription payments! We still need to raise $2400 to pay our bills for October, most of which are due by November 1st. At our current rate, we will almost make that! Please think hard about the money you're going to spend this month. Don't ask yourself how much you can give or donate to Alive in Baghdad. We are not here to be a charity. Please ask yourself what you would pay for on-the-ground news at the grassroots level, of what civilian life is like in Iraq. Can you save $5, $10, or $25 this month and spend it, not only to receive solid information from Iraq, but to support our Iraqi staff who have each been hit hard by the conflict and are desperate for work.

We want everyone to be able to see what is happening in Iraq, whether they can pay or not. However, this work is difficult, dangerous, and not free. If you want to see what is happening on the ground in Iraq, and not just read about it, spend some money to support that work. If you think we are doing a good job depicting life in Iraq, let our staff in Baghdad know by helping to pay their salaries.

If you have comments, criticisms, or stories you'd like to see, please let us know! We welcome the input of our viewers and hope to continue producing a show that is an interesting and enlightening look at daily life in Baghdad.