Staring anxiously at the screen, we watch a terrified Iraqi woman give birth in an unidentified hospital as explosions echo in the background. Holding her newborn, she nervously turns towards the door, where suddenly a smiling father appears. All ends well as the family survives the bombing and is reunited!
The above scene, part of an advertising campaign shown on Arab satellite stations, forces the viewer, if only for a few fleeting seconds, to face up to the difficulties in Iraq and hope all will end well. Yet the naïve smiles on our faces as the clip ends soon make way to feelings of anger as the real pictures of blood and destruction crowd our screens.
Since the US invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein, some Arab satellite televisions have broadcast advertisements about Iraq paid for by the American administration promoting democracy, national unity, freedom, and a bright future awaiting Iraq and its people. The ads usually reflect the ongoing developments in the country so when the elections are near, they encourage voters to take part, and when conflicts arise between different communities, they promote national unity.
Despite their positive message and professionalism, these video clips fail to disguise the grim reality of everyday life across Iraq; the gulf between reality and propaganda continues to widen everyday.
Even the channels featuring the ads have interrupted their screening to transmit a live report on an explosion in Baghdad, an attack elsewhere, or a political statement against one party or another. Last Wednesday, as our screens filled with the tragedy of the Two Imams Bridge in the capital when a rumor about a suicide bomber at large caused a stampede amongst Shi”a pilgrims, killing a thousand people, including many women and children.
This was the grim reality from Iraq and not a carefully created video where the idea, the angle, the lighting, the music and the characters were all carefully selected. This was a real scene photographed by amateurs whose hand held cameras depicted death, destruction and mayhem. Silent images were superimposed by the commentary on the incident and the number of dead, leaving the rest to our imagination…
When the videos began appearing on our screens, over two years ago now, we wanted to be optimistic and believe the scene will come true. Yet Iraq is now so unstable that the advertisement can no longer hide the truth. Instead, they only serve to numb the pain.