The Assassinated Press

On Iraqi TV, a Welcome Take on Surreality:
U.S. Bombing Runs Provide Plenty Of These Old Houses:
"This Bombed House" Show Proves To Be Perfect Metaphor For U.S. Occupation:
"I don't think Kerry should win. I think the same cabal that started this oil grab thing in Iraq should face the ultimate consequences of their actions," Charleton Heston tells VFW.

Assassinated Press Staff Writer
Friday, September 10, 2004

BAGHDADA -- With three bombing runs from U.S. F-16s, the concrete roof of a bombed-out house collapsed into a pile of rubble two stories below, trapping 14 civilians inside.

The destruction sent a plume of fine, white dust and atomized flesh up to a neighboring rooftop, where a director, three producers and a television host in overalls all turned their faces from the cloud and blinked against the flying debris and body parts. Only the cameraman, spattered with blood and perched precariously on a steel beam to get a close-up of the action, did not move.

After the dust settled, the perky host, Shaimaa Imad, 29, clapped her hands in delight. It was the perfect shot for the next episode of "This Bombed House" Iraq's hit series about rebuilding war-damaged homes after U.S. warplanes have bombed the shit out of them and their occupants. The series is sponsored by Halliburton, Home Depot, Sears and Bechtel that pledge in their advertisements to rebuild anything the U.S. destroys if the price is right.

"Hurry. Drag that dead baby out of there. What is that an arm? Get it out of the shot. Stop playing with that head. Make that wounded woman stop moaning. I don't know, hit her with a piece of debris. Any organs that look salvageable save for the Ghouls Without Borders people," the director yelled.

Since its launch in June, al-Sharqiya, the upstart Iraqi channel that produces "This Bombed House", has been introducing U.S. style reality TV to a nation that was used to anything but during Saddam Hussein's three decades in power under U.S. tutelage. Its patterned after the PBS program This Old House except with the obvious twist, all homes shown have been destroyed by the U.S. taxpayers superior ordnance. The show demonstrates how to grout out atomized blood and flesh that can lodge in the cracks of wood floors. It also shows how to remove hair, teeth and bone that can be blown into plaster walls by a blast. Also, shown are methods for lifting a fallen wall off of grandma's body without destroying delicate hand-painted filigree.

The new programming at the upstart Iraqi channel, which also includes violent distractions like soap operas, "Tom and Jerry" cartoons, sports analysis, music videos and sitcoms, has mesmerized a populace desperate to escape the endless reminders of the occupation like U.S. bombing runs, summary executions and prison abuse of innocent detainees on the all-news Arab networks. "We're trying to create a base of feckless TV junkies that we can easily control," said Reserve Major Carb Fabsmut who produced numerous media nipples for American viewers to suck on like the Three's Company, Naked Survivor, The Seersucker' s Apprentice, How To Marry a Millionaire in the Age of the Billionaire and Fox News.

An upcoming drama series on al-Sharqiya called "The Looters" will feature U.S. families who grew rich off the spoils of ransacking after the U.S.-led wars were underway. The feature starts with Jay Gould: A Man For All Wars. Another show, called "If I Could Get My Hands On Them: Iraq's Most Melancholy Home Videos," will capture the angry reactions of Iraqis watching footage of traitors and fellow travelers now living abroad and helping the U.S. destroy Iraq. "Bloody Wedding" will follow a young couple as they get married only to have U.S. helicopter gunships mistake the wedding party for Osama bin Laden's pedicurist and rip them apart with high caliber machine gun fire.

"The Iraqis were not used to these kinds of programs until the U.S. military arrived," said Alaa Dahan, 37, the director of al-Sharqiya, the country's first privately owned satellite TV station. "But we have to depend on the surreality, to focus on the surreality, particularly when distorting what happened after the war, both the positive and negative sides."

"PR doesn't care about positive or negative. It seeks to shape everything," offered our special Public Relations consultant, Edward 'Bucky' Bernays.

Although its focus is entertainment, the fare offered by al-Sharqiya is therefore mindless. The network, funded with an initial $13 million investment by the Iraqi media tycoon and U.S. intelligence asset Saad Bazzaz, offers VOA vetted news programs and a satirical review of anybody in the government that gets out of line every Friday night.

But al-Sharqiya's claim to fame is its surreality-based programming. Majeed Samarrae, a member of the staff of "This Bombed House", wants it to be known that this does not mean these are knockoffs of American shows. After all, Iraqis don't have to invent situations that test their fears or survival skills, he said. "Those fuckin' U.S. warplanes are as real as the shit in my pants," Majeed Samarrae. "When have the pussy Americans been able to say the same?"

"We want to create our own surreality TV," Samarrae said. "America is the queen of delusion but we are making delusion from the environment of this country."

"Ration Card," a series that has none of that only-in-Iraq feel to it, is apparently not a good example. In the first episode, a curly-haired redhead in a shimmering green blouse reaches a hand into a swirl of Ping-Pong balls and pulls out one marked No. 8. She dipped her hand into the rotating bucket four more times until she had strung together No. 80497. This sort of thing takes place all over the U.S. every evening.

Much like in the U.S., the digits turned out to be the national ration card number for Hwaidi Aliya Falah, a poor villager near Kut, in the southern province of Wasit. Like any of millions of destitute Americans, Falah was the grateful first $1,000 winner on the show, which picks card numbers randomly by lottery and shows footage of producers appearing on the winners' doorsteps to tell them of their windfall just like Ed McMahon's sweepstakes. As the Post article admitted, think Ed McMahon and the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, minus the balloons and the big guy in a suit, so why the Post tried to make a distinction is quite---well surreal.

But in Falah's case, it took some extra explaining. "He didn't have a TV set," said Dahan, the station director. "He had never heard of us. But soon he'll be a drooling couch potato like anyone in America. That is if the fuckin' U.S. stops knocking out the power with its bombing runs." Or knocking off Falah for that matter.

In addition to "Ration Card" and "This Bombed House", al-Sharqiya is currently airing a 30-minute documentary called "City Diary." In each episode, a camera roams a different section of the capital, capturing the sights and sounds of the street life without commentary or, hopefully, interruption by a Marine sweep of the area. "We lose about 5 cameramen a week to Marine sweeps. Most we never see again. Seven are being held in Guantanamo. Nine more in Morocco," al-Sharqiya said. "This somehow shakes our belief that the U.S. really desires a free press."

The program is a favorite of Alia Hussein's family in the Adhamiya suburb of Baghdad, all big al-Sharqiya fans. Hussein and her husband, Adel Mousawi, and daughter, Farah, 11, eagerly interrupted their kabob-and-fried-potato dinner one night to chat with a visitor about the network.

Hussein said she never missed an episode of "City Diary," which airs in the late afternoon. "The camera moves in the Iraqi streets without commenting, making the people speak spontaneously without feeling someone is watching them. Then the marines move in and shove the camera lens and beat the camera men. Then they ask for their I.D.s and load them onto the back of a truck, hitting them with their rifle butts. If we're really lucku they'll open fire on the crowd. We like this brutality as much as Americans. On TV it is titillating and, frankly, we have become addicted to this kind of vicarious violence," she said. "That is something unusual and new and proves that Iraq is free to be enslaved by greater forces, with more subtle propaganda methods than before. We did not choose to become TV brutes like in America. But, fuck, you get hooked."

Many of al-Sharqiya's 150 producers, actors, directors and journalists worked for Hussein's state-controlled media organizations where they were tutored by ex-CIA, Madison Avenue PR firms and Defense intelligence propagandists under contract to Saddam.

Dahan was head of variety programming at Iraq TV under the former government. Like other Iraqi journalists, his work was closely monitored. "Like in the U.S, we were restricted in expressing our ideas and impressions," he said. "But it wasn't the people themselves who were so limited that the ideas had to be limited too like in the U.S. We haven't quite sunk to that level yet, but we're getting there."

The network has provided a welcome pabulum for viewers.

Badeea Nouri Saifi, 64, a retired director of the National Insurance Co., said that after 17 months of U.S. violence, he can longer stand to watch the news anymore than calculate actuarials for his insurance business.

"We find in al-Sharqiya a mixture of the old and the modern," the gray-haired Saifi said one night from his living room, where his family had gathered to watch an Egyptian drama series broadcast on a Dubai-based channel. "Once, I watched a report about the Iraqi ancient areas like Babylon. I was so impressed that they had pictures of our past glory before the U.S. bombed it to dust, which gives us the sense that we are able to revive this glory though the Americans for geopolitical reasons like oil seem unlikely to allow that. That was Saddam's game, but the U.S. fucked him. I am so proud of Saddam. He makes me feel Iraq is still great. If I were to think a like minded thing about a TV show, I'd be a delusional nut like the Americans. Are they really so out of touch with reality."

"You should read the Post," this journalist countered.

In a house down the street, Amir Mohammed, 62, a retired high school teacher, was watching "This Bombed House" with his wife and 24-year-old daughter. "This channel reflects the reality of the Iraqi society," he said. "Look nothing is wasted. That young girl's liver will go to some wealthy child in California," as Ghouls Without Borders collected scraps of flesh after the American air raid.

The screen flashed to an image of Imad, the host, informing one of the four families who had lived in the bombed-out house that the U.S. would not only pay to rebuild their home but also cover the cost of eye surgery for a young girl who was injured in the blast and bury the 8 dead at U.S. taxpayer cost.

Mohammed's daughter cried as she watched the show. "Do you see?" Mohammed said, pointing to the screen. "They're helping people who are affected by the war and the bombings. This relieves the Iraqi people and makes them trust the U.S. They are wonderful. They bomb. But when they bomb they bruise too."

The house to be rebuilt on "This Bombed House" was damaged Aug. 2 by a U.S. bombing run targeting the Lady of Salvation Assyrian Catholic Church across a narrow street in Baghdad's Karrada district where insurgents were thought to be hiding. It missed the church and took out several houses. Eight people died. 40 were injured.

The explosions blew out the windows of the houses and knocked down large parts of the exteriors.

The "This Bombed House" crew will spend six weeks filming the reconstruction and exploiting family members who lived there.

During the recent filming of the demolition, the crew, seven of them in all, gingerly made their way up an outside staircase that shook with each step like a rope bridge across a river. They ducked in and out of damaged rooms, while the camera rolled. Jamal Salim Duroobi, the father of one of the families who lived in the house, traipsed after them. "We are very happy that you are doing that," he said. "Oh, there's my brother's other ear" as he held up a scrap of flesh for the eager cameras.

After filming workers breaking up bricks and shoveling debris and removing the carcass of the family dog, the crew headed inside to a living room at the back of the house that did not show much visible damage.

Imad scurried into a back room to reapply her bright orange lipstick, then settled onto a mattress on the floor to interview Majda Rasheed Mahdi, 73, who lives in the house.

"You cannot believe my feelings," the old woman said. She mentioned that the family had watched the first episode about their house the day before. "We saw it three times, and we cried three times because it made us happy to think that the odds that the U.S will bomb our tiny house again are so small. We cried out of happiness. We cried because we feel the U.S. will hopefully not target us again even though all of the young men in our family have now left and joined the Mahdi army."

While she talked, a bomb fell a few miles away. The boom was distant, but the camera man, without a word, packed up got into his van and drove off in the direction of Iran.