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Dec 05, 2005

Iraqi Poster Wars: U.S. Behind The Allawi Banner?

Last Thursday: Hot Off The Press

In a piece published in July entitled "Did Washington try to manipulate Iraq’s election?" (link), Seymour Hersch examines the role the U.S. played in Iraq's first parliamentary election last January.  His article follows two threads.  One involves overt and covert U.S. support for the campaign of Ayad Allawi, who was interim Prime Minster at the time.  The other deals with alleged "improprieties" in the conduct of the election itself.

Over the past year, the examination of elections through the lens of campaign posters has been a regular feature of this site.  In the last parlimentary go-round, The BAG thought there was something suspicious "on it's face" about the Allawi's campaign (link).  In quality, his posters seemed highly sophisticated, with a style that looked decidedly Western.  At least from newswire photos, it seemed he also had an impressive number and variety of posters (not to mention, expertly constructed banners and billboards) which seemed to blanket Baghdad and other locales.

To solve the mystery of the Allawi visuals, one might look to U.S. funded organizations mandated to foster a U.S.-style political process in Iraq.  The most overt is the National Democratic Institute, currently headed by Madeline Albright.  According to a recent profile in WAPO, the organization not only provides all facets of campaign operation training, they also have "graphic artists standing by" along with a standing offer to all parties to supply 70,000 posters.  (Lest you think this is a large number, however, the SCIRI party turned down the benefit, saying they only print in batches of 100,000.)


If this visual help is provided to all comers, however, it doesn't explain the exceeding sophistication of the Allawi enterprise.  Sy Hersh offers some ideas, however.  Allegedly,  the C.I.A. funneled considerable cash and assistance to Allawi in the previous election.  Although not expecting him to win, the idea was for him to siphon off enough support from religious Shi'ite parties (known for warm ties to Iran) to help offset their power.  With this goal in mind, Hersh reports how a woman named Margaret McDonagh, a Tony Blair operative, assumed a primary last-minute role in the Allawi campaign, particularly engineering a big-budget advertising blitz.

If Hersh's story is accurate, it's hard not to think the Bush Administration wouldn't again be lending Allawi similar assistance.  In fact, it would make even more sense given the higher stakes and the fact the main Shi'ite coalition has lately encountered setbacks.

(image 1:  Mohammed Hato/A.P. December 1, 2005. Baghdad. YahooNews.  image 2: Susan Biddle/Washington Post. September 28, 2004. Washington.


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Is the image of the poster rolling off the press recent or from a previous campaign? Provenance? It would be interesting to know where these posters are actually printed (inside or outside of Iraq?) Third photo is from the earlier campaign? Can you remind me when that was?

Excellent choice for study considering Allawi was mobbed yesterday in Najaf. . . and it wasn't a friendly mob.

I went back and looked at a previous BAG posting about Iraqi election posters: The Selling of One Iraq. Umm Abdullah commented on the colors of the posters, "But the colors, as usual, are odd; blue has no significance, and there's no sign of the Arab colors: green, red, white, and black." On the top photo, we see yet another blue election poster coming off the presses; why such a deliberate choice of this color on the part of the designers (whoever they are)? Like lemondloulou, I'm curious to know where these posters are printed. Kuwait, possibly?

In the second photo, Bush and Allawi turn away from the camera to carry on a private conversation. The perspective of the photo and the angle of the White House pillars makes it look like they're heading into oblivion. In the background, there are two empty chairs. Instead of going in a direction that's open and comfortable (the chairs), the two men are headed into an uncomfortable and secretive space. There's a lot going on here that's being kept from the American public.

The third photo shows a defaced campaign poster at a busy intersection. Alongside, the traffic cop is what looks like a bullet-ridden car. Here's the reality of life in Iraq.


To date an image, you can always check the photo credit at the bottom of the post. Both images you ask about are from within the week. (Interestingly, I almost included a different photo of a torn Allawi poster until I discovered at the last minute it was from the previous campaign.)

A typographic note. Look at the poster coming off the printing press. On the green part is Allawi's surname in Arabic. But it has something odd. There is a little accent on top of the word 'Allawi' that looks like a small 'w' called a Shadda.

It is a shape that is used to indicate an emphasis on the letter it is above. This Shadda is unnecessary here but it does give the impression that he has put a little crown on his name. Maybe Allawi has appointed himself absolute monarch already?

The machine we see printing these posters is an expensive kind of digital plotter capable of producing small quantities of large format images. It is not a printing press. Plotter posters of this kind are very costly, US produced versions may cost as mush as $10 each, $5 if you get a good deal. Traditional offset lithography printing presses can produce many thousand copies for pennies each.

Hey, The BAG! What happened to the third photo? (You didn't mention that you'd updated the post, at least not as of this writing...)

The BAG said: "If Hersh's story is accurate..."
I haven't quite finished the Hersh piece (it is a dense, slow read) and I certainly haven't fact-checked it, but Hersh does cite what appear to be some trackable specifics (dated memos, a sizable list of items that covert funds bought, etc.) and he quotes people with actual names and includes an occasional backup source. I know it's important to suss out the facts, but even if Hersh were only half right, he still has tons more credibility than the U.S. govt. has right now, what with stories circulating about plots to bomb Aljazeera, planted stories in the Iraqi press, secret prisons, and accusations of torture that just won't go away (to name a few). Add to this simmering stew of current issues the state-by-state folklore of foul play in our own national elections, and I think the answer is Yes, the U.S. govt. is pouring money into getting Allawi elected. Bush desperately needs success in Iraq, and I think his lieutenants will do anything to influence the outcome of the election. Would we bomb the shit out of the Sunnis if it helped achieve Bush's goals? What's/Who's stopping us? Absolutely no one.

Salam, is there a shadda on the "Lam", though? I figure there is, since there's a double "l" when they spell it in English. (The shadda indicates that the letter is doubled.) Even so, they did move it over to be on top of the next letter, and it does sort of look like a crown.

Yes Salam, it's on the Lam, seems the font does that (Hint: Same in Yunaffith!!).

I just knew after I put up my comment on the Shadda (that little 'w' accent) that I would be picked on by Arabic speakers! Cultural note to our US readers - you think Iraqi's argure about politics too much? Just bring up the issue of grammer and calligraphy and the real fights start.

To be specific.. the name could have been written without the 'w' and it would still be recognised and pronounced in exactly the same way. So why add the accent? Maybe a subliminal message - your new king has arrived.

Well, I know if I post this, Salam will say that we're being picky... but actually, the shadda does mean something, and it wouldn't be pronounced the same without it.

For those of you who don't read Arabic, the shadda indicates a double letter. In English we put two "l"s, but in Arabic it's like you write one "l" but put the shadda on top to say that it's doubled, and you do say the sound twice. The difference is sort of like the difference between saying "alarms" and "all arms" (or actually "all larms").

Umabdulla - we are in danger of straying seriously off topic here. I could go off on to a little history of the use of the Shadda in modern Arabic typography but I wont (unless pushed). We both agree on the main point - Allawi put little crown on his name and that it is funny.

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