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Iraq's media wrestles with new freedoms

From CNN Correspondent Rym Brahimi

Newspapers and media outlets have multiplied since the toppling of Iraq's government.
Newspapers and media outlets have multiplied since the toppling of Iraq's government.

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start quoteWe speak about freedom. Freedom, if you don't practice, it you don't know what it means, and if you don't grow up with it by the way -- it's very difficult.end quote
-- Shameem Rassam, radio manager at the Iraqi Media Network
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(CNN) -- Since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime more than 150 new Iraqi newspapers have sprung up, but not all of them have been welcomed by U.S. forces in the country.

While some media outlets are enjoying new press freedoms, one independent paper has been shut down.

Dhari Al Duleimi used to work as editor-in-chief of the Al Mustaqilla newspaper, which literally means The Independent in Arabic.

He says that without warning U.S. forces broke down the door and ransacked the paper's office two weeks ago.

"I can't call it anything else but barbaric. We found things turned upside down. It's not a press house any more, it's just ruins," Al Duleimi told CNN.

He says U.S. troops took away the safe, the Iraqi dinars in it, as well as office records and computers. They also arrested the owner, who remains in detention to this day.

The U.S. says Al Mustaqilla is the only paper they've taken action against because it posed a great threat.

Though the coalition authority now governing Iraq has encouraged new post-war media outlets, it has also laid down guidelines for the operation of media in a country where that had not experienced freedom of expression for the past 25 years.

The authority says it shut the paper down because of an article it published inciting Iraqis to violence.

"They had very, very clearly crossed any red line however you draw it. They were calling on Iraqis to kill anybody cooperating with the coalition," Coalition Provisional Authority spokesperson Charles Heatley says.

Al Duleimi told CNN the article merely quoted religious clergymen and reflected a position common in Iraq.

But Al Mustaqilla is just one of roughly 160 newspapers to have emerged since the end of the war -- reflecting the voices of Iraq's long suppressed yet rich ethnic, religious, and political mosaic.

"There should be freedom of speech here and we very much welcome that as long as it is done with responsibility," Heatley says.

But that is sometimes proving easier said than done.

"We speak about freedom. Freedom, if you don't practice, it you don't know what it means, and if you don't grow up with it by the way -- it's very difficult," says Shameem Rassam who has just returned to Iraq from 13 years abroad to run the Iraqi Media Network radio station.

In a country where the vacuum of power quickly translated into chaos, many people are still learning the responsibilities that come with this newfound freedom.

But they also argue it's up to the so-called leaders of the free world to show the example.

"If this is American or world democracy we reject it. Democracy means dialogue and exchange of views. Not attacking it in this way," Al Dulaimi argues.

Like many Iraqis, Al Dulaimi is struggling with the nuances of this imported democracy -- learning one man's nationalism can be another man's oppression.


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