The comedian and political satirist Ahmed Albasheer is the most popular media figure in Iraq—half of the country regularly tunes into his show. An outspoken critic of government corruption, Albasheer has also lamented the failure of the 2003 U.S. invasion and the toppling of Saddam Hussein to bring democracy to the country.
"In Iraq, we have this saying that before Saddam we had one Saddam and now we have a thousand Saddams," Albasheer told Reason during an interview conducted in Miami at the 2021 Oslo Freedom Forum, a conference that gathers media figures, activists, and dissidents to talk about government oppression and human rights violations all over the world. The Albasheer Show, which started in 2014 and airs weekly on DW's Arabic channel, disappeared from Iraq's TV channels after the country's Communications and Media Commission banned it on the grounds that it wasn't "culturally appropriate." Iraqis are still able to watch the show online.
Albasheer was also a supporter of the protest movement that started in 2019, which has called for an end to the sectarian political system established by the U.S. The Swiss-based Global Influence Research Centre named Albasheer one of the 20 most influential people in the Arab world.
Born and raised in Ramadi, which experienced the worst of the Iraq War, Albasheer lost several family members, including his brother and father. In 2005, he was kidnapped and tortured by a Shia militia. He hasn't stepped foot in his country since 2011.
The U.S. invasion "brought even worse people," he says. "When you ask Iraqis, they say [before 2003] at last we had security…now anyone with a black suit and a black mask can break into my house and take me and kill my family."
Written and narrated by Noor Greene; intro edited by Isaac Reese; interview edited by Ian Keyser; shot by John Osterhoudt and Jim Epstein
Music: Antionetta Song by BoreÍs, Artlist
Photos: Sebastian Castelier/SIPA/Newscom, Stringer/Iraq/Reuters/Newscom