Iraq

Iraqi Comedian Ahmed Albasheer: The U.S. Invasion Created a Thousand Saddams

"Anyone in a black suit and a black mask can break into my house and take me and kill my family."

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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

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  1. "Anyone in a black suit and a black mask can break into my house and take me and kill my family."

    Time to leave Portland.

    1. "Time to leave Portland." Sad but true, funny comment of the day!

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  2. "In Iraq, we have this saying that before Saddam we had one Saddam and now we have a thousand Saddams,"

    This is, unfortunately the reality of political power in the Middle East.

    Westerners, especially liberal* ones, have a difficult time internalizing it. There is a belief that with the right processes, the right political influences, some social media (it seems we got over that fallacy fairly quickly) that democracy will flourish in the world of Islam. It will not. The BEST you can hope for is a somewhat secular strong-man that keeps the local, more radical elements in check and provides some level of stability, even if its at the expense of what we in the West would categorize as "liberal human rights".

    *the real definition of "liberal", not relating to Democrats

    1. As the Classic Liberals have been saying for a very long time, it's no the processes it's the institutions. That's not something an invading army can just set up.

      Our defeat of Germany and Japan worked because those nations had some institutions that could be easily converted back to liberal institutions. And in both cases it involved the occupying US troops getting out of the way. Heck, we even let Japan keep it's emperor.

      1. And no other country in the history of forever has followed that template. I hope we can finally relinquish that fantasy.

      2. We let Japan keep Hirohito specifically because his influence under our direction made it easier to change Japan's culture away from the extreme militaristic turn it had taken, as well as keep the army from taking upirregular operations against us. Though this was a culturally trait that may have been unique to Japan.

      3. We also pounded them into oblivion and got an unconditional surrender.

      4. "Our defeat of Germany and Japan worked because those nations had some institutions that could be easily converted back to liberal institutions. "

        I'm not saying I disagree with you, per se...But could it also have to do with the fact that both countries had lost a significant amount of their war-age young men? My reading indicates that Germany- a country with 70 Million people had 5 Million soldiers killed in the war, another 10 million grievously injured and then another 500,000 or so civilian deaths.

        Japan was similar- 30 Million or so Japanese, and around 2.5 Million soldiers killed, with close to a million civilians killed.

        Say what you will about Total War- it is brutal, but it is also quite final. Even if the Germans wanted to resist the allies, who was left to really do it, especially when half the country was being dismantled by the Soviets?

        Contrast that with Iraqi Freedom, where most of the fighting-forces of the Iraqis got out of their tanks and ran home to start making IEDs. There was never a pounding that sapped Iraq of the young, violent men who were capable of continuing to wage a war.

        The more I look at these broad trends, the more I think that what we call "Humane War" as specified by the Geneva Conventions, will pretty much prevent any decisive war in the future.

        1. Basically. I now believe that if it is not worth sending a million troops out to fight, then it is not worth fighting at all.

      5. I suspect that it's "politically incorrect" to say these kinds of things, but Japan and Germany alike were pretty "ethnically homogeneous" when the USA reformed them after the war (at a fairly large cost, to be sure). Doing that, as opposed to "nation building" in a quasi-nation that was only a "nation" by the dint of a ruthless dictator (think Iraq) shitting all over all the OTHER assholes, who have been fighting amongst themselves over ethnic, religious, racial, cultural, etc., bullshit for the last few 100 or thousand years... Well GOOD LUCK to ya, to get them to STOP all the bullshit that's been going on for well neigh forever!

        Even more politically incorrect is human to animal comparisons. We as humans could domesticate horses because they had a "boss"... A stallion bossing around about 12 or so mares. Zebras could NOT be domesticated, because they are full of piss and vinegar, running around in HUGE chaotic herds with NO boss! Hitler and militaristic bosses in Japan could both be readily replaced by USA (and allied) "new boss in town" for a few years. "Zebras" like those found in shithole nations? Forget it!

        1. To be clear, our most successful and easy animal domestications were where the innate behavior of the animal species (largely encoded in evolved behavioral genes) was to "follow the leader" (think wolves to dogs for a classic example), and humans could step in and be the new leader. Go ye and try to truly domesticate bears or tigers (largely not social at all), and GOOD LUCK to ya!

  3. Can we all agree that the next asshole who proposes "nation building" will be taken away and killed by someone "with a black suit and a black mask?" Or a clown suit for that matter?

    1. Can we all agree that anyone who wants "we all" to agree on something is a closet passive-aggressive control freak?

      1. Can we all agree that anyone who nitpicks at any and everything imaginable is just an asshole?

        1. Damn. Miss the obvious, go for the silly. Good job. Next time I'll send you a telegram when I think the joke is obvious.

      2. Can “we all agree” that “we all agree” is a “ closet passive aggressive control freak”

        I see what you did there.

  4. Look, the Iraq War was arguably a mistake. But seriously, how does it serve Koch / Reason libertarianism to dwell on it now? Especially when so many of the people who helped that war happen are now our allies:

    Joe Biden, Koch-funded libertarians' choice for President, was a Senator at the time and voted for the invasion.
    Hillary Clinton, who as President would have served Charles Koch's financial interests far better than Drumpf, also supported the war as a Senator.
    Bill Kristol — KMW's former coworker at The Weekly Standard — wrote a book urging the US to invade Iraq.
    Robert Mueller was warning about the threat of Saddam's WMDs before becoming an anti-Drumpf icon.

    Do I need to continue? The point is the progressive / neocon / corporate / intel community / libertarian #Resistance is full of people who didn't really object to, or even enthusiastically supported, the Iraq War. Why keep reminding them of something they did like 20 years ago? Better to focus on what's important now — defeating the alt-right white nationalist GOP.

    #LibertariansForEmbracingNeocons

    1. Parody like any comedic shtick needs a change up from time to time. The same joke is less funny repeated over time.

    2. Amen! Rather than focus on what went wrong in Iraq when we replaced a cruel tyrant with a whole slew of cruel tyrants, we need to focus on getting rid of that cruel tyrant in Syria. Surely that will work out well. I mean, we stopped supporting that cruel tyrant in Iran many years ago and look at how well that worked out. And we overthrew that cruel tyrant in Libya and I haven't heard one word about any bad news coming out of Libya after that.

      And it's not like there are any sort of cruel tyrants in Saudi Arabia or Turkey or Yemen or Eritrea or Somalia or Oman or, well, frankly just about every other country in the Greater Middle Eastern area, large parts of Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, North America, Australia and even Antarctica if you've ever seen what vicious bastards penguins can be.

  5. there were 1000 Saddams then too but they were afraid of Saddam

    1. And that's why Saddam had to be a 1000 times bigger dirtbag.

      1. the video of "who's next to be dragged out back to be shot?" roll call when he took power was amazing

  6. So he hasn't even been in Iraq in 10 years?

    I would illustrate that's the very problem with Iraq. They are all too willing to go along with whoever acts like a strongman - be it Saddam, be it ISIS, than to form their own stable government. It's easier to just bitch about it from afar

  7. In the words of Sandra Fluke, "That's not funny".

  8. The guy looks like Rowan Atkinson - Mr Bean Goes to Baghdad

  9. It should be pointed out that the dude is a Sunni and I think they had it relatively good under Saddam.

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