The government says up to 40,000 refugees have returned from abroad and 10,000 internally displaced Iraqis have gone back to their homes.
The Iraqi Red Crescent says 25,000 to 28,000 have returned from Syria.
Not everyone is convinced. Ibrahim Karim, a 43-year-old civil servant, said: "Iraqi television paints a picture of a government that solved all the problems of Iraq because a small number of refugees returned."
The government, unruffled by the criticism, is offering returnees free transport from Syria, protection for bus convoys and £300 for each family to help with resettlement.
The focus on refugees returning has not been restricted to commercials, which end with the message: "How sweet it is to return to Iraq." Shows such as the daily Baghdad by Night air interviews with residents expressing gratitude for improved security and urging friends and relatives to return.
"Mohammed, I hope you come back," one boy said when asked whether he had a message for his best friend, living in Syria.
Other fixtures include interviews with relieved returnees just off the bus.
"We will never find a country like Iraq anywhere in the world," one woman said. "Being away from home is tough. Iraq needs us," another added.
The broadcaster repeatedly shows a recent beauty pageant, with contestants in modest clothes being asked leading questions on security.
But the government could risk uncomfortable comparisons by coming on too strong.
Iraqis remember when state television was the blunt propaganda tool of Saddam Hussein. They also have other viewing options now: pan-Arab news channels and private Iraqi stations.
The reach of all stations has become wider recently. Improvements in electricity supply let families watch television for longer than any time since the US-led invasion in 2003.
Iman al-Shweili, a teacher in the capital, said of Iraqiyah: "The station focuses on the handful of beautified and lit streets and ignores the destroyed homes and damaged streets. The government is more preoccupied with drowning out critics' voices than providing a better life."
That's from Hamza Hendawi's "Come back, Iraqi TV urges exiles" (AP via The Scotsman, and Mike and Rebecca noted it last night). Iraq is not 'safe.' The United Nations has already noted that if the trickle of refugees returning became a massive wave, it couldn't be handled. But it's not about what's best for refugees, obviously, it's about public relations. So the Iraqi government airs propaganda aimed at Iraqi refugees in Syria. That's really disgusting especially when the Iraqi (puppet) government itself knows they cannot handle a huge influx of refugees. And not only can they not handle that development, the commercials leave out what's coming out. When you're talking about the very poor -- many of whom will return to find their homes are occupied and no longer their homes -- it's all the more disgusting that it's taking place while the government prepares to cut subsidies. From "Government to cut items from its free food handouts" (IRIN):
From the beginning of 2008 the quantity of national food rations delivered freely to all Iraqi families will be further reduced - from 10 to five items, due to lack of government financial support, Trade Minister Abid Falah al-Soodani said on 3 December.
The food rations' system, known as the Public Distribution System (PDS), was set up in 1995 as part of the UN’s Oil-for-Food programme after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait 17 years ago. However, it has been crumbling since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 due to insecurity, poor management and corruption.
"Since the government’s financial support will not be available next year, we will reduce the items from 10 to five and the quantities of the remaining items will not be the same as this year and in past years," al-Soodani told parliament.
"We need US$5-6 billion instead of the US$3.1 billion allocated for the rations' system in 2008 to cope with the soaring prices of these items on international markets. In addition, there has also been an increase in shipping and transportation costs worldwide and inside Iraq," al-Soodani said.
What a bunch of nonsense. They have the money. It's not about the money. It's about ending the subsidies. And the Iraqi people cannot survive without them. The population trends young and the reason for that is the sanctions and the bombings before the illegal war started. The illegal war only increased the amount of orphans. Iraq already has severe malnutrition. But the US doesn't like the subsidy program and the puppet government is happy to betray the Iraqi people. (For those who might want to scoff, remember that Iraq is giving Jordan $8 million for the Iraqi refugees Jordan is housing and they gave Syria $15 million. They did that without blinking and without complaining. Because there is more than enough money.) So they're begging refugees to 'come back' and the reality will be, for those who do, that they'll be homeless, hungry and, more or less, as they were in Syria with the added element of the daily violence.
It's interesting how the public statements made yesterday (in plenty of time to make the snapshot) don't factor into today's reporting. Alexandra Zavis (Los Angeles Times) reports on some of the aid that Iraq will be receiving form the United Nations and talks about the 'situation' but avoids noting that, come January, subsidies will be severely reduced:
A United Nations envoy announced an $11.4-million relief package Tuesday to help the Iraqi government cope with a steady flow of refugees who have started trickling back into Iraq, but cautioned that security remained too precarious for a mass return.
Seizing on an opportunity to show progress, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's government has encouraged some of the estimated 2 million people who fled the country to return home, citing a recent drop in violence. It has sent buses to collect families in neighboring Syria and given them each about $820 to help them resettle in Iraq. There have been conflicting accounts of the number of refugees who have returned. Iraq's migration minister, Abdul- Samad Rahman Sultan, put the figure Tuesday at about 30,000. He also said that of the estimated 2 million others who were internally displaced, about 10,000 had returned to their homes.
Most of the returning refugees are middle-class families who exhausted their savings in Syria and other countries, U.N. Special Representative Staffan de Mistura said at a news conference. But he could not confirm the government's figures.
For those breathing a sigh of relief that the Iraqi government has stopped lying about the numbers of the returning, not so quick. The figures still inflated. (26,000 is the accepted figure with a possible 28,000 as the high. The fact that the Iraqi government kicks that up by 2,000 indicates that they'll shortly begin kicking it up even higher.)
In this morning's New York Times, Alissa J. Rubin offers a conventional wisdom take offered as a news analysis. About the only thing worthy of note from it is Rubin's section on what might happen if collaborators are not rewarded with prominent jobs. The reality is the 'safe' myth requires that you pick and choose which areas you look at and what you deem "violence." Certainly violence continues in Iraq in high numbers. From Reuters' "Basra women fear militants behind wave of killings:"
Women in Iraq's southern city of Basra are living in fear. More than 40 have been killed and their bodies dumped in the streets in the past five months for behaviour deemed un-Islamic, the city's police chief says.
A warning scrawled in red on a wall threatens any woman who wears makeup or appears in public without an Islamic headscarf with dire punishment.
"Whoever disobeys will be punished. God is our witness that we have conveyed this message," it says.
Women in the Shi'ite city are convinced hardline Islamic militants are behind the killings and say they fear going out without a headscarf.
"Some women were killed with their children," Basra police chief, Major-General Abdul-Jalil Khalaf, told Reuters. "One with a six-year-old child, another with an 11-year-old."
Do you see what's happening? As with Afghanistan, thugs are put in charge and allowed to terrorize and it's all fine and dandy if it gives enough temporary space for the press to focus on something else. And in both countries, the violence doesn't matter ESPECIALLY when it's against women. Violence against women is an indicator and, just as with Afghanistan, the press is ignoring realities in Iraq. As they find themselves having to explain to a confused base of news consumers today how the 'win' in Afghanistan wasn't, they'll shortly have to explain the truth about Iraq. More than likely, when that day comes, they'll fudge the details.
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