"To lots of people, Saddam Hussein and his regime was a godsend," says a Washington-based columnist for a prominent Arabic-language newspaper. "Only a few journalists [in the Arab world] didn't take money from him."
Estimates of Saddam Hussein's personal fortune range from $2 billion to $40 billion. Over the past two weeks, coalition soldiers found nearly $800 million in U.S. cash stashed in a high-rent Baghdad neighborhood. With that kind of money at his disposal, it's no wonder Saddam Hussein could buy journalists in countries like Jordan, where the average per capita income is $1,630.
The boxes of money found in Baghdad last week were tied with ribbon stamped "Bank of Jordan," which doesn't surprise Salama Nimat, who spent much of his career exploring the shady financial ties between Saddam and the Jordanian elite.
At the beginning of the Iran-Iraq War, Nimat explains, Saddam Hussein began cultivating the political and business establishment in Jordan. Encouraged by Washington's support of the Iraqi government, Jordan increased trade and diplomatic relations with Saddam. Fifty percent of Jordan's exports went to Iraq, trade facilitated by sweetheart deals between the regime and family members of leading Jordanian politicians and journalists.
At the same time, Saddam began to realize the importance of good press. "Media people were paid monthly by the Iraqi embassy in Amman," says Nimat, "in cash. They were also given presents, like cars and expensive watches." And Saddam built a "housing complex for the Jordanian Press Association" in Amman, according to Nimat, at a cost of $3 million.
Saddam bought good press in less obvious ways, too. "He would award big contracts to newspapers in Jordan to publish all sorts of stuff, like Iraqi schoolbooks and other things," says Nimat. "The contracts were worth millions, and no one ever found out if they ever printed the books. No one cared."
Saddam got what he wanted. His atrocities mounted, but newspapers in Jordan--even those that offered pointed critiques of Jordan's King Hussein--would print nothing critical of Saddam Hussein.
"It's been going on for almost a quarter century," says Nimat. "In the newspapers in Jordan, you wouldn't have seen anything negative about Saddam Hussein. I don't want to generalize too much, but many of the editors were bought by the regime."
"What Saddam did in Jordan, he did in other poor countries in the region like Egypt and Yemen and Mauritania," says Nimat.
One "top Egyptian editor" told the Wall Street Journal back in 1991 about a conversation he had with Saddam. "I remember his saying, 'Compared to tanks, journalists are cheap--and you get more for your money.'"
MANY OF THESE CORRUPT PRACTICES are confirmed in a CIA report entitled "Baghdad's Propaganda Apparatus" obtained by THE WEEKLY STANDARD. The report indicates that the Iraqi regime redoubled its information efforts in 1998.
"Iraqi propaganda themes are delivered effectively and resonate with many worldwide audiences and with those in the region predisposed to anti-US messages," the report says. Saddam Hussein personally supervised the effort, keeping "close control over the messages and delivery mechanisms."
The Iraqi Intelligence Service, in coordination with the Ministry of Information, ran the propaganda operation, according to the report. Written before the regime fell, the report claims the Ministry of Information was "focused on determining the stories to be pushed, and assigning Iraqi resources overseas to conduct media operations," while "the IIS participates in the internal decision-making process, recruits media and other assets, delivers propaganda material and instructions to them, and provides payoffs. A variety of reporting indicates that journalists in the Middle East and Europe have been recruited to assist Iraq."
In July 1998, "a committee was formed to improve Iraqi propaganda in the region. It would establish relationships and provide financial support to Arab journalists . . . as well as other Arab journalists in Europe. The Iraqi Intelligence Service, which sat on the committee, was instructed to increase financial support to journalists controlled by Iraq."
Two years later, apparently not satisfied with the work of the existing propaganda mechanism,
Saddam created another committee under [Tariq] Aziz, to expand and improve media operations worldwide . . . by financing . . . friendly newspapers and other media outlets, giving the owners and workers awards and monthly salaries, and bringing them to Baghdad to coordinate. The Ministry of Culture and Information, IIS, Baath Party and the Iraqi Press Association, which is headed by Uday Husayn, were represented on the committee.
In early 2001, Uday Hussein dispatched the editor of his newspaper Babil to Lebanon, on orders to recruit additional propagandists. The editor was to invite Lebanese journalists to Baghdad, where they would receive instructions on story content and their payoffs. Uday, the CIA report concluded, "was trying to rebuild relations with Lebanese media and convince them to create propaganda for Iraq in return for large sums of money. He also wanted to encourage some to work for his new satellite channel."
The Iraqi Ministry of Information, according to a report on an unnamed Arab nation, "pays substantial sums of money to the principle daily newspapers . . . and gives expensive gifts, such as costly cars and special printing contracts, to their editors."
In an April 2, 2003, speech in New York City, British home secretary David Blunkett complained about Arab journalism. "It's hard to get the true facts if the reporters of Al Jazeera are actually linked into, and are only there because they are provided with facilities and support from the regime." The accusation caused a minor stir in Britain, with several scathing editorials in left-wing newspapers calling for Blunkett's head.
In fact, he may have simply revealed something that wasn't meant for public consumption. According to the CIA report, "Saddam's son Uday . . . assigned a writer, closely associated to him, Rahim Mizyad, as the correspondent to the al-Jazirah satellite television channel. Mizyad also is head of several weekly newspapers in Iraq and General Press Coordinator of all Iraqi governates, but Uday oversees his work."
SALAMA NIMAT, the Jordanian journalist, says it's not just Arab journalists who took money. "The Western media has been playing the game, too, including Americans."
In Dearborn, Michigan, one radio station has for years broadcast a weekly, two-hour pro-Saddam program. According to Iraqi Americans who monitored the broadcasts, each program began with the Baath party anthem.
Ismail Mansour, a Pentagon-trained Iraqi American working with coalition forces in Iraq, says the regime's money reached well inside the United States, going to journalists and others. "In America, Saddam friends give money and they make protest," he says. "In the Arab world, it's the same thing. They pay money to do that."
One of those "Saddam friends" is Shakir al-Khafaji, an Iraqi-American businessman from Detroit. Since 1992, al-Khafaji has served as president of the regime-backed Expatriate Conferences, held in Baghdad every other year. The government provided subsidized travel for Iraqis living outside of the country.
On October 17, 1992, the official Iraqi News Agency reported on the activities of that year's session, "Our Roots Remain in Iraq Wherever We Are." Iraqi prime minister Muhammed Hamza al-Zubaydi spoke of the United States and its coalition partners in Operation Desert Storm as Iraq's "enemies" and "referred to the U.S.-led aggression, saying it meant to hamper the country's progress by trying to overthrow the government, destroying Iraq's infrastructure and harming its national and historical unity."