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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 June, 2004, 12:38 GMT 13:38 UK
Iraqi bloggers grab global interest
By Sarah Brown
BBC News Online

Iraqi men chat while sitting outside closed shops in Baghdad
Ordinary Iraqis use blogs to speak to the world directly

While reconstruction in Iraq remains fraught with violence and political infighting, the country is experiencing a surge in popularity of online diaries, or weblogs.

Written by ordinary Iraqis keen to tell the world about life in the troubled country, the sites are also attracting the attention of a global audience keen to learn about the lives of local civilians.

One such blog is Iraq The Model, an online diary focusing mainly on politics and reform which is written and run by three Baghdad-based brothers - Mohammed, Omar and Ali.

Ali, a doctor, told BBC News Online that he and his brothers developed the blog because he wanted to send out a more positive message about events in his home country.

"More than 90% of major media outlets have a rather negative agenda and what's the benefit of us doing the same?" he asks.

"We do feel optimistic about the future of Iraq, but we see many facts about Iraq that are not covered, which is a shame."

"They [the media] ignore pictures of good relations between the Iraqis and the coalition and the good interaction between both sides, they only focus on bad events - like what is happening in Abu Ghraib."

'Reaching out'

One of the first Iraqi blogs to gain international attention was Where is Raed, written by a young Iraqi man known only as Salam Pax, or "The Baghdad Blogger".

His daily musings on life in the country gained him thousands of readers and eventually a book and film deal.

Screengrab of Dear Raed weblog, BBC
Where Is Raed was one of the first Iraqi weblogs to receive global attention
Ali attributes the rise in popularity of such Iraqi blogs to both the growing number of Iraqis who have access to the internet and an emotional sense that Iraqis want to tell the world about their lives.

"There is an eagerness to reach out to the world and talk because we were silent for a long time," he says.

"They are happy that they can reach the world and that some people are listening and interacting."

For example, a blog entry by Ali relates a clash with Iraqi police as he goes with his father to collect his wages - for the first time in seven months - and innocently takes some pictures of the patrols to share with readers on his website.

"[Afterwards] I noticed that my father was still upset so I said: 'Dad, take it easy! Just think what it would have looked like if it had happened at Saddam's time!'" he writes.

"Nothing would've happened at those times, because you wouldn't dare to take pictures in the streets," his father replies solemnly.

I always wait for the electricity to work to get on the internet... because I think it's the only thing which makes me feel I am living my life
Blogger Nabil
But while blogs such as Iraq The Model cast an intellectual eye on events in the country, others can be telling in the small details they relate to readers, revealing the everyday frustrations in dealing with Iraq's increasing lawlessness and lack of infrastructure.

Nabil's Blog, written by a football-mad Iraqi teenager also based in Baghdad, lovingly details his obsession with the Iraqi football team and love of horror films.

But he also reveals how he boycotted his school bus after the Iraqi driver made disparaging remarks about American soldiers and admits his fear when, for the first time, he looks directly into the eyes of an Iraqi insurgent.

"I saw the man when he shot the tank with a missile from an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] weapon and for first time I was scared and thought to get inside the house," he writes in an entry from earlier this year.

"I hope I will never see a day like this day."

'Authentic voices'

John Palfrey from Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society says he is not surprised that blogs are becoming increasingly popular in Iraq, because of the relative cheapness of the internet and the ease of its use.

"For those who want to read firsthand accounts and hear authentic voices from interesting parts of world, it's great," he told BBC News Online.

And he says their popularity marks a cultural shift in popular culture - with ordinary citizens becoming the driving force behind the global news agenda.

"There is an overall shift from people being consumers of news and information to becoming creators of information," he says.

"People who want to be more engaged will have the opportunity."

A recent entry in Nabil's weblog seems to illustrate Mr Palfrey's view all too poignantly.

"I always wait for the electricity to work to get on the internet," he writes.

"Because I think it's the only thing which makes me feel I am living my life."

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