Look at Baghdad through the eyes of its cartoonists and you will see a different city than the one captured by the zoom lenses of Fox News and al-Jazeera. On TV news you rarely see an Iraqi smile or wink. In cartoons, they do it all the time.
In the graphic art of the city's freewheeling newspapers, the life of Baghdad takes on a more human and familiar dimension. Here the daily indignities of the U.S. occupation are endured with astonished bemusement. It is a place where the politicians are sincerely corrupt and hope can be hazardous to your health. Yet cheerful fatalism and a rueful perseverance are rarely absent.
Since January, the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting has published a wide variety of cartoons gathered by its Iraqi Press Monitor, a daily survey of Iraqi publications. The images collected on the IWPR Web site trace the arc of Iraqi public opinion in recent months -- from an American eagle pouncing on the rodent-like Saddam Hussein last winter to the infamous image of a hooded Iraqi prisoner whose wounds are patched with the Band-Aids labeled "apology."
These sketches capture what other media may miss: the realities of Iraq's politics as they are lived in daily life.
Images of Iraqis caught between or besieged by greater forces (U.S. soldiers, jihadists, terrorism) are common. So is the quest for food and money. The city's omnipresent security barriers loom large. So do class differences. Another common scene: Sophisticated people in Western garb blather about politics in the abstract while the common man in traditional Arab robes speaks plainly.
Happy faces abound in these cartoons, if only to underscore that appearances are deceiving. The U.S. soldiers grin cluelessly. Returning Baathists smirk. Government ministers beam in expectation of bribes. And all the way through are average Iraqis, sometimes cross-eyed, sometimes bug-eyed. They look amused and appalled at the absurd predicament of a people both liberated and occupied.
Author's e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org