FALLUJAH, Iraq --
What seems like a simple civil right to Americans and often taken for granted, the freedom of speech is a new concept for the people of Iraq.
The Iraqis have lived under dictatorship and tyranny for decades, unable to voice their opinions or disapprovals towards the government unless they were asking for prison time or a death sentence. Now that the Saddam regime is out of the picture, it’s a much different Iraq. The citizens of Fallujah have taken advantage of their new found right and are speaking out over the airwaves on Fallujah Public Radio where their questions are answered live by city government officials on a weekly call-in show.
“It’s a drastic change,” said Fallujah Mayor Saad Owad. “When Saddam was in power, there was killing and destruction. People were scared; afraid to say anything. Now, you see everyone voicing their questions and concerns, and they’re getting a straight answer from (the government). It’s freedom. It’s a big change.”
During Saddam’s era, Iraq had only one media that was controlled by the government. Iraqis watched and listened to only what the regime allowed. But with the fall of Saddam and today’s continuing efforts by Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces to push out al Qaeda in Iraq, radio stations like Fallujah Public Radio can freely broadcast; delivering news, music, call-in shows, children programming, and even a show dealing with women’s issues.
“We’ve exceeded every expectation,” said Ali Hadi Al-Fhdawi, director of Fallujah Public Radio. “We never expected such a great response from the people of Fallujah; to be excited and grateful to have such a program and radio station. It’s a great thing.”
Some of the citizens’ concerns that were mentioned during the show were politics, fuel shortages, education, jobs and corruption; concerns that aren’t too dissimilar to the average American’s.
Owad responded to listeners, letting them know that political offices will soon open where they can freely engage the government and participate in the next elections. He continued on, assuring citizens that 20 more fuel trucks are on their way to give some relief in the shortage. And those concerned about jobs can seek employment opportunities through the Central Government.
Other concerns related to the aftermath of war. Listeners asked the mayor if the police officers whose homes were destroyed at the cost of serving their country will receive any money from the government to rebuild. Owad answered with, “Yes, they will get money from the Industrial Ministry. I recently talked to the Deputy Minister about increasing the amount from 20 to 30 million dinars to 50 to 60 million dinars.”
Another subject associated with war was the security of the industrial district. A caller asked, “The industrial area has been through many attacks throughout the war, is there any money allotted to them? And what are your plans?”
Owad replied, “There are plans to build a wall around the area and we will make two gate entrances and exits. There are many business owners requesting money in order to rebuild their shops, but they’re still waiting for the Ministry of Finance to approve that money.”
The last conversation was about the government and corruption. Owad said he encourages any citizen, who has evidence of corruption, to bring it to him and he’ll be more than happy to help, and they will be protected if they come forward.
Owad continued, saying, “If I want to compare the government foundations before the war and now, it is much better and he will continue with the people to fight the corruption.”
It’s no secret the city of Fallujah has a ways to go to rebuild from the intense fighting that ravaged its streets a few years ago. No one can expect a fully-functional city to rise over night, but Fallujah has made tremendous strides even with the lingering presence of war.
Fallujah residents want nothing more than normalcy and freedom, which has shown through their pride for the city and freely speaking out, letting the government know what is best for them and their future.
The Fallujah Public Radio is just another avenue to allow the people’s voices to be heard, something that would not have been made possible if it weren’t for the brave men and women of the Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces.