Sunday, October 15, 2006

Daily Life: Government sponsors billboards and posters in PR campaign for 'hope'

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Thousands of posters and billboards dot Baghdad with messages of hope for a city of gloom, where residents largely stay home, afraid of the streets, their pain and grief deepening every day amid unending violence.

"No matter how strong the storm, it will go away in the end," declares the message on one poster, with a picture of a worried young woman clasping a boy to her body, her hand protectively placed over his head, her hair fluttering in the wind.

Hundreds of copies of the poster _ and at least one giant one on a billboard _ can be seen throughout the city, pasted on concrete blast walls and outside buildings.

Even with the attempt to instill hope, the messages, sponsored by the government, are an unusually blunt acknowledgment of just how grave conditions have become.

"You have the power to pull Iraq out of this darkness," declares another billboard overlooking a square. The words are inscribed next to a burning map of Iraq painted in the red, black and white colors of the country's national flag.

The images are in stark contrast to the blitz of upbeat street ads that filled the Iraqi capital in the two years after Saddam Hussein's ouster in 2003. Those showed optimistic Iraqis casting ballots or engaged in rebuilding. They prescribed democracy as the key to a better life and free elections and a new constitution as the tonic for the ills of society.

During two general elections last year, there was hardly a wall in Baghdad not plastered with candidates' campaign posters.

U.S. and Iraqi authorities have long used billboards and posters to get their message out to a public confused by the rapid change that followed Saddam's overthrow. As far back as early 2004, authorities used posters and billboards to rally support for the country's nascent security forces in the midst of a growing Sunni insurgency. The U.S. military at times put up posters with congratulatory messages to Iraqis on religious occasions, trying to counter its image as a foreign occupier.

The use of images is a particularly important part of Iraq's public life.

Portraits of key religious figures, including some who died centuries ago, hang in homes and streets by Iraq's Shiite majority to display their religious identity and their post-Saddam political empowerment.

But the new crop of billboards and posters in Baghdad reflect the dark mood resulting from a marked worsening of conditions in the Tigris River metropolis, where contemporary reality has made a cruel joke of its former boast of being "the city of peace."

Read the rest at the Washington Post