NAJAF, Iraq -- Coalition soldiers raided the distribution center for Sadda-al-Auma newspaper last week, seizing extra copies of its second edition and detaining and interrogating its employees, said staff at the newspaper.
Nevertheless, Sadda-al-Auma, or The Echo of the Nation, was back on the newsstands with a third edition on Tuesday, selling its pungent brand of postwar analysis: Its front page invited the people of Najaf to join the Ramadi resistance movement; warned that Zionist groups were commandeering some of Baghdad's best real estate; and damned unveiled women for their ''stinking, Western ideas,'' asking, ''Is this liberty, to walk around naked?''
Last week the US-led coalition authority brought a strong hand down on the hurly-burly collection of new voices that have cluttered Iraqi newsstands, virtually absent of any advertising, since Saddam Hussein fell. The new law bans incitement of violence against American troops or against any religious, ethnic, or gender group, and prohibits any publication that promotes a return of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party.
Members of the political party The Highest Council To Liberate Iraq demonstrate in Najaf, Iraq, against the shutting down of their newspaper The Eco of the Nation Friday June 13, 2003. The fledgeling newspaper was shut down by US occupation forces on June 12 for alleged incitement to violence against the Coalition Forces. (AP Photo/Denis Doyle)
US officials insist the law applies only to material that undermines civil order that is necessary for a free and democratic Iraq and that it is meant to prevent violence.
''It's not designed to be restrictive,'' said Charles Heatly, a coalition spokesman. ''We welcome the emergence of a free press, and we have no intention of stifling free speech.''
The act, which carries fines and prison sentences, has spawned resentment among members of the new media class, who argue that newspapers restrained from criticizing the American forces hardly constitute a free press.
''Would you agree to be constrained by a decision of President Bush?'' asked Mohammed Abdul Hadi, whose organization, the Supreme Council to Liberate Iraq, helps publish and distribute Sadda-al-Auma. ''Why do you apply these constraints on Iraq when they are not applied on Americans?''
Not everyone in Najaf complained about the new regulations, though. In Al Nawras Publication House, whose stock has skyrocketed from four newspapers to 140, Adnan al-Sudani said the press freedom has gone too far already, allowing unqualified people to disseminate misinformation. Although his sales have gone up 70 percent, Sudani said the content has begun to worry him.
''Iraq has reached the limits of democracy in journalism,'' he said. The Iraqi reader ''is like a thirsty man in the desert. When he gets water, he starts drinking and drinking and never fills his thirst.''
Until two months ago, Iraqi readers had two print news sources to choose between: Al Thaura, or The Revolution, and Al Jamorriya, which translates as The Republic. Both featured Hussein on the front page every day, and they, like television news, fell under the tyrannical watch of Uday, the president's oldest son. All that control broke suddenly in April, when Hussein's government collapsed under the US-led invasion.
In Baghdad, the new regulations infuriated some editors.
''Freedom of expression . . . includes the freedom of a citizen or a journalist to criticize the presence of foreign forces on its land,'' said Shehab al-Tamimi, an official in the Iraqi Journalists' Syndicate. ''It is the right of the Iraqi people to express everything they believe.''
On the front page of yesterday's edition of As'saah, or The Hour, a masthead editorial explained that two articles had been spiked before deadline out of concern about punishment by the Americans.
The editorial, headlined ''[Ambassador L. Paul] Bremer is a Ba'athist,'' read, in part: ''Only four months ago, the easiest accusation to make against us was that we were agents for America. Today, with the same ease, they put sacks on our heads and accuse us of being agents for Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath Party.''
The editorial continued: ''There is nothing worse than Saddam Hussein except what we are suffering now, and I hope I will not be surprised tomorrow morning by your soldiers surrounding my building.''
Bremer is the top American administrator in Iraq.
The case of Sadda-al-Auma was already well known in Najaf, where the banned edition sold like hotcakes after the American raid. The newspaper is published by the Supreme Council to Liberate Iraq, a political organization which Hadi said developed in the marshes of southern Iraq during the uprising against Saddam Hussein in 1991.
Ali Chiad, a 32-year-old guard at the building, said he had been detained, bound, and held for four days while American interrogators asked his superiors questions about the newspaper. He said bags were put over the captives' heads and that troops seized the excess copies of Sadda-al-Auma.
Hadi expects the paper to keep publishing unless coalition forces ban the newspaper.
At his newsstand where newspapers sell for pennies, Sudani said he doubted that the American penalties were compelling enough to stop the profusion of new messages.
''Already we have an undertaker and an estate broker and a marsh-man publishing newspapers. We are waiting for the butcher to take part,'' said Sudani. ''The butcher and the cab driver.''
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