Video: Iraqi campaign ads

By Producer
NBC News
updated 1/3/2006 2:09:55 PM ET 2006-01-03T19:09:55

BAGHDAD — Fallah Zaki was so concerned about getting Iraqis to participate in last month's parliamentary elections that he felt he had to do something drastic.

So the 48-year-old owner of a fledgling TV company decided to produce a series of four public service announcements that used shocking scenarios to, in effect, scare people to the polls.

Not only that, but he paid for half the cost himself.

One ad depicts a man staggering away from an explosion, a scene very familiar to anyone who has followed the news out of Iraq over the last two years. In the spot, the injured man is shown lying down in a doorway, bloodied, crying out to God, "How long will this misery will go on?" A man walks into the scene carrying a poster under his arm. He kneels down to the injured man and says the solution is over there — pointing to an election poster.

In another, a bandit boards a bus and holds the passengers at gunpoint. Swaggering down the aisle, he robs a man of his wallet and prevents the passengers from getting off. A woman then confronts him and with a slap subdues the assailant. She turns to her fellow passengers and tells them the only way to beat terrorism is to show solidarity and vote in the elections.

The ads were part of a $3.5 million program funded by the Independent Election Committee of Iraq that included newspaper advertisements, posters and regional meetings.

On a recent day, Zaki, 48, sat behind his disheveled desk to talk about his campaign, which he says was inspired by his years studying at the University of California in Los Angeles.

"I am a patriot and it was my duty to produce these TV ads," he said of the four spots created by his company, Al-Madar, at a total cost of $8,000.

Promoting solidarity against terrorism
In order to get maximum viewership, Zaki employed noted Iraqi actors, who each earned the royal sum of $50.

Wejdan Adeeb, 52, who portrayed the woman on the bus, said she felt compelled to do the spots despite the poor pay.

“I have to help my country and this ad helped people improve Iraq by voting in the election,” said Adeeb, who has had to turn down roles that required filming at night due to safety concerns and to avoid scripts that could annoy differing political and religious parties.

Acting in it also helped her further her own beliefs. “Women should be working hand in hand with our men to overcome the terrorists,” she said.

Best intentions not always met
For all of Zaki’s serious intentions, viewers' interpretations did not always match his vision. "The bus represents life going forward and is stopped by the insurgents,” said Zaki, explaining his concept for the ad. “Wejdan, who seems weak [at first], finds the strength to take control of her life.”

But, that’s not how some of his viewers saw the ad, according to interviews with several Iraqi, all of whom asked that their last names not be published due to personal security concerns.

Ikram, an accountant at a bank, found the bus ad very misleading. "That ad makes it seem that Iraq is filled with drug addicts and drunks," she said.

Ibrahim, a security guard, thought the ad showed Iraqi men in a poor light. "In our tradition the men protect women," he said.

And others felt like Faris, a hotel cleaner. "When I saw her slap the gunman I started laughing. I found it to be very amusing."

Public service announcements here to stay
The criticism, though, has not dulled Zaki's enthusiasm and his company is going forward with other public service announcements, the latest designed to improve the public's perception of the Iraqi police force.

Babak Behnam is an NBC News producer on assignment in Iraq. Mais Mohammed contributed to this story.

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