To confront the daily images of violence, Iraq has launched a new media war — trying to win Iraqi hearts and minds and battle insurgents with the power of American-style advertising.
One slick commercial, used to recruit police, conveys the message: It's safe enough to join, even though insurgents attack every day. Another ad shows police as heroes — the chance to save a school from a bomber seen as an incentive for police who earn only $200 a month.
Broadcasting the messages is Saddam Hussein's old TV station, rebuilt with an initial $100 million grant from the Pentagon. The station is now run and funded by the Iraqi government, assisted by American advisers who want to build on optimism following last month's elections.
"The television producers here are most definitely utilizing that and are trying to keep it going with the messages that they are sending to their own people," says Kristin Whiting, one of the advisers to the Iraqi Media Network.
The ads, mostly U.S.-produced and Iraqi-funded, run every half-hour, calling on Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis to unite and rebuild. Because Iraq is still so chaotic, there's no real data to indicate whether these positive broadcast messages are having any impact, but new studios and equipment mean they're reaching at least 85 percent of Iraqis.
So far, people seem receptive to the ads, such a contrast to the images of violence and to the insurgents’ own cruel media campaign, often featuring footage of hostages.
"It's encouraging," said one student in Baghdad. "They provide needed role models."
Previous ad campaigns have not reduced violence, but this time U.S. and Iraqi officials believe they have positive momentum and want to use the media to keep it going.