Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Barbaric Images for Sale

Video material showing images of torture and death still on sale in most of Iraq, as Kurdistan bans “snuff” CDs.
By Rebaz Mahmood

Dilman Jamal, 12, laughs as he says, "My father wouldn’t let us watch those CDs, but when he was out I searched the house to find them and I watched them.”


Neither cartoons nor feature films, the video CDs that Jamal referred to showcase real images of death. Compilations of videoed scenes of torture, shootings, beheadings and bombings, they are on sale in marketplaces in Iraq.


"There are around 15 different CDs that show killings and torture," said Farhad Kareem, who runs a CD store.


The first local productions in the genre came out after former dictator Saddam Hussein was ousted, and official videos recording executions and torture sessions came to light.


The insurgency has provided new material, including beheadings of western hostages, largely collected from the internet.


The compilations have found a ready market and thousands of copies have been sold.


They continue to sell in the south of Iraq, although they have now been banned in the Kurdish autonomous region in the north. Police in Kurdistan are trying to enforce the ban, closing CD shops and arresting their owners.


"Before it was banned, I sold 200 to 300 copies," said CD vendor Said Jamal Majeed.


Sarkawt Hassan, head of the Sulaimaniyah’s interior ministry security department, said the CDs can lead to copycat crimes.


“It’s inappropriate to allow these CDs because it affects people’s emotions and feelings,” he said. “Criminals make use of these CDs because they indirectly threaten people and create a culture of fear. The phenomenon is like an advertisement for criminals: it helps spread violence and it leads people to imitate the acts of violence shown in the CDs. It encourages crime.”


A title called “The Lion” shows footage of Uday Hussein, Saddam’s eldest son, feeding what appears to be the bodies of his victims to his pet lions and a tiger.


Others contain bloody images of fighting at Baghdad airport in 2003, the assault by Coalition forces on Fallujah, the torture and execution of Iraqi army soldiers, and a young man being blown up by a bomb.


The footage contains such barbaric scenes that some of the retailers can’t bring themselves to view them. "I have never been able to watch them but my cousin told me what was in one. It showed three people from the previous regime playing cards on the back of a naked woman. The one who won the game won the woman as well," said shop owner Shirwan Kareem, 28.


Vendors say that prior to the ban, customers in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah covered the spectrum of society – young and old, men and women – with the largest audience made up of young people, including children.


Parzheen Kamal, 54, a housewife, said her husband bought a CD and the family sat down to a screening. "We all watched it. We tried to stop our two little children watching it but they were keen to see it. So sometimes I asked them to stop watching but they didn't listen to me."


Twana Wirya, a social researcher at the Kaziway Sara Cultural Centre in Sulaimaniyah, said that this type image can have a serious impact on the psychological well-being of children, "They create a lot of fear among them. The phenomenon causes depression and leads to violence."


The exposure to violence has led to high levels of tolerance among the young. "I don't feel unhappy about the killings and the blood," said 12-year old Jamal.


"Watch The Lion, that’s the best one."


Rebaz Mahmood is an IWPR trainee journalist in Sulaimaniyah.


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