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Newspapers Feed Print Shop Boom

Iraqis are reading again, good news for the capital’s printers who suddenly find themselves busy after years of decline.
By Duraed Selman

Firas Taha graduated from the University of Technology in 2003 with a degree in computers and hoped to land a job with a government ministry.

But there were none to be had – which was fortunate for Taha who then found work at the Azraq print shop in Baghdad’s Battaween district, earning twice the salary he would have made as a government employee.

“This was a blessing I didn’t dream of,” he said.

The past two years have also been a blessing for print shop owners who, since the fall of Saddam Hussein and the end of his stranglehold on the mass media, have seen their businesses flourish as Iraqis enjoy the freedom to read what they please.

“The fear dispersed following the fall of the regime,” said Abdul-Kareem Salim, a 35-year-old writer.

Shops are now printing books, pamphlets and newspapers prohibited under the old government. In the old days, just asking about banned materials could have led to imprisonment or even a death sentence.

Under Saddam, the few newspapers that were published looked like “dead corpses” when readers browsed through them, according to one printer.

Today, 150 newspapers published throughout the country are feeding print-shop businesses. In Baghdad alone, there are 80 titles with a combined daily circulation of 200,000. The smallest publish 3,000-4,500 copies a day, selling for 180 dinars (around 13 US cents). The best-known and most widespread newspapers have circulations of 15,000-35,000.

“A door that we didn’t even dream of opened,” said Suhad Abdul-Munim, owner of the Multaqa print shop in Baghdad.

Iraq’s elections have also been a boon for printers, which were overwhelmed by demands for posters and candidate information materials.

The boom has led many print shop owners to modernise their business, selling old presses and buying new ones that utilise computer technology.

Najim Wali, a supervisor at the Ibn-Khaldoon print shop on Baghdad’s Mutanabbi Street, said his shop paid 60,000 dollars for a new press, affordable now it makes three million dinars (2040 dollars) per month.

But not all print shops have benefited. Some owners say they’ve seen business decline, because they don’t hold the same political affiliation as the newspaper publishers. “Those who issue the newspapers only deal with those having links to the party (they represent),” said Ahmed Dawood, owner of the a-Muhtarif print shop.

Added to this, said Dawood, are the concrete barriers and barbed wire along the street keeping potential customers away.

And among the customers, not everyone is happy to see the flood of printed materials. Saa Talib would like to see the government take a greater role in regulating the presses. “ It should not be allowed to go on like this,” he said. “There should be laws limiting printing, [as] some publications aim at sowing discord among Iraqi people and instigating sectarianism.”

But others say readers should be trusted to separate the good from the bad.

“Educated people can make intelligent assessments about what they read,” said Haider Majid, 28, “So they aren’t affected by those who attempt to poison their minds.”

Duraed Selman is an IWPR trainee journalist in Baghdad.

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