Local Iraqi starts independent newspaper

27 Nov 2007 | Staff Sgt. A.C. Mink

Ammar Alobaydi of Jooba, and Sevan Lousinian, Department of Defense Arabic interpreter, presented the pilot edition of The Voice of the Euphrates, the first independent newspaper for the local region, to Maj. Gen. James F. Amos, commanding general, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, here May 13.

"For 35 years, Saddam teach people, in school and television, to deal with United States as enemy," said Alobaydi. "This will take a lot of time - to change people's mind.

"We want to teach the people to read the newspaper, to know what happens in the world, what happens in Iraq, for themselves," added Alobaydi, who holds a degree not in journalism, but in civil engineering. "Teach them the meaning of democracy."

Col. G.I. Wilson, ground operations officer, fusion cell, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, and Col. Michael A. Thorsby, officer in charge, air base staff and military mayor of Al Asad Air base, representing units who supported the project, were on hand for the presentation, along with numerous Iraqi businessmen and Marines.

"This is incredible. What a great way to tell Iraqi people why the Marines are here," said Amos, accepting the newspaper copy. "I am going to take this paper back to the states."

Having a newspaper is the "hallmark of a free society," said Col. Jon M. Davis, aviation operations officer, fusion cell, 3rd MAW, when he saw the premiere edition.

Alobaydi, founder and editor-in-chief of the Voice, is the son of a local sheik, and has been interested in the project since February, when he was approached by Lousinian, who is a interpreter working here.

According to Master Gunnery Sgt. H. Joseph Wright, staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge, air base staff, and deputy mayor, the idea for the newspaper and the newspaper's inception is credited to Lousinian, who grew up in Iraq, and moved to the United States at the age of 20.

Lousinian, feeling the pull of his roots in both countries, brought Thorsby on board, who embraced the project "with all the voracity of a dog with a bone," said Wright.

"The idea came from Sevan. Sevan told me this idea and I also find this idea is good," said Alobaydi of Lousinian.

Together, Lousinian and Alobaydi enlisted the help of Lt. Col. Harold B. Kempfer, action officer, fusion cell, 3rd MAW.  The group worked to solicit the assistance of other members of 3rd MAW and other units aboard the Air Base, specifically Combat Service Support Battalion 7, 1st Force Service Support Group and 2nd Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 7, 1st Marine Division, in getting the project off the ground.

The Mayor's cell continued to work on the project, conducting countless meetings to discuss a business plan, topics for columns and funding for the newspaper.

When it came time for the project to be brought to fruition, the group consulted with 2/7 as the paper was to be published and distributed within their area of operations.

After time to iron out the remaining issues, not the least of which was funding, the first edition of the fledgling paper was sent to Baghdad, Iraq, for printing, and the premiere edition came hot off the press May 7.

"There is no censorship of the paper," said Thorsby, whose office was instrumental in getting the paper off the ground. "This is history in the making."

Currently, the primary source of news and information for the local populace, many of whom rarely leave the local area for more westernized cities, such as Baghdad, is the Al Jazeera network and word of mouth, according to Lousinian.

"(The Marines) told me that I can write anything in the paper. 'If you want to write about something that is wrong that happens, you can write about it.' They told me," said Alobaydi. "Even if is Marines or government - that is democracy."

Lousinian was excited about the project and the possible impact on the people in the area.

"Of course (the newspaper) will make a difference," said Lousinian, who was born in Baghdad in 1961, before his family moved to the United States in 1982. "This is the first (free enterprise newspaper) in (their) history. There are so many people in Iraq, from many different backgrounds... but all want to know their news."

Alobaydi was not completely prepared for the reception of the paper. The 3,000 copies of the first edition, which included news, arts and entertainment, a women's interest section, sports and crosswords, and the formal apology from the President of the United States for the occurrences at Abu Ghraib prison, was distributed in days, and still people requested more.

"I wanted to distribute in Hit and Jooba," said Iraq's newest newspaperman. "Many people in Baghdadi and Haditha, also in Baghdad, have asked for more numbers of papers."

To meet the request, 4,000 copies of the second edition were printed and hit the streets May 13. However, "because the people who are from the zone and live in Baghdad want to know what happens here," production will be raised to 6,000 for the third edition, according to Alobaydi.

There are plans to include stories written about local Iraqis by military journalists currently deployed in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq. There are also plans to include an employment section.

Amos and the others who attended the presentation, stayed for lunch at the stadium. He and Alobaydi discussed Iraq and the local people at length, while enjoying kabobs and other Iraqi treats.

In between lighthearted joking, the group discussed the impact of the newspaper to the local area.

Free enterprise and a free enterprise newspaper will do much to assist the people of the zone, according to Alobaydi.

"The United States has very difficult work in Iraq," he said. "Remove the regime and bring freedom for Iraqi people, (now helping) us rebuild Iraq. We can work together on this."

The paper is a weekly, released on Thursdays and is distributed in Baghdadi and Jooba as well as here.