BAGHDAD — U.S. soldiers are lampooned, policemen are shown as buffoons and Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is irreverently cheered by penguins — Iraqis are turning more and more to YouTube to express their dark-edged humor.
U.S. soldiers are expected to be the main source of jokes on the popular Internet site. With around 60,000 troops scattered across the country, there is dearth of subjects — nor lack of innovative video makers with dubbing machines.
One video has a large-mouthed soldier, grumbling bitterly — in superimposed Arabic voice — from beneath his oversized helmet.
“Bring us back to our family, bring us home,” he whines. “Bring us some bread, any bread, hot or cold,” he continues, the Arabic voice badly coordinated with the soldier’s own words.
“The salary is not that good either,” he adds, as the camera his face.
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Many videos show male U.S. soldiers dancing clumsily with their Iraqi counterparts or with people in the streets.
One minute-long segment captures an American military police officer, complete with flak jacket and weapon, spinning round and round while a group of Iraqi policemen cheer him on.
With dancing in public such an integral part of Iraqi culture, it’s little wonder that the funnier side of this practice has been captured by video makers.
People fall, crash into one another, and in one featuring Iraqi policemen, drop their trousers.
Away from the dance floor, two policemen in one clip are shown stopping a truck in a roadway. As the edgy pair bend over to inspect the underside of the truck, the driver toots the horn, giving them both such a fright they fall over backwards.
But little appears sacred for some Iraqis caught up in brutal sectarian violence and harsh living conditions, who have made a target of Moqtada al-Sadr, a powerful Shiite cleric who boasts thousands of strong militia, the Mahdi Army, known for their hero worship of their leader.
One video clip shows a colony of penguins, led by a large male with distinctive orange markings on his neck, swaggering around the ice chanting “Moqtada, Moqtada, Moqtada.”
The one minute six seconds segment, with the sound track clearly recorded at a Mahdi Army gathering engaged in rowdy praise of the cleric, shows the penguins raising their flippers upwards, mouths wide open — in real life probably shrieking love songs but in the video getting more and more enthusiastic about Sadr.
The video, clearly doctored electronically, ends with the penguins forming a big heart-shaped gathering around their leader who is in the middle bellowing.
More controversial in the country divided by sectarianism are clips showing Shiites in mosques during Ashura ceremonies, when devotees beat their chests and flagellate, set to the tunes of Iraqi pop songs.
One shows earnest devotees raising their hands, beating chests and chanting in anguish as the voice-over sings the popular “orange” song, in which a lover pours out tender devotion to his girlfriend, whose favorite color is orange.
Not all Iraqis of course approve of the belittling of their leaders, and comments beneath the videos reflect the wide divergence of opinion that characterizes the Iraqi political landscape.
“Shame on you to liken Moqtada al-Sadr to a penguin and shame him in front of all the world,” says “Wisam” beneath the penguin clip.
“It is indeed a shame,” agrees “Abdul.” “He and his donkeys are far worse than penguins.”