Iraqis Using YouTube to Mock Leaders, U.S. Soldiers

US 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 You Tube to express their dark-edged humor.

The main butt of send-ups posted by Iraqis on the popular Internet video site is, as one might expect, the US military.

With around 160,000 troopers scattered across the country there is clearly no dearth of subjects -- nor lack of innovative video makers.

One video shows a large-mouthed soldier repeating Arabic phrases told to him by a group of locals.

"Bring us back to our family, bring us home. Bring us some bread, any bread, hot or cold," he says, seemingly unaware of what he is repeating.

"The salary is not that good either," he adds as the camera zooms closely onto his face.

Another video shows a group of Iraqi soldiers speaking to a female American trooper, who clearly knows a smattering of Arabic.

They ask her name, and she replies "Sarah." They ask her questions and she replies in Arabic. She is from Alabama -- she does not like New York.

The walkie-talkie strapped near her shoulder crackles and she bends her head towards it to answer.

She speaks for a minute or two, bending her head forward each time she answers.

"Shaar (hair)," the soldiers say suggestively, enticing her to break out into a sensual Iraqi dance during which unveiled women throw their heads forward to send their hair flying upwards.

Many videos show male US soldiers dancing clumsily with their Iraqi counterparts or with people in the streets.

One hilarious minute-long segment captures an American military policeman, 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 is little wonder that the funnier side of this practice has been captured on video.

People fall, lurch into one another, and in one featuring Iraqi policemen they even drop their trousers.

Away from the dance floor, two policemen are shown in one clip stopping a truck. As the edgy pair bend down to inspect the underside of the vehicle the driver toots his horn, giving both such a fright that they fall over backwards.

But little appears sacred for Iraqis caught up in brutal sectarian violence and harsh living conditions, proof of the maxim that populations in high stress situations or oppressive environments use dark humor to help them survive.

One of the main targets in the highly religious country is Moqtada al-Sadr, the powerful Shiite cleric whose thousands-strong Mahdi Army militia is known to hero-worship him.

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 66-second segment, its soundtrack clearly recorded at a Mahdi Army gathering engaged in rowdy praise of the cleric, shows the penguins raising their flippers heavenwards, beaks wide open as they become more and more enthusiastic about Sadr.

The video, clearly doctored electronically, ends with the penguins forming a large heart-shaped gathering around their leader who stands bellowing in the middle.

More controversial in a country divided by sectarianism are clips showing Shiites in mosques during Ashura ceremonies when devotees beat their chests -- set to Iraqi pop music.

One video shows earnest devotees raising their hands, beating their chests and chanting in anguish as a popular song called "Orange" plays on the soundtrack.

The song features a lover who pours out his tender devotion for his girlfriend and her favorite color.

Not all Iraqis approve of their leaders being belittled in this way, and comments posted on the site beneath the videos reflect the wide divergence of opinion that characterizes the country's political landscape.

"Shame on you to liken Moqtada al-Sadr to a penguin and humiliate 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."

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