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Militia's other weapon: videos

Video has become an important propaganda tool in the Mahdi Army fight against the US, which continued Tuesday in Najaf.

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Abu Mujtaba is not your typical filmmaker. He doesn't have an agent, he doesn't aspire to move to Hollywood, and his interest in film is chillingly practical. He considers Black Hawk Down a "great film," for instance, because it shows him how to kill Americans.

Abu Mujtaba is a member of the media department of Moqtada al-Sadr's Shiite militia. He uses a tiny digital Sony Handycam instead of a Kalashnikov and is one of a half-dozen guerrilla filmmakers who record their acts of war to encourage their followers, spread their beliefs, and portray what they see as the heroism of Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army.

Mahdi's moviemakers have been shooting digital videos during battles in Sadr City and in Karbala, as well as all throughout the standoff in Najaf, which continued Tuesday as Iraq's government warned the militia that it has "hours to surrender" until they are attacked inside the Shrine of Imam Ali.

"This is part of our mission. We film in order to record whatever happens on the battlefield, because we have to get rid of the occupying forces," says Mr. Mujtaba, who agreed to speak with the Monitor on condition that his name be changed. "The TV channels always show the Americans strong, saying 'Go, Go, Go!' They never show the American deaths. So these films by the Mahdi Army show how we kill the Americans, they are not invincible."

The Mahdi Army, of course, are only the latest militant movement to have taken up video as a political weapon. From the kidnapping videos of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to the suicide bomber videos on the West Bank and video-fatwas of Osama bin Laden, video has become a phenomenon for militant Islamic movements around the world. Distributed through dumpy roadside shops and even over the Internet, guerrilla videos have become a way of bypassing mainstream media and going directly to the masses. Video can be divisive, turning away as many supporters as they attract, but their effect is powerful nonetheless.


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