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Reporters on the Job

Electronic Laughs: In Iraq, there's a long-standing tradition of trading political jokes that make a veiled commentary on current events. In the time of Saddam Hussein, people used to trade jokes clandestinely in cafes as a way of expressing opinions that couldn't be shared openly.

But now that Iraqis have access to previously forbidden technology - cellphones and the Internet - they're sharing one-liners by sending text messages.

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"I was visiting an Iraqi friend, sharing some tea and baklava," says correspondent Annia Ciezadlo (see story), "and she and her two friends got three text message jokes in the course of an hour."

One took on Iraqis' recently deposed leader: "Saddam calls up militant cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and says, 'why don't you surrender to the Americans? Go ahead! All they want to do is check your hair and look at your teeth.' "

The joke was a comment on Sadr's refusal to surrender to US forces, Annia says. But it was also veiled criticism of something Iraqis have been complaining about for a while: the desire to see Saddam Hussein stand trial.

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy world editor

Cultural snapshot