Opinion makers

After the US invasion, Iraq boasted a thriving blogosphere of well-educated English-speaking bloggers, some expatriated while others still living inside the country. Most of them were men in their twenties and thirties with some prolific female writers as well. They hailed from different ethnic and religious backgrounds but, because of their middle-upper class urban origins, they could not be representative of the whole spectrum of Iraqi society. However, they did reflect the Iraqi society's post-Saddam divisions, ranging from his staunch supporters to those who had been waiting their whole life to see the dictator ousted. During the US occupation, the most famous of all these bloggers has undoubtedly been the architect Salam Abdul-Munem, who is better known by the name of his blog Salam Pax. Salam became a worldwide celebrity by virtue of his Baghdad-based insights before and after the invasion, which were regularly featured on The Guardian. He has subsequently stopped writing and, at the moment, he works for UNICEF in Beirut. Needless to say, there is also an active Arabic-speaking blogging community discussing all sort of issues, even though it is hard to keep track of who remains active in the long-run. For this reason, some passionate readers of Iraqi blogs decided to set up several archival websites to document their activities. However, the fact that two of the main archives (The Iraqi Blog Count, Iraqi Blogger Central) have almost totally suspended their activities in 2009, noticing a decline of interest for blogging, is probably indicative of a shift in the type of platforms used by influential Iraqi opinion makers. In the end, in Iraq as elsewhere, the array of available social media have gradually attracted most well-known writers without any need to resort to blogging anymore.

Some political figures have employed successfully social media, such as Ammar al-Hakim, whose Facebook page is the 4th most followed Iraqi account worldwide, according to Socialbakers.com. As for YouTube, the crown of popularity is firmly in the hands of Basem al-Karbalai, an extremely popular Shia eulogy reciter. He’s followed by the Al-Basheer Show, a satirical program broadcasted by the Kurdish independent NRT TV and Deutsche Welle Arabic, which aims to defy sectarian politicians and religious leaders. Other political, media and religious figures score particularly well in terms of followers on Facebook and they include the late Kurdish Shaykh Ahmad Kaka Mahmud, (who was among the founders of the Salafi Kurdistan Islamic Movement (KIM) and whose page is still managed by his devoted followers), Shia cleric Abdul-Hamid al-Muhajir (one of the most televised religious figures in Iraq) and veteran Al-Jazeera correspondent Amer al-Kubaisi (who has covered Iraq since the beginning of the US occupation). The website of Ayatollah Sistani, the highest Shia religious authority in Iraq, is the most visited Iraqi website in the world, according to Alexa figures. Journalist Saif Salah al-Hiti, who hails from Anbar and has a column on al-Jazeera, is the most popular Iraqi writer on Twitter (Socialbakers.com). Al-Hiti is also known for his deep admiration for the Amazigh-Berber culture, a position that differentiates him from many Pan Arabist colleagues.