IN OTHER WORDS: Free press

President Bush has described today’s Iraq as a “young democracy.” He even boasted at one point that the advance of democratic institutions in Iraq is “setting an example” that others in the area would be “wise to follow.” But when it comes to one of the most basic tenets of democracy — freedom of speech and the press — Iraq is not setting an example that even the youngest of democracies would be wise to follow.

New laws in Iraq criminalise speech that ridicules the government and any journalist who “publicly insults” the government or public officials can be jailed. Some of the language is resurrected verbatim from Saddam Hussein’s penal code. It is hard enough for scribes to operate on the rugged battlefields of Iraq.

That is true for foreign journalists, who often have all the gear and protections. But it is even harder for Iraqi journalists, who now face not only the dangers on the street but the threat of defamation laws as well. After suffering under grinding repression, Iraqi journalists began enjoying more freedom to report after Saddam Hussein was ousted.

Now the country is moving backward with efforts to shut down TV stations and jail journalists who criticise public officials. Surely any crackdown on free speech and the press is not what the American people had in mind when the Iraq invasion began.