RUNNING Iraq at the moment must be one of the most difficult jobs in the world and Iyad Allawi, who has it, deserves all the moral and material support he can get. Since taking office a bare month ago Mr Allawi has shown distinctly authoritarian tendencies, for instance, indicating that he would not hestiate to impose martial law if it seemed advisable to do so. But with terrorist attacks occurring almost daily it is difficult to say that the prime minister should not take such measures as he thinks necessary to keep the country on a fairly even keel.

However, the decision announced yesterday of the establishment of a “Higher Media Commission” to maintain official oversight of the press, radio and TV, takes Mr Allawi into new and potentially dangerous territory. The spur for this step seems to have been an accusation by the controversial cleric Moqtada al-Sadr that the prime minister was no more than America's “tail”.

The man chosen to run the committee quoted this accusation as an example of the kind of reporting that might be banned in future. Once imposed, this kind of media control is difficult to remove, especially if it is designed principally to protect the prime minister from criticism.

Meawhile there is news about progress with appointing the transitional consultative council of about 100 representatives from all over Iraq to advise Mr Allawi and his interim government. A meeeting of about 1'000 delegates to vote for the council is due to be held in Baghdad next week, although it may have to be delayed. This council will have only advisory powers but, had it already been in existence, it could perhaps have advised Mr Allawi not to step on the slippery slope of controlling the media.


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