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A New Face for War News Radio

By Carol Brévart-Demm

Abdulla Mizead

Abdulla Mizead, a former staff member at National Public Radio in Iraq, now serves as journalist-in-residence at War News Radio, the student-run program about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In July, the College community welcomed Abdulla Mizead as journalist-in-residence at War News Radio (WNR), the award-winning, student-run radio program that reports on daily life in war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan. He succeeds Ayub Nuri, who returned to Iraq in the spring.

A former staff member in National Public Radio’s (NPR) Baghdad bureau, Mizead was honored with the 2007 Alfred I. Du Pont Columbia University Award for NPR’s coverage of the Iraq War.

Surrounded by maps of Iraq and Afghanistan, some labeled in Arabic, Mizead already appears to be quite at home in the WNR headquarters on campus. Occasionally, he has to leap up to chase down his lively 18-month-old son, Mahmood, who, he says, “goes everywhere I go.” They live in the Morganwood section of Swarthmore with Mizead’s physician wife, Raghad; 5-year-old daughter Danya; and 4-month-old son Ahmed.

A citizen of Iraq, Mizead had an international upbringing as the son of an Iraqi diplomat whose assignments took him to Washington, D.C.; Mozambique; London; and Tanzania. “It was in London that I learned English,” Mizead says, with no trace of a foreign accent.

Having spent half his life abroad, Mizead returned to Iraq with his family in 1990 and remained there when his father applied for early retirement in 1994.

“We lived through the embargo and the sanctions. They were really hard times for us,” Mizead says. “Then, the United States invaded us,” he adds.

After graduating from high school in his home country, Mizead obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English literature from the University of Baghdad. When the government of Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003, Mizead joined NPR as a producer and translator, working alongside NPR Director of News Operations Charlie Mayer ’98.

“I picked up journalism at NPR,” Mizead says. Four years later, some of the NPR journalists helped him to obtain a scholarship at the Columbia University School of Journalism. After Mizead’s graduation this spring, Mayer alerted him to the position with WNR. Mizead spoke with WNR founder David Gelber ’63, who, he says, “got me very excited about it.”

“It’s Iraq. It’s an area I know about and have covered for four years,” Mizead says. He is pleased that WNR focuses on the people rather than the politics. “When I worked for NPR, I didn’t cover much politics,” he says. “I was a street guy. I’d roam the streets of Baghdad, go into the provinces, talk to the people. I went to rural places that nobody would ever cover. I wrote human stories—that’s what I love. And this is what War News Radio does every day. It’s just Iraqis and Afghans talking about their lives and the way the wars have affected them. None of the big news organizations cover this aspect of the wars.”

Mizead has several ideas that he believes will contribute to the program, which is now in its third year. “This is not my radio station,” he says, “but I would like to help the students develop what they have already achieved, and I think they should be enabled to pay more attention to newscasts from the regions that aren’t accessible via the U.S. stations such as CNN and Fox.”

To assist them with this, he has already spoken with Joy Charlton, director of the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, about the possibility of purchasing a satellite dish for the roof of the WNR headquarters in Lodge 6, so students will be able to view full-length newscasts from broadcasting organizations such as Al Jazeera and Iraqia.

Mizead also plans to hang a map of Baghdad in the WNR office. “Maps are very important, especially if you’re covering a place from thousands of miles away. You need to know the neighborhoods—and there are so many of them—which are Shi’ia, which are Sunni, Christian, upscale, middle class, or slums. Because of the war, some of the neighborhoods have changed drastically. Some that were formerly half Shi’ia, half Sunni are now completely one or the other. With all the talk of reconciliation and Iraq becoming unified, there are many neighborhoods that are still split, people struggling with mixed marriages, fighting sectarian violence, and division. And that’s a story in itself.”

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