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Reality Check 

Real-life Iraqi reality shows

In case you needed proof that the American-led occupation of Iraq has been a complete and unequivocal success, the Christian Science Monitor brought it home the other day with a report that an Iraqi TV network is airing what is believed to be the country's first reality program. Kinda makes you proud to be an American, doesn't it?

The show, called Labor and Materials, is broadcast each week on Al Sharqiya TV, Iraq's first privately owned satellite channel. Think of the show as the Iraqi network's version of US home improvement reality shows like Trading Spaces or While You Were Out. Each week, a crew randomly chooses a house destroyed during the American-led war in Iraq and rebuilds, restores and refurnishes it. In at least one case, they had to return for more repairs after the house was damaged again.

As Dave Barry says, I am not making this up.

But as I read more about Al Sharqiya's program, I couldn't help but think that the Monitor had it wrong: Labor and Materials is hardly Iraq's first reality show. In fact, you could argue that the entire American-led invasion and occupation of Iraq has been one extended reality show. Who could forget these high-rated classics from our year-and-a-half misadventure:

Antiquities Roadshow: Two renowned experts from the British Museum invite people who looted Iraqi heritage sites to bring in relics of ancient Mesopotamia and learn their value. In a surprise twist, the looters are paid and the relics end up years later in ... the British Museum!

Who Wants to Give Ahmed a Stable Job?: Modeled on the Regis Philbin game show hit, contestants compete not for a million dollars, but for a stable job in one of the new Iraqi ministries. And instead of trick questions, contestants have to be watchful for trickily hidden landmines, sewage-filled rivers and suicide bombers who target anyone perceived as supporting the occupation.

Fear Factor: Baghdad: Hosted by Secretary of State Colin Powell, this reality show doesn't require contestants to eat worms, maggots and cockroaches. Instead, Powell pulls out that vial of fake white powder he showed off to the UN and sprinkles the contents on contestants' arms. When it turns out to be nothing more than baby powder, contestants vie to get Powell to make some lame excuse for why he lied to the entire world.

Next War Neighbors: Six American contestants are given mid-level jobs in various intelligence agencies and compete to see whose memo about the nuclear threat embodied by Iran and North Korea is most completely ignored by President Bush.

The Amazing Race: Two American reconstruction companies race to finish rebuilding Iraq's southern oil fields before insurgents bomb all the pipelines, refineries and transfer stations they've already built. In a surprise twist, the losing company ends up winning by billing the American government for more money.

Who Wants to Behead My Hostage?: Initially panned as over-the-top, this reality program quickly gained popularity among Iraqis once it became clear how quickly weaker members of the Coalition of the Willing would withdraw their troops at the first sign of an unsheathed sword.

Sunni in the City: The Iraqi version of the popular US program Amish in the City follows six Sunni Muslims as they try to make a new life in Shiite-dominated Iraq after the fall of Sunni protector Saddam Hussein. Raucous hijinks ensue as women Sunnis can't figure out how to see out of their burqas, the men are disarmed and sent into Sadr City with buttons reading, "Kiss me, I'm Sunni!," and the entire country plunges into civil war.

Boiling Points: On the MTV version of this show, contestants are filmed in various "real life" situations (receiving poor treatment from a cashier, being photographed against their wishes, etc.) and are timed to see how long it takes before they pass their boiling point. In the Iraqi version, contestants are also pushed to the limit (sporadic electrical service, being detained against their wishes, raw sewage flowing through their streets) and are timed to see how quickly they will pick up an AK-47 and join the insurgency.

Pimp My WMDs: Six former Iraqi biological and chemical weapons researchers compete to repurpose mobile germ labs, missile silos and anthrax atomizers into harmless tractors, underground potato drying sheds and fertilizer spreaders. The winner is the former scientist who tricks the Bush administration into lobbing a cruise missile into his harmless device.

Wonk'd: This show features actors in a series of skits designed to convince President Bush either to invade Iraq or not. In one scene, two actors posing as neo-cons present a scenario in which American soldiers are greeted with flowers as they oust Saddam Hussein and unleash a domino effect of democracy throughout the Middle East. In another, actors portray a team of CIA experts telling the president that Saddam has WMDs and is days away from releasing a nuclear bomb. In a third, "French diplomats" try to make a case against war. In an uproarious twist, the President opts for invasion in every scenario -- only to bust a gut when show host Paul Wolfowitz bursts out of a closet after the president has been fooled.

"Ya got me again, you dog, Wolfie!" Bush laughs.

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