The cross hairs patiently follow two figures through the grainy darkness. They appear to be Iraqi insurgents planting a roadside bomb. A third figure scampers to assist them in eerie silence. The cross hairs jiggle for an instant, then stop. Moments later, the figures are obliterated in a ferocious explosion.

In the distance, U.S. troops guard a convoy snaking through a desolate urban landscape. Calmly, voices murmur in Arabic. The backs of several soldiers come into open view. Bang! One GI drops. “God is great,” a voice intones, sounding remarkably detached. Another soldier hustles to drag off his fallen comrade. Bang! He falls, too.

The video clips from Iraq are impossible to verify, but they look all too real.

This is the YouTube War, a battle for hearts and minds being fought on computer screens around the globe.

Thanks to exploding bandwidth, cheap digital camcorders, cell-phone cameras and free Internet video sites such as Ogrish, Metacafe and the hugely popular YouTube and Google, combatants and victims in Iraq — as well as Afghanistan, Lebanon and Israel — are telling their grim stories in ways both profoundly disturbing and strangely mesmerizing.

Not since television brought the Vietnam War into American living rooms has technology so quickly changed the way millions of people experience the horrors of war. Nearly overnight, the editing and distribution of powerful front-line images have been placed in the hands of anyone, anywhere, who has access to the Internet. . .

Muslims were outraged by “Hadji Girl,” a Marine’s song that found its way onto YouTube in March. Laced with profanities, the song is about a fictional love affair with an Iraqi woman that ends in a firefight.

Cpl. Joshua Belile of North Carolina issued an apology, calling the song “a joke.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations accepted the apology.

“Given cell phones and the proliferation of video cameras, it’s probably impossible to prevent these things from happening,” says council spokesman Ibrahim Hooper.


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