Exiled Iraqi Journalists Form TV Station

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As the deaths of Iraqi journalists have mounted along with the civil war between Shia and Sunni, hundreds have fled into exile. Iraqi journalists in Jordan have formed their own television station, called "Exile TV," and are trying to get their message home.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Some of the journalists who have fled Iraq have landed in Jordan at a new satellite television channel. It's staffed largely by Iraqi exiles. And as NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Amman, the violence in Iraq is a major part of the programming.

DEBORAH AMOS: This is Babela(ph) TV, the latest channel to compete for an Iraqi audience. The studios are modest in a rundown Jordanian neighborhood where rents are cheap. Fateh Aladdin(ph) is the technical adviser for the newscast which are all about the latest bomb blasts.

Mr. FATEH ALADDIN (Technical Adviser, Babela TV): We are making now a news summary.

(Soundbite of newscast)

AMOS: The news host sound familiar Sahar Alisili(ph), in a powder blue pantsuit, was a TV host during Saddam's time. She left Iraq 18 months ago after death threats forced her out.

Ms. SAHAR ALISILI (News Host, Babela TV): (Through translator) There is no security. And we, the media, have been threatened. Especially that my name is known in Baghdad.

(Soundbite of a movie playing on the background)

AMOS: Violence is the theme here, too. In an editing room with a bank of monitors, Tarak Alasawi(ph), an Iraqi doctor turned actor. He's working on a movie.

Mr. TARAK ALASAWI (Actor): Okay, this is my film about the kidnapping. It's important subject now in Iraq, kidnapping the people. This type - a small short story.

AMOS: Most of the scenes are in the trunk of a car. The main character prepares to defeat his captors with a sharpened screwdriver and kickboxing skills.

(Soundbite of people talking)

AMOS: And there's an Iraqi general here, Muqtada Al Samarai(ph) prepares for an interview on a program with this intriguing title.

Mr. MUQTADA AL SAMARAI (Former Iraqi Interior Ministry Official): (Through translator) It is named "Secrets," which are not disclosed yet.

AMOS: The secrets he intends to disclose - secret prisons and torture chambers, he says, and the Iraqis who ran them.

Mr. AL SAMARAI: (Through translator) From the beginning and the formation of the death squads.

AMOS: Al Samarai, a Sunni, joined the Iraqi government in 2004. He was the head of Special Forces at the Interior Ministry. He first made allegations about Shiite death squads in 2005 after 169 men who'd been tortured were discovered by U.S. troops in an Interior Ministry building.

Samarai left Iraq soon after because of death threats. He says his appearance on Babela TV is a way to disclose the files he took with him when he left Iraq. For Samarai, documenting the death squads has become a mission. He discovered the torture chambers by accident, he says, while still a government official. He would follow up on men he knew had been arrested and find their tortured bodies in the morgue.

Mr. AL SAMARAI: (Through translator) And we go to the morgue, we see them in these positions that you see.

AMOS: You took the photographs, you went to the morgue and you took the photographs.

Mr. AL SAMARAI: (Through translator) Yes.

AMOS: At his home in Amman, Samarai flips through the photos. His pictures prompted U.S. officers to demand a government investigation. But the abuse has not stopped, says Samarai. He now runs a Web site, publishes documents from others who have left Iraq's Interior Ministry.

Mr. AL SAMARAI: (Through translator) So each one - it is the story. Each one has a story.

AMOS: Samarai knows the names and details of every case.

Mr. AL SAMARAI: (Through translator) And all of them are Sunnis. And they were all killed in similar ways by using the drill, by (unintelligible), and some have their eyes popped, and some of them - their skin was that removed.

AMOS: General Samarai shows these photographs on Babela TV. His television appearances have put him in touch with Iraqi families missing a son or a father. He shares information on how and where they died.

Deborah Amos, NPR News.

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