Insurgent TV Channel Nettles U.S., Iraqi Authorities

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The civil war in Iraq is fought in words and pictures as well as on the ground. The TV channel al Zawraa broadcasts violent images on a satellite channel 24 hours a day, despite having been "shut down" by the Iraqi government in November.


Now here's a footnote to the execution of Saddam Hussein. The newscasters on a Baghdad television station reported on the hanging while wearing black clothes in mourning. Iraq's government soon ordered the television station to be closed. This is not the first time the government has tried that. In November, the government closed a TV station run by a Sunni politician, but it soon returned on a satellite channel with anti-Shiite and anti-American videos. Turn on that station today and you'll see footage of insurgents launching mortar attacks.

(Soundbite of Al-Zawraa broadcast)

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of gunfire)

INSKEEP: The station's founder and founder is safe across the border in Damascus, Syria, and that's where NPR's Deborah Amos found him.

(Soundbite of Al-Zawraa broadcast)

DEBORAH AMOS: A large, flat-screen television dominates the office of Mishan al-Jabouri. He looks like a prosperous politician in a well-cut suit and tie. The Iraqi government has charged him with corruption, claiming he stole millions from the country. But it is his underground television station, Al-Zawraa, that has earned him much more condemnation from Iraqi politicians, U.S. officials and Shiites across Iraq, a channel that puts a face on Iraq's Sunni insurgency.

Mr. MISHAN AL-JABOURI (Founder, Al-Zawraa): When this country entered the occupation, you would be against, anyone and the world. If I don't do it, my son don't like me, my daughter don't like me.

AMOS: Jabouri says he turned against Iraq's Shiite-dominated government when officials closed down his Baghdad operation in November. The closure came on the day Saddam Hussein received the death penalty. Jabouri's broadcasts were always hard-line. Now the underground channel goes much further, with round the clock images of attacks against Shiite militiamen, the Iraqi government and American soldiers.

Mr. AL-JABOURI: This is a new picture, that means a new operation. Look, look, look, what's he to do (unintelligible).

AMOS: An American Humvee moves through the picture, then is enveloped in black smoke. Jabouri claims these images, along with explicit instructions on waging guerilla war, have made his television channel popular around the Arab world.

Mr. AL-JABOURI: I have daily about 8,000 e-mail, as you know, 8,000 in the Arab area, that means big number because not everyone have Internet.

AMOS: Some of the pictures look like they come from people's telephone cameras.

Mr. AL-JABOURI: Ninety percent of our film is by mobile.

AMOS: The productions are simple but show skills in managing a sophisticated media campaign with accessible tools that include cell phone cameras and an Internet link. The same technology was used to spread the controversial images and sound of Saddam Hussein's hanging last week. Jabouri appeared on Al-Jazeera news programs to condemn Saddam's execution, heaping sectarian insults on an Iraqi Shiite guest. He brought the incendiary language of his pirate station to the mainstream Arab media.

(Soundbite of Al-Jazeera broadcast)

Mr. JABOURI: (Speaking foreign language).

AMOS: Jabouri says he manages his operation from Damascus but production is done in Iraq. He says his son gathers videos from Sunni insurgents inside the country. Regional politics keep him from expanding his operation. Syrian authorities have stopped him from opening a studio here, he says, because of his criticism of Iran, a Syrian ally. It is an Egyptian satellite company that now beams out the broadcast that can be seen throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

This week, the U.S. government moved to stop those broadcasts after appeals from Baghdad, according to State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

Mr. SEAN MCCORMACK (State Department Spokesman): What we did in response was to facilitate contact between the government of Iraq and the government of Egypt about these concerns. And my understanding as of this weekend was that the broadcast had seized. Now I don't know if they have seized permanently or not, but at least in the immediate term, the Iraqi government's concerns have been addressed.

(Soundbite of Al-Zawraa broadcast)

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: But Al-Zawraa was on television screens across the Arab world again today. Despite diplomatic pressure, the Iraqi government and U.S. authorities have been unable to stop the programs for long. In a region more polarized than ever, the programs of Al-Zawraa are playing to the series of the Sunni's inside and outside of Iraq.

Deborah Amos, NPR News, Damascus.

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