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US, Iraq Pressure Egypt To Take Satellite Station Off Air January 19, 2007

Posted by notapundit in US News, World News.

CAIRO (AP)–Washington and Baghdad are pressuring Egypt to remove from its satellite an Iraqi television station that supports Sunni insurgents, airing a steady stream of footage of attacks on U.S. and Iraqi troops, grisly pictures of dead babies and denunciations of Iraq’s Shiite leadership.

So far, Egypt has refused to take Al-Zawraa off the air. Observers say its resistance is a sign that while this top U.S. ally has backed Washington’s push for reconciliation between Iraq’s Shiites and Sunnis, it is also hedging its bets and wants to bolster Iraq’s Sunnis against the growing power of Shiite Iran.

Al-Zawraa, founded by a former Iraqi Sunni lawmaker, has been transmitted for the past eight months on Egypt’s government-owned NileSat satellite, allowing it to be seen across the Arab world at a time of increasing tensions between Sunnis and Shiites.

Iraqi security forces raided and shut down its headquarters in Baghdad in November, accusing it of “inciting hatred and instigating violence,” but it still operates, reportedly produced in Sunni areas of Iraq.

The station – whose name is an ancient name for the Iraqi capital Baghdad – takes a vehement pro-Sunni insurgent line, airing messages from groups like the Islamic Army of Iraq and the Brigades of 20th Revolution, which are believed to be led by former army officers from Saddam Hussein’s ousted Baath regime.

With the station’s slogan of ‘Victory or Death,’ its programming is a constant flow of gruesome images. Entire programs show pictures of bloody and mutilated bodies of men, women and children, which it says are Sunnis killed by U.S. troops, Shiite militiamen or government security forces.

During news bulletins, it shows videos of attacks on U.S. or Iraqi forces, including explosions against military vehicles. It isn’t clear if the footage is taken from militant messages posted on the Internet or supplied directly by insurgents.

It also runs continuous condemnations of the Shiite-led Iraqi government, accusing it of being a front for Iran and of killing Sunnis.

“No mercy, no pity for those who made their people a target,” and “the intentions of the sectarian coalition government are way beyond reconciliation,” read titles in a scroll across the bottom of the screen.

One recent show featured interviews with men said to be former prisoners tortured by government security forces.

“We are six brothers. They raided our house after midnight and brought us here, torturing us with electricity for six days, until we confessed to crimes we have never heard of before,” one of the alleged former prisoners said, sitting in his underwear and sobbing in the footage.

A U.S. State Department official said the U.S. and Iraqi embassies in Cairo “raised concerns about al-Zawraa TV with officials at the Egyptian Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs in December 2006.”

They “asked that al-Zawraa be removed from NileSat,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue between the two allies.

An Iraqi diplomat said the Iraqi government received no response on its official request to the Egyptian government to stop al-Zawraa. He didn’t elaborate on the content of the request or when it was sent.

Egyptian officials wouldn’t comment. The chairman of the board of Nilesat, Amin Basyouni, said Al-Zawraa has a contract with the satellite to broadcast and he cannot stop it without an order from the Egyptian government.

“If I receive an order from the Egyptian authorities to shut down the channel, I will do that the next second,” Basyouni told the AP.

Basyouni said there are 26 other Iraqi channels using NileSat “and many of them are cursing Egypt day and night but we haven’t closed them.”

He said he received a letter from the station’s founder, former Iraqi Sunni lawmaker Mishan al-Jabouri, threatening to sue NileSat for breach of contract if transmission is stopped. The station pays NileSat $300,000 a year for the transmission, he said.

Al-Jabouri founded Al-Zawraa three years ago, but it was a solely terrestrial station until it signed with NileSat. Al-Jabouri was accused in October of embezzling $7 million a month intended for a force protecting oil pipelines in northern Iraq. He was stripped of his parliamentary immunity and fled to Syria. He couldn’t be reached for comment.

Egypt’s reluctance to shut down the station comes amid widespread skepticism that a new U.S. strategy will end Iraq’s sectarian violence. Mainly Sunni Arab nations like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are suspicious of Iraq’s Shiite-led government and fear it represents part of their rival Iran’s bid to increase its power in the Middle East.

Al-Zawraa’s transmission on NileSat is part of “the Cold War between Iran and Sunni Arab powers in the region,” Lawrence Pintak, a communications expert at the American University in Cairo, wrote in a commentary in the Beirut-based Daily Star.

Diaa Rashwan, an Egyptian expert in Islamic extremist groups, said Egypt may worry that shutting down Al-Zawraa would bring a backlash.

“Egypt is concerned these days not to be perceived as pro-American in whatever is related to the Sunni interests in the region,” Rashwan told AP.


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