YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Iraqi TV Targets Insurgents

A popular show features purported assailants' confessions as they face the families of victims.

March 02, 2005|Patrick J. McDonnell | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — A distraught mother, dressed in black, stares into a TV camera and declares, "I smashed the terrorist" with a shoe. "He killed my son."

The camera then focuses on the alleged murderer, Mohammed Adnan, who is facing both the grieving woman and her sobbing grandson.

The teenage boy says that Adnan, whose left eye appears swollen, was dressed as a police officer when he came to their home last fall and took away his father, who was never seen again.

The professional-looking videotape, which began airing recently on the government-owned Al Iraqiya television network, is among the more dramatic in an ongoing series of insurgent "confession" videos that have galvanized Baghdad.

The one-hour tapes constitute a sort of reality TV whose aim is to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. Aired twice a day, they serve as a counterpoint to the now-familiar images shot by insurgents of cowering hostages and beheadings. They are also a centerpiece of an intense government campaign designed to convince an edgy population that the fledgling government and its hard-hit security forces are making Iraq safer.

"Terrorism in the Grip of Justice" is the title of the series, which began airing shortly before Iraq's national election Jan. 30. While it's not clear just how truthful the videos are, the provocative images seem to bolster skeptical Iraqis' confidence in a government often assailed as ineffective against lawlessness and violence.

"It's a good thing because it makes me feel there is a working government developing day by day and that the security situation is improving," said Fadwa Khalifa, a 22-year-old college student in Baghdad. "But I also fear that it all may be a lie."

The video clips are a big hit in entertainment-starved Iraq, where safe pastimes are few. Venturing out to a park can expose one to car bombs, kidnappings, drive-by shootings or other perils. There's not even the need for an expensive satellite TV to catch the videos, which air on the workaday government-run channel, accessible to anyone with a television set and a cheap antenna.

The program's popularity has not been lost on the insurgents, who have launched a public relations counteroffensive denouncing the tapes as a hoax and threatening in pamphlets to impose "God's justice" on employees of the government-funded network.

Raeda Wazan, a reporter for a sister station of Al Iraqiya in the northern city of Mosul, was kidnapped Feb. 20 and later killed. It is unclear if her abduction was related to the airing of the tapes, but her husband said a note denouncing her as a "traitor" was found pinned to her body.

Despite the killing, Al Iraqiya officials have pledged that they will not succumb to intimidation. "Showing these terrorist videotapes is a moral commitment for us to the Iraqi people," said Karim Humadi, news director for Al Iraqiya.

There is no immediate way to verify the information broadcast or determine how much of the "confessions" are coerced or invented. U.S. officials say they have nothing to do with the tapes, generally shown in Baghdad at midday and repeated in the evening. In Washington, an intelligence official said that analysts couldn't "rule in or rule out" the claims on such tapes but that they didn't view them as a major windfall.

Martial music and images of mosques and other holy sites are interspersed with scenes of violence at the beginning of each broadcast. The Shiite Muslim call to prayer accompanies the opening of the daytime showing; the slightly different Sunni version of the prayer plays at night.

Most episodes have been shot in violence-plagued Mosul, where an enterprising commander of an Iraqi Interior Ministry force known as the "Wolf Brigade" serves as host.

"The Wolf Brigade found the terrorists in their den," the commander, sporting three stars on his epaulets and identified only by his nickname, Abul Waleed, proclaimed proudly during a recent show.

"We caught these terrorists without firing a bullet," Waleed says at one point. "We didn't destroy the city like the Americans did in Fallouja.... This is purely an Iraqi operation."

The Wolf Brigade is one of several Iraqi counterinsurgency units hurriedly dispatched to Mosul late last year as rebels made a bid to overrun the city. Mosul's roadways and lots were littered in November with the corpses of insurgents' victims, usually Iraqi security men, translators and others deemed to be collaborators with U.S. forces and the American-backed interim government. Most of the city's 4,000-member police force walked off the job.

Rules of evidence and warnings against self-incrimination don't appear to be much of an issue, as Iraqis remain glued to their screens while emotionless insurgents speak of serial beheadings and other atrocities. The program occasionally switches from confessions to insurgents' tapes of the same beheading or other form of killing.

Los Angeles Times Articles