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Friday, 8 March, 2002, 15:11 GMT
Anti-Saddam radio faces problems
Pro-Saddam demonstration in Baghdad
The US wants to undermine support for Saddam
By the BBC's Hiwa Osman in Berlin

A proposed opposition radio station in the Kurdish-controlled area of Iraq may not be able to go on air without US protection.

The US-financed radio station is to be hosted by the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party (KSDP), which controls an area in the east of the Kurdish region along the borders with Iran.

KSDP leader Muhammad Haji Mahmoud told BBC News Online that "going on air from our area is going to be difficult without any concrete and direct US assurances and guarantees" of support and protection.

Last week the US State Department agreed in principle to fund building an Iraqi opposition radio transmitter in the Kurdish-controlled area to broadcast anti-Saddam propaganda into Iraq.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher has said that the US administration had been in talks with the Iraqi National Congress (INC) on an opposition transmitter "for some time".

"We are open to the concept of broadcasting from inside Iran or from Kurdish controlled areas of Iraq," Boucher added.

Ready to broadcast

The station is based in KSDP-controlled Soren Mountain, which straddles Iraq and Iran border between the cities of Sulaymaniyah and Halabjah.

The KSDP's official spokesperson in Europe, Hussain Rasul, told BBC News Online that the idea of the radio station was first discussed in an Iraqi opposition meeting in London in July 2000.

The building of the radio compound, which has eight rooms and two halls, was complete and most of the equipment had been delivered and installed, said Mr Rasul.

Soren mountains
The radio is to be based in the mountainous Iran-Iraq border region
The station, which will broadcast on FM frequencies for Iraq and short wave for outside the country, is expected to be supervised by the KSDP and operated by eight Kurdish and Arab journalists.

According to Mr Rasul, the KSDP is sending three of its broadcast journalists for training in the USA before starting work at the station.

INC leader Ahmad Chalabi has said that the station will broadcast news and commentary on human rights abuses in Iraq and on the "plight of the Iraqi people".

"Washington was likely to fund the project at a cost of $178,000," he added.

But the KSDP official told BBC News Online that they "have not heard anything about the budget".

US attacks expected

Iraq's Kurdish region has been under Kurdish control and out of Baghdad's reach since the end of the Gulf war. In 1991 the US and UK established the region as a "safe haven".

Amid increasing signs that the USA is planning to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, one possible scenario is for the Kurdish region to be used as a base for attacks against Baghdad.

On the possibility of a US attack against Iraq, Mr Rasul said: "We welcome any attempts to change the regime in Baghdad, but we are bound by the decisions made by our Kurdish allies".

The KSDP is part of an alliance with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and three other smaller parties operating in the area under PUK control.

See also:

01 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Britain backs US over Iraq
15 Dec 01 | Middle East
Iraqi Kurds buoyed by US visit
25 Feb 02 | Middle East
Annan to tackle Iraq over arms
24 Feb 02 | Middle East
Blair and Bush 'to discuss Iraq action'
31 Aug 01 | Middle East
Iraqi Kurds face uncertain future
23 Feb 02 | Middle East
Saddam scorns Bush 'baby talk'
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