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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 June, 2004, 11:13 GMT 12:13 UK
Talk radio comes to Baghdad
Radio Dijla presenter Shaima al-Omri
Radio Dijla began two months ago

Iraq's first independent talk radio station has begun transmissions in Baghdad, bringing Iraqis a lively mix of music and the uncensored opinions of ordinary people.

Radio Dijla, or Radio Tigris, was founded by Dr Ahmad Al-Rikabi, a former London bureau chief of the US-funded Radio Free Iraq.

In 2003, Dr Rikabi helped to set up coalition-run radio and TV stations in his role as head of the Iraqi Media Network.

A recent test transmission included Arab and Iraqi pop songs and entertainment programmes, an interview with an Iraqi singer and a live phone-in programme during which callers were invited to express their opinions on issues of concern.

According to the London newspaper The Guardian, the station operates from "a modest family house somewhere in a western Baghdad suburb".

New concept

"Radio Dijla has also become required listening for the country's new authorities," the paper said.

Our opinion does not count, but what always counts is your opinion
Radio Dijla

The station reportedly receives up to 18,000 calls a day, although it can only answer a fraction of that number.

"This is a new concept for Iraq, and the Arab world, and fills a yawning gap... We've quickly become a part of people's lives," Dr Rikabi told The Guardian.

"It shows the desperate need of ordinary Iraqis to share and communicate their pains and joys. I thought I had a good idea, but I never expected this amount of interest so soon. We are already number one in Baghdad," he said.

Callers to the programme, entitled "A Poll", are allowed to express their opinions freely without further comment by the presenter.

"Our opinion does not count, but what always counts is your opinion," the radio tells listeners repeatedly.

Pipeline attacks

In one phone-in, listeners were invited to comment on the recent spate of attacks on Iraqi oil pipelines.

It is better to force the Americans to leave Iraq instead of sabotaging the oil pipelines
Female caller

"What is your opinion on the issue of targeting the oil pipelines, which led to the full suspension of Iraqi oil exports from the northern and southern fields?" presenter Majid Salim asked.

"Are they patriotic acts that serve Iraq and the Iraqi people or are they acts of resistance or terrorism?"

Callers appeared unanimous in their condemnation of the violence.

"This is not an act of resistance or terrorism. It is a systematic subversive act aiming at harming Iraq," one woman said.

Radio Dijla studio
The station has a staff of 50 people

"The perpetrators of such acts are selfish and grudge-bearing people who do not want to see their country develop or become a civilised country."

"Those who target the power grids or the oil pipelines call themselves mujahidin. They are actually saboteurs who only harm great Iraq and the Iraqi people," another said. "If they really consider themselves mujahidin, they should resist the Americans."

One woman caller told the radio that "this phenomenon is not acceptable. It is better to force the Americans to leave Iraq instead of sabotaging the oil pipelines."

'Foreign hands'

Several callers agreed that the attacks on the pipelines were not being carried out by Iraqis.

The honourable Iraqi does not harm his country
Male caller

"It is unlikely that an Iraqi citizen would carry out such operations," one said.

"Whoever targets the oil pipeline does not belong to the homeland, the honourable resistance, or the honourable Iraqis because the honourable Iraqi does not harm his country. The saboteurs came from outside Iraq to destroy Iraq," said another.

Other live phone-ins broadcast on the radio have discussed family problems or such issues as the right age for young people to get married.

Radio Dijla joins a number of other FM stations sponsored by international bodies, political figures or parties that are currently broadcasting in Iraq.

But it is not the country's first talk radio station: before the war, Uday Hussein, Saddam's son, ran Al-Shabab Radio, which allowed callers to talk about love and poetry. However, anti-government talk was forbidden.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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