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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 June, 2005, 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK
Iraq violence shifting Arab media
By Sebastian Usher
BBC world media correspondent

The latest bombings and bloodshed in Baghdad have meant that violence in Iraq has once again been dominating the bulletins on Arab satellite television stations.

Iraqis take away the body of a dead man on a stretcher in Baghdad
The blasts took place in a central shopping street in Baghdad

The fact that Iraqi civilians are the main victims of the attacks is increasingly being stressed in reports, interviews and comments.

This has raised questions in some parts of the Arab media about the legitimacy of the groups carrying out the attacks, although the blame for the upsurge in violence is still mainly being placed on the Americans.

The coverage of the violence in Iraq by Arab satellite television stations has undergone a perceptible change in recent months.

Eyewitness anger

Al Jazeera - often accused by the Americans of stirring anti-US feeling - has adopted less of an "Us and Them" approach.

The militants are no longer referred to as the "resistance" but as gunmen or suicide bombers.

An Iraqi woman weeps at the scene of a car bomb attack near a Shia mosque in Baghdad

Eyewitnesses are shown denouncing them as "terrorists" - condemnations that are echoed by a parade of Iraqi officials and religious authorities.

One recent attack drew this comment from the al-Jazeera reporter: "Most of the time it's civilians who pay the price for the violence that has cost thousands of their lives".

Al-Jazeera's main rival, the Dubai-based al-Arabiya, has also shown little sympathy for the bombers - a recent report, instead, painted a favourable picture of British soldiers patrolling Basra.

Reporters targeted

Both channels have now been attacked by the militants, both physically and verbally.

A boy searches through the wreckage of a shop destroyed by a bomb in central Baghdad
Arab stations emphasise the bombers are often not Iraqis

A senior al-Arabiya correspondent in Iraq was lucky to survive a shooting last weekend claimed by one militant group, while a statement this week on an Islamist website purportedly from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group accused al-Jazeera of toeing the American line.

In Iraq itself, two of the most widely available channels, al-Iraqiya and al-Sharqiya, have consistently portrayed the suicide bombers as trying to destroy the country rather than liberate it.

Their coverage also does its best to persuade viewers that most - if not all - come from outside Iraq, a line that the Iraqi government is continually stressing.

A nightly programme on al-Iraqiya that has drawn international attention is called "Terrorism in the Grip of Justice" and shows alleged militants confessing to a series of crimes, including bombings, murder and rape.

Moral outrage

Iraqi papers have also increasingly expressed anguish and anger over the civilian toll, with one paper, al-Bayan, recently commenting that " terrorism had exceeded all moral limits".

Another Iraqi paper, al-Dustur, has called on Iraqis to wake up to the fact that they are the targets of terrorism and to unite to fight back against it.

In the wider Arab world, several newspapers have condemned the killings in Iraq - for example, the Saudi al-Jazeera - unconnected to the television channel - said that they were a "black mark on the whole Islamic world".

But the most widely expressed view is still that American policy in Iraq and the Middle East is the root-cause of the violence, with little hope of an end in sight while US troops remain in Iraq.


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