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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 February 2007, 13:35 GMT
Row over Iraq's insurgency TV
By Sebastian Usher
BBC World media correspondent

Al Zawraa logo on TV screen
European satellite companies may carry the controversial station
There is a diplomatic standoff between the US and Egypt over the hosting by a Cairo-based satellite provider of an Iraqi TV station that fiercely backs Sunni insurgents.

The Americans have told Egyptian officials they want the broadcasts to stop, but up till now, al-Zawraa can still be seen.

Media analysts say Egypt's reluctance to take the channel off air may be due to its growing wish to be seen to stand up for Sunni Muslim interests in Iraq.

Iraqi insurgents blowing up trucks, snipers picking off American soldiers, the charred bodies of Sunni civilians burnt alive - al-Zawraa offers a constant stream of these brutal images.

Most of the operations carry the logo of the Islamic Army of Iraq, one of the fiercest Sunni insurgent groups, believed to be made up of a core of former Baathists loyal to Saddam Hussein.

Originally, its coverage was less of a celebration of the insurgency, but that changed after Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death in November.

The Iraqi government banned the station, accusing it of inciting violence.

After the ban, it switched to satellite and started broadcasting the kind of material found on hardline Jihadi sites on the internet.

It is still broadcasting across the Middle East on an Egyptian satellite network.

Cold War

A media expert in Cairo, Lawrence Pintak, has spoken to the station's backer, Mishan al-Jabouri, a former Iraqi MP belonging to a pro-Baathist party, who's been charged with corruption in Iraq and is now based in Damascus.

"He says that the footage is being gathered in Iraq by his son, who is with the insurgents. A lot of this footage is relatively poor quality, low quality cameras, even material from mobile phones.

Clip from Al Zawraa TV station showing kidnapped man
Iraq says the images the station shows incite violence
"He collects it, somehow packages it, supposedly in Iraq and then uses what the BBC or CNN would use for a reporter to go live from the field - a mobile satellite dish.

"And that is fed somehow into Cairo. Someone here in Cairo then takes it, gets it over to Nilesat - the Egyptian-government-controlled satellite - and it is fed from there."

US officials have tried to get the Egyptian government to have al-Zawraa taken off air, but so far without success. The Egyptians say it is purely a business matter and up to Nilesat management what they do.

But Lawrence Pintak thinks it is more significant.

"This is all part of the growing cold war in the Middle East between the Sunni Arab states and Iran and the Shia government in Iraq.

"It reflects the fact that the Egyptians, the Saudis, the Jordanians very much want to be seen to be standing up to Iran and standing up for the Sunnis in Iraq.

"And it is probably also part of the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's efforts to regain the leadership role in the Sunni Arab world that Egypt held for so long."

European deals

It is a delicately balanced game to be playing, though.

Until recently, Egypt and Saudi Arabia were more intent on playing down the violence and tensions in Iraq, partly to avoid arousing further outrage and anger amongst their own people, which could turn into domestic political protest.

But the growing momentum of tension between Sunnis and Shia in the Arab world, spurred by the ethnic violence in Iraq, may be changing their priorities.

One indication of this is Egypt's reluctance to acquiesce to American requests to close down al-Zawraa.

No-one from the American or Egyptian side is keen to talk about al-Zawraa at the moment, but if Mishan al-Jabouri gets his way, their standoff may soon be academic.

He says he is arranging deals with European satellite providers to carry the station, which will make al-Zawraa and its incendiary content Europe's headache.




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