27 November 2003, Volume 6, Number 49
NewsIRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL SUBMITS TIMETABLE FOR END OF OCCUPATION. The Iraqi Governing Council submitted to the United Nations Security Council a timetable for self-rule on 24 November, Reuters reported on the same day. The timetable was called for under UN Security Council Resolution 1511 in October. The Governing Council also called on the UN to issue a new resolution in support of an end to the U.S.-led occupation by June 2004. In a letter to the Security Council, Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of November Jalal Talabani, said the Iraqi council intends to draft "a fundamental law to administer the Iraqi state" by February 2004, AP reported on 25 November. The law will respect human rights and religious freedom and equality among citizens and will introduce "a degree of decentralization" in administering the country.
In his letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Talabani said the Iraqi Governing Council will also select a "provisional legislative body" by 31 May 2004, which will elect a provisional government by the end of June, AP reported on 25 November. Once the provisional government is elected, "the Coalition Provisional Authority will be dissolved and the occupation...will end," the letter noted. The transitional government would organize elections by 15 March 2005 for a constitutional convention, which would draft a constitution to be ratified in a referendum. The transitional government would also oversee a national census, the adoption of regulations for political parties and elections, and voter registration. A new Iraqi government would be elected by 31 December 2005. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
AL-SISTANI WANTS TRANSITIONAL PLAN RE-EVALUATED. Iraqi Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has reportedly told the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Iraqi Governing Council member Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim that he has concerns over the recently released transitional plan for the transfer of power from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority to the Iraqi people, Al-Jazeera reported on 25 November.
Al-Sistani is particularly concerned with the transitional phase, which he reportedly described as not providing enough of a role for the Iraqi people. The grand ayatollah conveyed his concerns to al-Hakim during a recent meeting in Al-Najaf. Al-Sistani had earlier issued a fatwa, or religious edict, in June that said he would only support a constitution written by Iraqis picked through a general election, rather than one drafted by Iraqis picked by the United States. Washingtonpost.com reported on 26 November that al-Sistani has refused its request for a comment on the current plan. The site, however, quoted SCIRI representative Adil Abd al-Mahdi, who has met with al-Sistani's office several times to discuss the transfer of power, as saying that al-Sistani "certainly has not blessed the plan." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
BREMER, ABIZAID SAY ATTACKS TARGETING IRAQI CIVILIANS ON THE RISE. U.S. Civilian Administrator L. Paul Bremer and the commander of U.S. Central Command, General John Abizaid, told reporters at a 25 November press conference in Baghdad that Iraqi militants are increasingly targeting Iraqi civilians in Iraq, RFE/RL reported. "The former regime loyalists and jihadists have always pursued a policy of intimidation. They have failed to intimidate the coalition, they have now begun a pattern of terrorizing innocent Iraqis in an effort to drive them away from the goal they share with the coalition--a democratic and peaceful Iraq. They will not succeed," Bremer told reporters. "These offensive actions in the past two weeks have actually driven down the attacks against coalition forces, but unfortunately we've found that attacks against Iraqis have increased," General Abizaid added. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld concurred with Bremer and General Abizaid's remarks, RFE/RL reported on 25 November. Rumsfeld told a 25 November press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, "The overall number of attacks against Americans and coalition forces is actually down, but the number of attacks against Iraqi citizens has risen. Make no mistake; former regime loyalists are intensifying their efforts and increasing the lethality of their attacks. These attacks against the coalition and against Iraqi citizens demonstrate the utter disregard for life these former regime loyalists hold in their efforts to create instability." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.K. FOREIGN SECRETARY VISITS BAGHDAD. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw arrived in Baghdad on 25 November on an unannounced trip for meetings with U.S. officials and Iraqi Governing Council members, international media reported. Speaking to reporters in Baghdad on 26 November, Straw said a plan to transfer power to Iraqis more quickly would contribute to improving the security situation in Iraq. "I'm absolutely sure that a more rapid political process will assist the security situation," he said. "The more we can give Iraqis a stake in their future, and a stable political architecture in which to work, the more I think Iraqis will become committed to that future and the fewer will think that terror, or acquiescence in terror is a way forward," Straw added. The United Kingdom has about 9,800 troops stationed in Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
FORMER RADIATION-TESTING SITE LOOTED IN IRAQ. Two radioactive capsules looted from deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's main battlefield testing site have been discovered near homes in the villages of Al-Amiriyah and Shamiyah, nytimes.com reported on 25 November. One man and a boy have tested positive for radiation sickness. One of the cobalt capsules was found in the yard of a villager's home in Al-Amiriyah, while a second capsule was found partly buried near a house in Shamiyah. The capsules are less than 13 centimeters in height, and contained thumbnail amounts of the radioactive material Cobalt-60. They were held in concrete crypts at the base of the towers and raised on cables into the towers to create an irradiated environment on the simulated battlefield, nytimes.com reported. Parts of the testing poles were also found with the capsules.
The capsules were taken from a sprawling site used to test the effects of radiation on animals and maybe even humans, nytimes.com reported. The U.S. military knew of the existence of the capsules at the site, and the U.S. commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, has ordered a full investigation into why the arc of eight 23-meter radioactive testing poles at the site was not properly secured after the site was inspected in May, the website reported. Local Iraqis have thus far refused to cooperate in the investigation in the two villages. The site was believed looted in September, and the capsules discovered in early October. The U.S. military used Black Hawk helicopters fitted with radiation detectors to track down the capsules. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL BANS AL-ARABIYAH NETWORK. The Iraqi Governing Council on 24 November banned the Arab satellite news channel Al-Arabiyah from broadcasting from Iraq for an unspecified period of time, international media reported on 25 November. The decision came after Al-Arabiyah broadcast an audiotape purportedly carrying the voice of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein calling for attacks against Iraqis that cooperate with coalition forces. "Al-Arabiyah incites murder because it's calling for killings through the voice of Saddam Hussein," Governing Council President for the month of November Jalal Talabani told reporters in Baghdad, BBC reported.
Talabani added that the Governing Council intends to sue the satellite news channel through the Iraqi courts for violating a council ban on incitement through the media. Al-Arabiyah issued a statement expressing surprise at the Governing Council decision, stating that it "adheres to covering the news in an objective and precise manner." The news channel also reported on 24 November that the council said it will consider reopening Al-Arabiyah's offices if it pledges in writing not to propagate violence. The United States supported the council's decision to ban Al-Arabiyah. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
UN SECURITY COUNCIL ESTABLISHES COMMITTEE TO HUNT FOR HUSSEIN ASSETS. The United Nations Security Council decided on 24 November to form a new committee to track the financial assets removed from Iraq by individuals linked to deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the UN News Center reported on 24 November (http://www.un.org/news). The committee will continue the work of the "661 Committee," which was established under UN Security Council Resolution 661 on Iraqi sanctions and dissolved effective 21 November under UN Security Council Resolution 1483 in May. The new committee will update the list of individuals with connections to Hussein, as well as entities owned or controlled by persons acting on Hussein's behalf, as well as other former senior Iraqi officials or their family members, the UN News Center reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQ APPOINTS AMBASSADOR TO U.S. Iraqi interim Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari announced the appointment of Iraqi-American Rend Rahim Francke as Iraqi ambassador to the United States, international media reported on 23 November. A founding member of The Iraq Foundation, a Washington-based NGO, Francke is well known in the U.S. capital, where she lobbied in support of human rights in Iraq and for the overthrow of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Francke told reporters in Baghdad that one of her first objectives will be to reopen the Iraqi Embassy in Washington, which was closed during the 1991 Gulf War. "I want to build the embassy to be the face of Iraqi diplomacy...and the new democratic and civilized Iraq," Reuters quoted her as saying. The Iraqi mission will temporarily work out of the Bahraini Embassy in Washington until repair work on the Iraqi Embassy is completed. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
TWO U.S. SOLDIERS KILLED IN MOSUL. Two U.S. soldiers traveling in a civilian vehicle were reportedly killed in an attack by a dozen Iraqi youths on 23 November, international media reported. Media reports vary on the details of the incident. Arab satellite channels Al-Arabiyah and Al-Jazeera reported that the soldiers' car was attacked while sitting in a traffic jam in Mosul.
The attackers reportedly pulled the soldiers from their vehicle and stabbed them to death. Meanwhile, AP reported on 24 November that gunmen shot the soldiers as they drove through the city center, causing their vehicle to crash into a wall. Iraqi teenagers then pulled the soldiers from their vehicle and beat them with concrete blocks, according to the AP report. It was unclear whether the soldiers were alive or dead when pulled from their vehicle. Iraqis also looted the soldiers' personal belongings.
According to one Iraqi witness, U.S. forces were unaware of the attack until Iraqi civilians reported the incident. U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt confirmed the deaths of the soldiers on 23 November but refused to provide details, telling reporters that it is against military policy to give such details, AP reported. "We're not going to get ghoulish about it," he said. The Pentagon denied reports that the soldiers' bodies were mutilated, with one Pentagon official telling "The Washington Times" on 24 November "There weren't any acts of violence committed against the two soldiers," the daily reported the following day. "The soldiers were not cut nor were their throats slashed," a coalition spokesman in Baghdad also told the daily on 24 November. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQI OIL PIPELINE ON FIRE IN BAYJI. An Iraqi pipeline caught fire north of Bayji on 24 November, international media reported. According to Reuters, oil officials suspect that spilled oil near the pipeline had been set afire, causing the current blaze. Adil al-Qazzaz, manager of the Northern Oil Company told AP that while he believed saboteurs were to blame for the fire, details remain sketchy as to the cause. Oil from the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk is processed at a Bayji refinery, and then transported via a pipeline to Turkey for export. According to Reuters, flames shot 7 meters into the air from the broken pipeline. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
FLIGHTS TO BAGHDAD CANCELED AFTER MISSILE ATTACK ON CARGO AIRCRAFT. International air courier DHL announced on 22 November that it has temporarily suspended service to Baghdad after unknown assailants fired a surface-to-air missile at a DHL jet during takeoff in Baghdad that day, international media reported. The aircraft landed safely in Baghdad after the attack. "At the moment there are discussions ongoing as to whether we will actually suspend operations" for the longer term, DHL spokeswoman Patricia Thompson told AFP on 22 November.
The DHL airbus was hit in the wing by at least one missile in the 22 November attack. It is the first civilian flight to be targeted at Baghdad International Airport. Militants have on several occasions fired missiles at U.S. military flights attempting to land or takeoff from the airport. Soon after the DHL announcement, Royal Jordanian Airlines announced that it is temporarily suspending all civilian flights into Baghdad. U.S. officials later announced that all civilian flights into Baghdad have been suspended, AP reported on 24 November. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
BAGHDAD HOTELS HIT BY ROCKETS... At least half a dozen rockets on 21 November struck two hotels in Baghdad that house international journalists and U.S. civilian contractors, international media reported. AFP quoted U.S. Colonel Peter Mansoor as saying that rocket launchers believed to be used in the attacks "were found on carts pulled by donkeys. They were concealed under agricultural goods." Donkey carts are frequently used to distribute bottled gas throughout the Iraqi capital. AP reported that the Palestine Hotel appears to have been hit at least five times, on the eighth, 15th, and 16th floors of the 18-story hotel. One rocket reportedly hit the adjacent Sheraton hotel, which shares the namesake of the international hotel chain, but is no longer affiliated with it. Initial reports indicate that one U.S. civilian contractor was seriously injured at the Palestine Hotel, and another person was lightly injured at the Sheraton, AFP reported. U.S. Colonel Brad May called the attacks "well executed." On 20 November, Brigadier General Martin Dempsey told reporters that there has been a 70 percent drop in violence in Baghdad. (Kathleen Ridolfo/Meagan Hassan)
...AS IS OIL MINISTRY. Militants on 21 November also launched rockets at the Iraqi Oil Ministry in Baghdad, international media reported. U.S. Colonel Peter Mansoor said two out of eight rockets fired at the Oil Ministry detonated, AFP reported. However, witnesses reported five explosions at the ministry. There were no reported injuries stemming from the attack. The ministry is closed on Fridays, which is a Muslim holy day. The attackers reportedly used rocket launchers mounted atop donkey carts in the Oil Ministry attack. Meanwhile, Iraqi police discovered a third cart loaded with 21 rockets near the Italian and Turkish embassies, Reuters reported. A U.S. soldier told the news agency that a fourth rocket-laden cart was found in the same area. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
ASSYRIAN POLITICIAN KILLED IN AL-BASRAH. An Assyrian politician working with coalition authorities in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah was abducted and killed on 18 November by unknown attackers, AP reported on 20 November. Sargoun Nanou Murado, a representative of the Assyrian Democratic Movement party and member of Al-Basrah's city council, was reportedly ambushed while en route to work. The assassination was one of two that day in southern Iraq involving people working with coalition authorities. In Al-Diwaniyah, gunmen on 18 November killed the Education Ministry's director-general for that province. Guerrillas have warned that they will target any Iraqi who collaborates with occupation authorities. The Assyrian Democratic Movement, which represents Iraq's long-oppressed Assyrian minority, is represented on the 25-seat Iraqi Governing Council set up by the U.S.-led coalition authorities (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 17 July 2003). (Meagan Hassan)
BUSH DEFENDS IRAQ WAR, WARNS UN ON IRRELEVANCE. U.S. President George W. Bush defended the coalition's decision to go to war in Iraq during the first day of his visit to the United Kingdom on 19 November, RFE/RL reported. In a speech at London's Whitehall Palace, Bush said: "There were good faith disagreements in your country [Great Britain] and mine over the course and timing of military action in Iraq. Whatever has come before, we now have only two options: To keep our word or to break our word. The failure of democracy in Iraq would throw its people back into misery and turn that country over to terrorists who wish to destroy us. Yet, democracy will succeed in Iraq because our will is firm, our word is good, and the Iraqi people will not surrender their freedom." Bush also scolded the United Nations for failing to support the U.S.-led war in Iraq, saying, "America and Great Britain have done and will do all in our power to prevent the United Nations from solemnly choosing its own irrelevance and inviting the fate of the League of Nations. It is not enough to meet the dangers of the world with resolutions. We must meet those dangers with resolve." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
PUK OFFICE BOMBED IN KIRKUK. The office of the Kurdish political party Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) was bombed in Kirkuk on 20 November, international media reported. Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television reported that a car bomb caused the explosion. At least five people were killed in the blast and several others were wounded. "I am 100 percent sure it was a suicide bombing," police officer Shwan Majid Karim told Reuters. KurdSat television reported on 19 November that the PUK had foiled several attempted terrorist attacks aimed at destabilizing the security situation in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, including planned attacks against PUK headquarters in Mosul. The PUK accused militant group Ansar Al-Islam of being behind those planned attacks. PUK head Jalal Talabani is serving as the Iraqi Governing Council's president for the month of November. Talabani is currently leading an Iraqi delegation of ministers and Governing Council members on an official visit to Turkey. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
CAR BOMB DETONATED IN AL-RAMADI. A car bomb detonated in Al-Ramadi, on 19 November, international media reported. According to Reuters, the bomb targeted the offices of a U.S.-appointed local council in the town. Al-Jazeera reported on 20 November that the bomb targeted the home of Shaykh Majid al-Ali Sulayman, a chieftain of the Al-Dulaym tribes and the head of the Al-Anbar Tribal Chieftains Council. Sulayman is also a member of the U.S.-appointed local council in the Al-Anbar Governorate.
Sulayman was reportedly not injured in the attack. However, witnesses said the explosion killed a number of people, including a child, and wounded several others. Al-Ramadi is located approximately 100 kilometers west of Baghdad within the so-called Sunni Triangle. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
SOUTH KOREA TO SEND 3,000 TROOPS ON INDEPENDENT MISSION TO IRAQ. South Korea has decided to send some 3,000 troops to Iraq to carry out an independent mission, Prime Minister Goh Kun said on 26 November, Seoul's Yonhap news agency reported. "The troops will carry on an independent operation in a certain region" not yet identified by the United States and South Koreans," Goh told reporters. "The option of a functional approach, such as sending [more] medics and army engineers has been abandoned due to local circumstances in Iraq and a request from the United States," he added. Washington had requested in September that South Korea contribute around 5,000 troops to help maintain security in Iraq. The Asian nation currently has 464 medics and engineers in Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
SPECIAL REPORT THE POST-HUSSEIN MEDIA ENVIRONMENT IN IRAQ
By Kathleen Ridolfo
The downfall of the Saddam Hussein regime this year ushered in a new period of free media in Iraq. The media in Iraq under Saddam Hussein was completely controlled by the state. The general population was widely banned from access to international media, including the Internet and satellite television. Save broadcasts from international radio broadcasts such as RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq, and poor-quality transmissions coming from a few underground opposition broadcasters, Iraqis had few other options for news, other than state-run radio, television, and newspapers.
On 24 March, four days after U.S. and coalition forces launched Operation Iraqi Freedom, the United States initiated a campaign to end the regime's state-run media system. Official Iraqi Television Channels 1 and 2 were wiped off the air. Likewise, Iraq Satellite Television was knocked off the air by mid-April. That pro-regime channel broadcast to the wider Arab world, and had been for foreign consumption only.
According to U.S. government estimates, in 1998 there were 19 AM stations in Iraq (of which, five were inactive), 51 FM stations, and four shortwave stations when Hussein was in power. However, it is important to note that many Iraqi stations operated only intermittently or had ceased broadcasting altogether after the 1991 Gulf War. In mid-October 2002, there were reports of Iraqi plans to maintain state-radio broadcasts in the event of war by using mobile transmitters. In fact, Iraq Radio did function throughout Operation Iraqi Freedom, but according to reports from inside Iraq, its signal was weak and sporadic.
Prior to the downfall of the Hussein regime, there were five major Arabic-language dailies in Iraq and nine major weeklies, all of which operated under state control and several of which were run directly by Uday Hussein, who was killed in a gun battle with U.S. troops in July. Economic sanctions on Iraq resulted in newsprint shortages, leading to print-run limitations since 1993. Hussein's regime maintained a total monopoly on printing facilities and the press-distribution mechanism in Iraq.
Iraqi newspapers continued to publish during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Iraq Satellite Television regularly reported on news and opinion pieces appearing in Iraqi dailies throughout the conflict.
Internet access in Iraq, which was only launched in 1997, was severely restricted by the Hussein regime. In 2001, the U.S. government estimated that there were just 12,500 Internet users in Iraq, which has a population of more than 24 million.
Private Internet access in Iraq was forbidden under the Hussein regime, and modems were banned. At the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom, there were an estimated 50-70 Internet centers in Iraq, located in places such as luxury hotels, universities, state ministries, and research and industrial facilities.
The media in Iraq has flourished since the overthrow of the Hussein regime. Over 100 newspapers are currently publishing in Iraq, representing a wide spectrum of political and religious viewpoints. The Iraqi Media Network (IMN) was established by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq (CPA) to replace the defunct Iraqi Information Ministry, which oversaw the media in Iraq under Hussein. The network includes a television station, two radio stations, and a newspaper. Meanwhile, "The Washington Post" reported on 16 October that the U.S. Army is now soliciting bids on behalf of the CPA for a private contractor to expand the Iraqi Media Network into a "world-class" media organization to be called the Al-Iraqiyah Network. The network would broadcast over two land-based channels, one of which would be an all-news channel, and two radio stations, one all news. The news channels would also be available via satellite. Independent radio and television stations have also been established.
Moreover, satellite purchases have proliferated, despite the prohibitive cost to the average Iraqi. The Internet is also widely available throughout the country.
While regulations are reportedly in place for media licensing, international media has reported that many Iraqis complain that they are not aware of the process of obtaining licenses under the CPA, and some have set up shop without licenses.
As noted above, more than 100 newspapers are now publishing in Iraq since the downfall of the Hussein regime. The newspapers represent various political and religious viewpoints, with nearly every political party publishing its own paper. There are also newspapers dedicated solely to economic, and social and cultural issues. Around half of the newspapers in Iraq claim to be dailies, but in reality, many only publish once or twice a week, which is probably a consequence of production and distribution costs. There are also a large number of weeklies, as well as monthly magazines. A number of former opposition newspapers that were previously banned by the Hussein regime are in wide circulation, as are Kurdish papers previously only published in northern Iraq. There are a few English-language newspapers in circulation, and it is reported that some regional and international newspapers are available in the cities, but demand for those newspapers varies, particularly for the regional press. Some imported papers, like the London-based "Al-Hayat," are expensive in comparison to Iraqi newspapers. In addition, a couple of Iraqi Arabic newspapers reportedly have English-language inserts at least once a week.
The CPA has encouraged Iraqis to pursue free press in Iraq, but has also cautioned the media to follow CPA orders regarding the conduct of the media in Iraq. CPA Order Number 14, issued on 10 June (http://www.cpa-iraq.org), lists strict rules prohibiting the media from: incitement to violence and civil disorder, either against Iraqis, or against coalition forces; expressing support for the banned Ba'ath Party; and support for "alterations to Iraq's borders by violent means." Media organizations determined to be in violation of the order are subject to closure, possible imprisonment of relevant persons involved in the violation, and a fine of up to $1,000.
The CPA moved to enforce the order in early June, closing down a radio station, newspaper, and television channel. Other newspapers were put on warning, and appear to have quickly moved to change their style and content. More recently, the Arab satellite channel, Al-Arabiyah, was banned by the Iraqi Governing Council from broadcasting from Iraq, on grounds that the news channel was inciting Iraqis to violence (see this issue).
The content of Iraqi newspapers varies greatly. Some newspapers established outside Iraq, such as London-based "Al-Zaman" are known for their high standards and credibility. A few of the newly established newspapers offer quality reporting, but many others exhibit a lack of training as far as style and content. Other newspapers offer inaccurate reporting at best, and downright sensationalism at worst. A few Western-based media organizations began to institute training programs based on Western standards for Iraqi journalists, but such programs have been subject to postponement or cancellation due to the security environment in Iraq.
Newspaper circulation varies widely in Iraq, with some dailies claiming to produce 30,000 to 50,000 copies a day. Smaller weeklies produce between 3,000 and 6,000 copies per week. Iraqi newspapers cost between 250 and 1,000 Iraqi dinars ($.25 and $1).
There are currently 17 FM radio stations and more than 55 AM/MW stations operating in Iraq. The stations broadcast mainly in Arabic. Kurdish and Assyrian broadcasts are also available. Syrian, Kuwaiti, Qatari, Omani, and United Arab Emirates stations can also be picked up, in addition to foreign broadcasts in English, French, and Russian. Indigenous Iraqi radio stations reflect newspapers, representing various political and religious trends in their content. Others claim to be "independent" broadcast stations. Most broadcast to a limited area, with poor reception. International broadcasting includes RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Radio Monte Carlo, Radio France International, Radio Sawa, and the Iraqi Media Network station.
In addition, there are a number of stations broadcasting in Persian (approximately three FM stations and 15 AM stations), from Iran. Iranian state-run radio also broadcasts in Arabic to Iraq through at least six separate stations. Iran reportedly also funds a number of Iraqi radio stations, such as the one operated by the Iraqi political group, The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which was based in Iran for 23 years before the downfall of the Hussein regime. Libya and Israel also broadcast to Iraq via shortwave.
A recent report published by the BBC World Service Trust on broadcast media in Iraq since the fall of the Hussein regime noted that Iraqis throughout the country had high broadcast-engineering skills, evidenced by the number of makeshift independent radio (and television) stations set up in post offices and relay stations owned by the former regime. Many Iraqis have indeed established local broadcast stations using meager equipment that once belonged to the former regime or equipment borrowed from individual private citizens. However, as the BBC report noted, radio and television production and editorial skills remain poor in Iraq. The CPA has provided some technical and financial assistance to radio stations, reportedly in exchange for those stations' transmission of public-service announcements.
On 13 October, the CPA announced that it would begin accepting applications for broadcast licenses at a cost of $500 per new license, with a $100 renewal fee. Potential applicants must meet CPA-established requirements regarding good character, financial disclosures, and content. Initial broadcasting licenses will be granted for six months.
The Iraqi Media Network (IMN) has been broadcasting in Iraq since late May/early June and dominates domestic television there. The television channel broadcasts a variety of programming -- from soap operas to sports -- with two 30-minute news broadcasts daily. The IMN is reportedly capable of reaching two-thirds of Iraqi homes. A number of Kurdish local television stations are operated by Kurdish political parties in the north, and small upstart local channels are beginning to operate in other areas of the country, namely in Al-Najaf, Kut, and Karbala. Iranian domestic channels can also be received in some areas, and Iran is reportedly backing a SCIRI television station that broadcasts from Tehran. Iran also broadcasts into Iraq via satellite. All of the Iranian channels offer programs in Arabic, and many of those programs specifically target an Iraqi audience. The BBC reported in early October that a group of Iraqi businessmen and media personalities have established the Iraqi Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) with an initial investment of $10 million. The IBC will reportedly produce television and radio broadcasts.
Moreover, the BBC reported that the U.S. would reestablish Iraqi Satellite TV in the coming weeks following the delivery of some $80 million in equipment to Iraq. Meanwhile, the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) is set to launch its regional Middle East Television Network in December. With $30 million in funding, the satellite network hopes to compete with Arab satellite channels Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyah.
There has been a boom in satellite dishes in Iraq since the overthrow of the Hussein regime. Dishes cost between $150 and $250. The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders contends that Iraqis trust Arab satellite channels for news more than their own press, or coalition broadcasts. Two Kurdish satellite channels are also operating from Iraqi Kurdistan. As with Kurdish domestic television, the two major Kurdish political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, operate those channels.
No less than 20 Internet cafes are operating in the Iraqi capital, serviced by Internet service providers (ISPs) based in northern Iraq. Cybercafes have also opened in northern and southern cities, some with the help of coalition forces. An hour online reportedly costs around $2, too expensive for most Iraqis. Nonetheless, international media reports that the cafes are popular with Iraqis anxious for unimpeded access to global information sources. The BBC reported in August that the former Iraqi state ISP, Uruklink, which operated under the Hussein regime, restarted service in July. Coalition forces disabled Uruklink at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In addition, it appears that high-speed broadband delivered via satellite will soon be available inside the country courtesy of GloCall, a France Telecom Mobile Satellite Communications company. Local Iraqi websites remain scant, but a number of Iraqi newspapers can be accessed online. In addition, the CPA's website offers official announcements, speeches, press-conference transcripts, and public notices in both English and Arabic. The website, however, appears incomplete, with links to Iraqi ministries offering little or no information. The website has fluctuated as far as content since it first came online in early summer, sometimes offering daily updates, and at other times not updating for days at a time.
The possibility for a free and independent media in Iraq is strong, but more attention needs to be given to training programs that focus on Western media standards. The U.S.-led administration in Iraq is aware of this challenge and has undertaken a number of training programs for journalists. More programs are in the works, and a number of international nongovernmental organizations have initiated media-training programs as well.
Iraq remains vulnerable to subversive outside media elements, particularly Iran, which substantially increased its radio and television broadcasts into Iraq following the collapse of the Hussein regime, despite U.S. warnings that it not interfere in the country. Moreover, the anti-U.S. stance of Arab satellite channels Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyah seek to discredit the coalition in Iraq and possibly destabilize the political environment there.
It is likely that the number of newspapers and radio channels currently operating inside Iraq will be reduced after some time, once consumers have quenched their thirst for information and begin to choose reliable news sources for their information needs. The media will also likely be affected by financial constraints, unless many media outlets can secure sustainable funding.