Mysterious 'Saddam Channel' drops off Iraqi TV

AP News
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Posted: Nov 30, 2009 2:04 PM

A mysterious TV channel praising Saddam Hussein dropped off satellite airwaves on Monday, just three days after it began broadcasting.

The chairman of the so-called Saddam Channel told The Associated Press it will return by the weekend after a technology upgrade to make the broadcast stronger.

But the Web site of a political coalition led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki jeered at what it predicted was the end of the TV channel, which began airing on the Islamic calendar's anniversary of Saddam's 2006 execution.

"This Baathist channel said goodbye after ... days of its starting," said the statement on the Web site of the State of Law Coalition, which is led by al-Maliki, a Shiite. "We salute our national government if it participated to close this Baathist channel."

The head of al-Lafeta TV, which aired the Saddam Channel, has denied that it is bankrolled by Baathists, the Sunni-dominated political party that Saddam once led.

Mohammed Jarboua, an Algerian who claims to head the channel, said in a telephone interview from Syria that it was only temporarily halted.

"We're opting for a more advanced technology and we asked for the broadcast to be cut in the meantime for four days," Jarboua said Monday. He said the new technology will improve the channel's viewing quality.

Jarboua has denied that the channel is a Baath Party tool, but has gone to great lengths to hide the location of its studios and its funding sources.

The station went down the day after an AP story first reported it began broadcasting across the Arab world on Friday, the first day of Eid al-Adha for Sunni Arabs. The day _ which is the most important holiday of the Islamic calendar _ also coincided with Saddam's execution by hanging in December 2006 because the date of the feast shifts. Shiites began celebrating the five-day holiday on Saturday.

The channel dredged up the sectarian divisions that Saddam inspired among Shiites and Sunnis at a time when Iraq is gearing up for crucial national elections. Iraqi politicians have been arguing over parliamentary seat distribution in a dispute that has inflamed the splits and will likely delay the vote beyond its constitutionally required Jan. 30 deadline.

While it was up, the Saddam Channel showed a montage of flattering, still images of the late dictator and his sons and grandson. All the pictures were set against audio recordings of Saddam making speeches and reciting poetry, or of patriotic songs urging listeners to "liberate our country."

No announcers or commentators appeared or spoke.

Earlier, a media adviser to al-Maliki dismissed the station and its message, and refused to say whether the government would seek to shut down the channel.

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Halaby reported from Amman, Jordan.