- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2007

BAGHDAD

Life can be tough in Iraq, as reflected in the somewhat dour offerings of most television stations during the month of Ramadan, but it also can be hilarious — as many viewers are discovering.

In its much-hyped political comedy “Anba al-Watan,” the Al-Sharqiya satellite channel has roped in popular Iraqi actor Rasim al-Jumaili to play a political leader in an Arab country not too dissimilar to Iraq.

Mr. Jumaili, who bears a passing resemblance to Iraq’s portly President Jalal Talabani decides in the first episode, which was broadcast on Thursday, to divide up his country, and he sends his troops, dressed remarkably like Iraqi security guards, to shoot up towns and cities.

Surrounded by bodyguards, one of them a coquettish female, he then proceeds to issue a series of nonsensical decrees, including one that requires a visa just to be able to go visit family members living a few blocks away.

The satirical series is expected to run throughout the holy month of Ramadan, the peak television viewing period for the Arab world as families gather for the evening “iftar,” which breaks the daily fast — and then settle down in front of the box.

The title of the series, “Anba al-Watan,” is itself farcical, meaning either “News of the Nation” or “Sellout of the Nation.”

The channel, which constantly sends up Iraqi leaders, was banned in Iraq in January, but because it broadcasts by satellite out of Dubai, the prohibition has had little effect.

Iraqi newspapers have been carrying full-page advertisements promoting the show, and the first episode, “Federalism,” appears to have struck a chord with many Iraqis opposed to having their country carved up.

Because the station is owned by London-based Iraqi media tycoon Saad Bazzaz, a Sunni who headed television and radio for a while during Saddam Hussein’s rule, it is often perceived as taking a pro-Sunni position.

If the first episode is any indication, however, equal fun is poked at Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds.

There’s little comedy to be found on other Iraqi channels, which appear to be trying to outdo each other in their focus on security and economic woes in the war-torn country.

Al-Sharqiya TV enlists the help of a string of comedians in its program “Federal Juha,” named after a proverbial hero of Arabic folklore, but they succeed only in depicting the morbid reality of Iraqis hit by power cuts, lack of water and services.

Even more somberly, Al-Sharqiya is airing a series grimly titled “Phobia Baghdad,” which highlights numerous attempts on the lives of Iraqi intellectuals.

With most Iraqi actors having relocated to neighboring countries to escape the violence, many of the programs,including “Anba al-Watan,” have been shot abroad, especially in Damascus, Syria.

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