- The Washington Times - Monday, May 12, 2003

DOHA, Qatar — Documents purporting to show how the Saddam Hussein regime penetrated the Arab world’s most powerful television station and influenced its coverage have been published by a leading London newspaper, the Sunday Times.

Al Jazeera said yesterday that a senior staff member identified in the article as an Iraqi agent had been terminated some time ago, though other colleagues at the Qatar-based station told the Sunday Times he was only on vacation.

Leading figures in the Qatar government told The Washington Times that pressure from the emirate had contributed to lessened hostility toward the U.S.-led coalition in the later stages of its Iraq war coverage.

One senior reporter, who had been restricted for days from doing live broadcasts because of his refusal to join in the anti-American chorus, was returned to the air because of that pressure, the government sources said.

Al Jazeera, though set up in 1996 with the support of Qatar’s independent-minded ruler, is not subject to the state control that is normal in the Arab world. “We can talk to them but we do not order them,” said a senior official.

Al Jazeera, which claims to have doubled its worldwide audience during the war, on numerous occasions has enraged the Bush administration with what was seen in Washington as an anti-U.S. bias.

However, since the war began, the station also has broadcast interviews with the secretaries of defense and of state. Its reporters on occasions have proved more accurate than initial coalition claims, as when it correctly contradicted British reports of a popular uprising in Basra.

The Sunday Times cited documents showing Iraqi intelligence agents claimed they had recruited three Al Jazeera staffers and were influencing the company’s managing director and chief executive officer.

The documents, captured by the Iraqi opposition’s Pentagon-backed Free Iraqi Forces, originally were held in a two-story intelligence building that was ransacked by members of the Iraqi intelligence service. A few documents remained unscathed, the FIF said.

One of the documents, dated October 1999, boasted that Iraqi intelligence officers had thwarted U.S. efforts to get the channel to broadcast footage of the notorious chemical attack by the Iraqi regime on the Kurdish city of Halabja in March 1988.

Another document, on Iraqi Embassy-headed paper, says an Al Jazeera employee identified only as Jazeera 2 “has been helping out and giving us special facilities to get our people” on a discussion program called “The Opposite Opinion.”

“He provides us with detailed information of all that takes place in the channel,” the document says. “I made him aware of the appreciation of his efforts. He has been presented with a set of gold jewelry for his wife.”

The intelligence officers also reported winning over two Al Jazeera cameramen.

Perhaps the most prized target of the intelligence officials, the Sunday Times said, was Mohammed Jasim Al-Ali, the station’s managing director.

The files say the network was an “instrument” of the Iraqi regime. However junior Iraqi intelligence officers often sought to impress superiors by exaggeration, analysts have warned.

Mr. Al-Ali worked on Qatar Television before joining the Al Jazeera board.

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