- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2003

BAGHDAD — The U.S.-appointed government raided the offices of Al Arabiya television yesterday, banned its broadcasts from Iraq and threatened to imprison its journalists.

Al Arabiya said it would not fight the ban and would report on Iraq from its headquarters in Dubai.

The Iraqi Governing Council banned the station, one of the Arab world’s largest, from working in Iraq for broadcasting an audiotape a week ago of a voice it said belonged to Saddam Hussein.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher defended the ban. He said the aim was to try “to avoid a situation where these media are used as a channel for incitement, for inflammatory statements and for statements and actions that harm the security of the people who live and work in Baghdad, including Iraqi citizens themselves.”

In Baghdad, Jalal Talabani, the current council president, said, “Al Arabiya incites murder, because it’s calling for killings through the voice of Saddam Hussein.”

Shortly after Mr. Talabani’s news conference, about 20 Iraqi police officers raided Al Arabiya’s offices in Baghdad’s Mansour neighborhood, making lists of equipment to be seized if it continued to report from Baghdad, said station correspondent Ali al-Khatib, reporting live from the Iraqi capital.

The officers also raided the Middle East Broadcasting Center, a mostly entertainment network that shares offices with Al Arabiya and is owned by the same Saudi company.

Mr. al-Khatib said the officers told employees they would be fined $1,000 and imprisoned for a year for each violation. He said police told correspondents that the council might reconsider its decision if the news channel writes a letter pledging never to encourage terrorism.

After an hour of discussions with police, Al Arabiya’s chief Baghdad editor, Wahhad Yacoub, said the channel would cease broadcasting reports from Iraq until the matter is resolved.

He said the Saddam audiotape was received and broadcast from the station’s headquarters — not its Baghdad bureau.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the government action.

“Statements from Saddam Hussein and the former Iraqi regime are inherently newsworthy, and news organizations have a right to cover them,” said the group’s Middle East program coordinator, Joel Campagna.

In the audiotape purported to be Saddam, broadcast Nov. 16, the speaker told Iraqis that the “road of jihad [holy war] and resistance” is the only one to make the “armies of the unjust occupation leave our country.”

Al Arabiya went on the air shortly before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. It is owned by the brother-in-law of Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd.

In July, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said Al Arabiya and another Arab news channel, Al Jazeera, incited violence against U.S. forces with slanted reports.

In September, the Governing Council temporarily banned the two from entering government buildings and news conferences.

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