Monday, February 21, 2005

Iraq shows TV interrogations

(Reuters) - Iraq's U.S.-backed interim government is stepping up its propaganda war with insurgents by broadcasting videotaped interviews with suspects who appear to confess to killings, rape and theft on the orders of guerrillas.

The offensive was launched in recent weeks on state-run Iraqiya television, which broadcast lengthy interrogations of Iraqis it said had carried out terrorist acts under the direction of "Abdullah", described as a criminal with close ties to Syria.

There is no obvious way to verify the authenticity of the confessions. The interrogator's face does not appear on camera, and the suspects are shown sitting in office chairs across from a desk in a white-walled room.

Iraqi officials, who are struggling against a raging insurgency, accuse Syria of allowing guerrillas to cross its borders into Iraq to carry out attacks and permitting Saddam Hussein loyalists to live on its soil.

Damascus denies the accusations and says it has tightened security along its long border with Iraq.

The suspects in the Iraqiya footage appeared relaxed as they gave long, explanatory answers, calling their interrogator "my master" and explaining how they helped kill policemen and steal for the guerrillas.

Before each man spoke, Iraqiya showed images of masked insurgents in black throwing a kidnapped hostage to the ground before beheading him.

One suspect questioned on Sunday, identified as Saad Ghanim, said he was paid $500 (260 pounds) to help steal $30,000 and then kill the owner of the cash. He said insurgents took the rest of the money to finance their activities.

"They told me I had to fight a holy war against the Americans. Abdullah told me my children would be killed if I did not obey," he said.

"I used the stolen money for gambling."

The interviewer encouraged the men to speak about "filthy crimes" and constantly mentioned Syria.

"So were these goods smuggled with the knowledge of the Syrian government?" he asked.

A suspect named Farhan first said yes and then no.

Many Iraqi television viewers are sceptical of the programmes. "This is fabrication. It is not true," said Muhannad Muhammad, a driver.

A propaganda battle of often chillling words and images has raged since the U.S.-led invasion in April 2003.

Insurgents in Iraq have broadcast harrowing images of terrified hostages in orange uniforms like the ones worn by prisoners at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Some have been beheaded on camera.

Other videos show militants saying goodbye to their families and making bombs before carrying out suicide attacks which have killed hundreds of people.

The government has announced arrests of militants described as followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al Qaeda leader in Iraq. Iraqiya frequently carries lengthy interviews with interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi as well as call-in shows in which he promises to meet the needs of ordinary Iraqis.

But such conventional programming might not grip viewers as much as the televised confessions.

Ghanim described how he and several other people, including Abdullah, kidnapped a 20-year-old woman, put her in the trunk of a car and then raped and killed her.

"Don't you have a conscience?" asked the interviewer.

The men replied that intimidation and poverty had driven them to join the insurgents and kill and steal from innocents.

"I and someone else held the girl and then Abdullah slaughtered her," said Farhan.