Rogue Iraqi TV station tells Sunni Muslims to eat Shias for lunch
Sporting an olive green Ba'ath Party uniform and a bushy moustache, the newsreader barks his bulletins between blasts of patriotic Saddam-era martial music.
With his gleeful boasts about Iraqi insurgent strikes on US troops, his demeanour is reminiscent of "Comical Ali", the former information minister who famously boasted of victory as American tanks rolled into Baghdad.
For coalition commanders in Iraq, however, the most sinister aspect of his broadcasts is not the bile directed at them but the equally venomous ticker-tape that runs at the bottom of the screen.
"Chase the Shias from neighbourhood to neighbourhood," it urges. "Eat them for lunch before they eat you for dinner. Defend your houses by killing them."
So goes another broadcast on Al Zahraa, a satellite television channel catering to what is arguably one of the most unfashionable minorities in programming history – Iraq's Sunni Muslim community.
Politically marginalised ever since Saddam Hussein was deposed, it has provided a rapt audience for Al Zahraa's mix of Ba'ath Party nostalgia and dispatches from reporters with Sunni terrorist units.
Covering last month's announcement that Saddam would face the gallows for war crimes, the channel caused outrage by describing it as a "sad day for all Iraqis".
A few hours later, Iraq's Shia-dominated government shut down the station's Baghdad offices "indefinitely", accusing it of inciting violence.
The attempt at censorship backfired: the station is back on air from a secret location and freed of any obligation to broadcast responsibly.
Where once it only incited violence against the US military, the Iraqi government and Iranian-backed Shia militias, now it openly encourages attacks on the Shia population at large, acting as a cheerleader to the sectarian warfare that is claiming up to 100 lives a day.
In an interview by email with The Sunday Telegraph, an Al Zahraa spokesman revealed what officials in Washington and London have long feared, but still prefer not to acknowledge – that Sunnis and Shias are now at war.
"Let's not tell lies any more, let's tell the truth of what is inside our hearts," said Basim al Jibouri, who claims to be in hiding in Jordan. "The Shias deserve death, all of them. They deserve it because they mutilate the name of Islam and are working for Iran, the first enemy of Iraq. But they will do this over our dead bodies."
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