al-Zawraa: Muj TV


The Iraqi insurgency has a satellite TV station, called al-Zawraa. Insurgent propaganda, 24/7, believed to be broadcast from Syria.

Al-Zawraa muj spokesman. Click image to view.

FALLUJAH, iRAQ: The information front in the Long War is perhaps the war's most vital. And it is one front where the West is perceived as losing. While Coalition forces and Middle Eastern allies face shadowy transnational terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda and its affiliates on the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, the battle for hearts and minds is being fought on the Internet, print, cable and satellite television, and other forms of media. In Iraq, the al-Zawraa satellite television network is broadcasting insurgent propaganda 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Al-Zawraa television was set up by Mishan al-Jabouri, a former member of the Iraqi parliament and leader of the Sunni Arab Front for Reconciliation and Liberation. Al-Jabouri fled to Syria after being charged with corruption for embezzling government funds and purportedly for supporting al Qaeda.

Al-Zawraa logo. Click image to view.

There is an ongoing controversy over the network's sponsorship. Is al-Zawraa supported by the Islamic Army in Iraq, a Baathist dominated insurgent group, or al Qaeda in Iraq's Mujahideen Shura Council? The distinction may be meaningless, as the two organizations have worked together in the past to conduct terrorist attacks throughout the country against Iraqi and Coalition security forces. The Islamic Army in Iraq claims to be a nationalist group that only attacks military and police organizations, while al Qaeda has no qualms about killing civilians while pursuing its violent jihad. Many senior Baathists have rolled into al Qaeda in Iraq. Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, an avowed Baathist and the most wanted man in Iraq after Saddam was captured, swore Bayat (an oath of allegiance) to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al Qaeda in Iraq's former commander.

The broadcast source of the al-Zawraa network is said to be unknown, but the Egyptian owned Nielsat satellite network currently broadcasts the mujahideen propaganda on channel 106. Nielsat's coverage area includes the whole of the Middle East and Northern Africa.

While spending time with the Military Transition Team at the Fallujah Government Center, I watched al-Zawraa with two soldiers from the Iraqi Army, sergeants Riad and Abul Zuhrih, and two Iraqi translators, 'Nick' and 'Wilson.' The interpreters (or terps) must use assumed names as they are under persistent death threats. Wilson, who is from Baghdad, has had three attempts on his life. They gave their view on the propaganda in the al-Zawraa broadcast, and the effects on the the Iraqi people.

Muf in an Iraqi city. Click image to view.

The soldiers and terps described the meaning of the images, music and voice overs. There were songs about the Iraqi "victims" of the "U.S. occupiers." The violence in Iraq is squarely placed on the shoulders of the Americans. The images include destroyed mosques, dead women and children, women weeping of the death of their family, bloodstained floors, the destruction of U.S. humvees and armored vehicles, and insurgents firing mortars, RPGs, rockets and AK-47s. Juba, the mythical Iraqi sniper, was featured prominently (the Iraqi soldiers believe he is a composite of multiple snipers.)

The "mujahideen" are portrayed as "freedom fighters," and are seen going through " boot camp training." Attacks from across the country were shown, including in Abu Ghraib, Ramadi, Fallujah, Baiji, Baghdad and elsewhere. The soldiers are seasoned veterans from the 1st Iraqi Army Division, and have served throughout Iraq. Most of the footage was popular, rehashed videos widely distributed on the Internet and in jihadi forums. I recognized many of the videos.

The soldiers were angry at the images before them. "They destroyed my country," said Staff Sergeant Riad, "The muj are ruthless, brutal, but I'm not scared of them."

Loading a rocket launcher. Click image to view.

They believed the "channel exists because of weak Iraqi government" but "no-one can or will shut it down." The soldiers and terps were certain of where the broadcast originated. "This starts from Syria, we want it shut down," said Nick.

Al-Zawraa has a strong anti-Shia message. The channel portrays "Sunnis fighting the occupation while Shiites do nothing." Al-Zawra "promotes a civil war" between the Iraqi people, and "makes the Shia look like Iranian stooges, betrayers of the Iraqi people," according to Sergeant Abul Zuhrih. Iranian backed Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Army, is a focus of attacks from al-Zawraa. "The station calls Sadr and [his] militia gangsters," said Wilson.

According both the interpreters, "the news scroll promotes the Islamic Army of Iraq." The music is nationalist and Baathist in origin, with verses from the Koran, and does not contain traditional al Qaeda or other jihadi music, messages or themes.

When asked about the impact of al-Zawraa on the Iraqi people, Iraqi soldiers and interpreters agreed al-Zawraa dispenses "effective [anti-government] propaganda."

Firing a mortar. Click image to view.

"Before the insurgency was mysterious to the Sunnis, now it has a real face," said Nick.

While the Iraqi soldiers and interpreters want al-Zawraa shut down, members of the U.S. intelligence community disagree. According to a military intelligence officer serving in Iraq, U.S. intelligence doesn't want to shut al-Zawraa down as it provides intelligence on the insurgents activities. When I asked senior American military and intelligence sources about shutting down pro-jihadi websites in the past, they expressed the same sentiment.

This is major dilemma in the modern age of information warfare. On one hand, programs like al-Zawraa provide ready and effective propaganda and recruiting material for the insurgency and al Qaeda, while demoralizing both Western and Middle Eastern allies. On the other, the intelligence gleaned from these operations is deemed too valuable to turn off the tap.







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READER COMMENTS: " al-Zawraa: Muj TV"

Posted by Justin B at December 10, 2006 8:40 PM ET:

Why is this an either shut it down or do nothing situation? Surely the Military can block or effectively add enough interference to degrade the signal while still sifting through its jihadi propganda for intel.

I would think that we would be able to negate its local effectiveness in areas that we want to and wonder if we are doing that. Any ideas?

Posted by DJ Elliott at December 11, 2006 2:39 AM ET:

Can only been done if Syria allows and supports it.
Too easy to trace...

As to jamming, that would not be effective without jamming that part of the spectrum throughout the country(s). Or at the source.

And then they would just change freq. Soviets and other dictators never could completely stop VOA...

Posted by amr at December 11, 2006 12:39 PM ET:

I believe we should calmly and quietly notify the Syria government to shut it down since they control anything and everything in their country. If after a reasonable time there is no compliance, we take it out. We are at war, I've been told, so therefore either they are with us or against us or are declared neutrals who will close their borders and facilities to our enemy.

Posted by S Wise at December 11, 2006 3:49 PM ET:

I usually enjoy reading this blog, but I am disappointed that you did not get a great quote from Nick. He is one of the most sincere people I have met, and can crack a joke immediately after nearly getting his head shot off by an RPG. "If I reached up and grabbed it, I would have been the first Iraqi in space."

If you run into them again, let them know I'll be there soon.

Posted by Neo-andertal at December 11, 2006 8:18 PM ET:

Amr

"If after a reasonable time there is no compliance, we take it out."ť

Once again I sympathize with the sentiment, but there is no political backing for any action against Syria at this time. The political window of opportunity has closed. I was for hitting terrorist training camps early on. This wouldn't have stopped them but it would have established the precedent that we would make Syria pay for it's support of terrorism. Iran or Syria would have responded but probably with more terrorist attacks, not an all out war. If you regularly hit the terrorist camps than it is politically easy to hit them again.

Unfortunately, we have set the opposite precedent. We will not act no mater what Syria does short of Syria invading a neighboring country. Syria and Iran can now do as they please. We will not act, Israel has been warned not to act and Iraq is in no position to act.

Posted by Neal J. King at December 11, 2006 11:41 PM ET:

Amr,

Syria is a sovereign nation. The approach you are suggesting would go far (farther?) towards consolidating the Arab world against the U.S. That doesn't help us.

Posted by RightWingNutter at December 12, 2006 2:00 AM ET:

Neal,

In what way would destroying transmitter towers "consolidate the Arab world against us" in a way that's distinguishable from the present situation? Would Egypt start refusing our 2 billion per year? Horrors!!

Posted by amr at December 12, 2006 7:10 AM ET:

Just because we didn't do anything before, does not mean that additional provocations do not have to be answered. A friend many years ago told me about how the Soviets were shelling his positions on the Czech demarcation line after WWII. His orders were to ignore the attacks. After many days of random shelling by the Soviets, he ordered his men to fire back. The Soviets shelling stopped and his superiors ignore his actions. I am not calling for a rogue commander to respond, but actions speak lauder than words. My life experience tells me that talking is fine and preferable to blind action, but if the one you are talking to does not respect or fear you, they will ignore you. We are generally not feared or respected in the ME, but utilized as needed. With our people being daily killed by the enemy, there is not too much to lose; however waiting until later when our enemies have nukes, we will have much to lose. Let them know now that we will not accept the status quo and will do what is necessary to safeguard our men and women serving in the ME.

I value my freedom and while not perfect by a long shot we are perceived as the best society around or we would not have 12 million plus illegals here and tens of thousands more waiting to emigrate legally. President Bush is not running again for office and the Republicans have already lost control of congress, so what are the America blaming Democrats going to do; impeach and convict him and then allow Vice President Cheney to assume the office? I don't think so!

Generals attack the enemy knowing that they will lose some soldiers, but also know that if they do not attack and allow the enemy to gain strength, they will lose more soldiers later. Yes, you will never know if had you waited to react, you would lose fewer men. But you do what has to be done knowing the history of the enemy. And we know this enemy since we have watched him since 1972 at the Munich Olympics or if you wish, from 1979 in Tehran. They have been at war against us for over 3 decades, but we wished it away. We are now too deep into a war effort to retreat. A harsh reality, but life is not fair

Posted by Davi at December 12, 2006 9:00 AM ET:

Two comments.
1. Our intelligence should not be relying upon enemy propaganda broadcasts, this is the weakest and lest productive intelligence source I can imagine. Good intelligence means agents out in the field, interception of enemy messages, reading captured documents, interogating prisoners. It ain't watching TV. Those intel folk ought to be kicked out of their cushie chairs and sent out into the field. A year's tour with a rifle company will at least teach them what intel is supposed to be doing.
2. That satellite is owned by someone. The US of A ought to be able to bring enough pressure to bear upon the owner that he shuts the channel down. Pressure could be legal, economic, political, or as a last resort, shoot the satellite down.

David Starr

Posted by Colin at December 12, 2006 9:02 AM ET:

"The broadcast source of the al-Zawraa network is said to be unknown, but the Egyptian owned Nielsat satellite network currently broadcasts the mujahideen propaganda on channel 106. Nielsat's coverage area includes the whole of the Middle East and Northern Africa."

Pretty sure you meant Nilesat instead of Nielsat.

Keep up the good work though.

Posted by Neo-andertal at December 12, 2006 9:55 AM ET:

AMR

I don't think your example from the end of WWII really applies to the situation. First let me state that my comment about action against Syria was an assessment of the political realities not a statement for or against the war. We had plenty of good reasons to go after the terrorist training camps in Syria back in Fall 2003, Spring 2004. That was weighed against strong political reasons not to strike Syria. The administration was already into two wars and didn't wish to be embroiled in three. It didn't wish to further enflame the Arab world. Last, it was reeling from failure to find WMD.

The Bush administration drastically underestimated the damage that Syria could do. It also overestimated our ability to sit and take what was being thrown our way. During this entire war the resistance has had first class support from the rear. . The insurgent fighters may vary in quality but the support they have gotten is first class. That support includes material support, logistics, training, specialist training, strategy, tactical assessments. Couple that with first class intelligence and experience and you get an enemy that knows us better than we know them. This hasn't been an operation run be a bunch of "dead enders"ť left over from Saddam's regime. I'm sure Saddam's former intelligence people have helped a good deal but you need an intact military intelligence service to run this sort of operation. Syria has been at this sort of thing since 1963. They are good at it. Iran's efforts, by contrast have been rather disorganized and problematic. The are getting better at it lately too.

The opportunity to deal with that was three years ago. We are in a deep political hole right now and cannot strike. If we struck Syria now the Iranians could cut off the Persian Gulf in retaliation. The rest of the world and at least half the US population would not support us. They would blame us for the entire problem, demand Iran and Syria be appeased, demand a complete withdrawal from Iraq, Afghanistan, and the entire middle east. Along with that much the entire world try to make claims against us for economic losses. Oh we still have our friends but much of the world has very different ideas about how things are going to go and hate us fervently. Unfortunately, we will have to fight things as they stand in Iraq no mater how much outside support the insurgency gets. Hopefully, the Iraqi army can gradually step up and the political situation allows enough time.

Posted by Chupa at December 12, 2006 10:27 AM ET:

One of the reasons they can't shut down Al Zawraa is because they really don't know where it is. I have been sending email to memri and other sources for 2 weeks trying to get word out about this terrible channel. I'm glad someone with a viewership finally took notice of it.

But, we do know where the channel began. It spent the first 2 weeks broadcasting from Kurdistan... from a christian enclave in kurdistan. US Intel was able to track it down but by the time we could put resources on the ground to handle it they had moved. The signal may be coming from Syria now, but it also could be coming from Egypt or any part of Iraq.

If you had access to the channel, you would see that about 80% of the airtime is a 2-3 hour loop of propaganda footage played over and over. That is interspersed with taped broadcasts which beseech all Sunni males to join up and take out American and Shiite targets. These spots are filmed in a vehicle which is always mobile. The broadcasters are just relaying the footage they receive, very similar to how they handle terrorist videos.

This is why it is more difficult than it may seem to shut it down.

Posted by truthsayer at December 12, 2006 10:54 AM ET:

The best thing to do would be to overpower the signal and insert something that would make those watching believe they are being duped by enemies of Iraq.... something like an open mike with someone talking about how stupid and easily led the people of Iraq are, and that killing them was all part of Iran and Syrias plan. Then have the same people come on the air stirring things up in an oh so honest way contradicting what they just said. Propogandia can work both ways. The more times someone supports both sides of an argument the easier it becomes to distrust anything they say.... just like the boy who cried "Wolf".

Posted by Duke432 at December 12, 2006 11:48 AM ET:

Just one more example of the lack of planning by this administration. Nothing was anticipated and nothing has been done. Surprised? Meanwhile the body count rises each day. George (What me worry?) W. Newman strikes again.

Posted by amr at December 12, 2006 12:25 PM ET:

Granted that the Iranians have better weapons now, but so do we from when we engaged them in the Tanker War of 1988; they lost. We have two carrier groups in the Persian Gulf now. In WWII we fought a 3 front war. My major point was that most tyrants respect those that stand up to them with actions not words.- i.e. the playground bully experience. As to political will, if the president decides action is needed against Iran/Syria or others, as commander-in-chief with 90 days under the War Powers Act to unilaterally take action and the election out of the way, what will stop him. I haven't noticed mobs of common people with pitchforks and blazing torches in the streets ready to overthrow the government over foreign policy issues or military conflict during my 6 decade lifetime. Anyway, I would hope that leadership means doing what is right, if striking Syria or Iran is right, regardless of the personal and home front political consequences.

Posted by davod at December 12, 2006 7:31 PM ET:

The intelligence value of this station is far outweighed buy its propaganda value.

Someone has to remove it.

Surely, there has to be some Iraqi government spooks who could do the job without bothering to tell the US.

Posted by boof at December 13, 2006 2:01 PM ET:

interesting. would this be considered "freedom of speech" in a democratic society?

dilemma.


maybe we should beam them Fox News. it's the same except in English with an American bias.

Posted by Matt at December 14, 2006 9:10 AM ET:

Here for your support, Bill. Stay focused and take care.

Posted by . at December 14, 2006 9:15 AM ET:

Shut up boof.

How's that for freedom of speech.

Posted by Romeo13 at December 15, 2006 10:57 AM ET:

Sorry, Retired US Navy Electronics Technician here.

We can pinpoint the broadcast source, whether ground based or satelite very very easily. They KNOW where this thing is broadcast from, but for political reasons don't wish to say so.

Posted by A Wierzbowski (Ski) at December 19, 2006 12:22 PM ET:

I see I was beaten to the punch on Nick quotes. I also had the pleasure of serving with Nick this year. He is very wise, beyond his years....and has the added ability to make everyone laugh when times are hard. I would like to see him in the U.S., but I know that Iraq needs him more; someone should find out how to get him a U.S.-issue Achievement Medal, with Combat "V" if it can be arranged. Anyway, here is more, from Nick, on patrol in Ramadi:
"Nick, what is that mosque saying?"
"Sir, they are planning a funeral.."
"Whose funeral?"
"Uhh, I think you guys, sir!"

Posted by Nick at December 20, 2006 1:07 AM ET:

Have to agree with Boof!

And to AMR

"...we are perceived as the best society around or we would not have 12 million plus illegals..."

These illegals come from one of the worst economies in the world...you hardly don´t see any ppl from better economies tryig to get in the US...improve the mexican economy a bit and every single one of them will run back as fast as they can...

As for military action against Syria or just a tv-station located there...what the f|*ck is wrong with you ppl?!?! No offense but military action is what got you into this mess...
Can´t you ppl as a country "perceived as the best society around" not think of anything better then violence....sickening!

Posted by Jef at December 20, 2006 11:13 PM ET:

Hy guys,

Have been reading you comments with a lot of interest.

You know, I'm a Dutch guy (Holland is member of the allience of the willing)and have lived almost in about every part of the world. Now I live in China. It is very worriesome for me to see how the attitude of the people from around the world who I meat have changed their opinion of the US. I remember how not long ago the US probably was percieved indeed by many as the best society around but believe me this is really over. There are few left in the world who do not realize now that the US government has intentionally tried and succeeded to fool the world and its own citizens to start this war. Every day that passess in which we read the news how more and more people are killed (not only GLS) and how the US goverment keeps trying to continue to twist reality peolpe loose their believe in the righteousness of the US as a country and the peolpe who support its goverment. I really hope this will be soon over as I have many US friends and hate to see how they end up in debates time and time again trying to defend the corrupt attitude of the current US administration

Posted by dave at December 25, 2006 6:06 AM ET:

Why shut it down It just shows that we are just as authoritarian as they are. Besides they are just making themselves look bad by depicting the killings that they initiate .

Dave in Iraq