Known as Al-Zawraa, Arabic for “first channel,” the station broadcasts enemy propaganda and rebroadcasts of Western anti-war material, including Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. It is not connected with Al-Jazeera.
Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, is delighted by al-Zawraa. A U.S. military intelligence officer told Pajamas Media that the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Masri, “has long-term and big plans for this thing.” Previous attempts by al-Qaeda to set up media propaganda outlets have been limited to satellite radio and the Internet. Al-Zawraa, however, is seemingly well financed and striving for a broader appeal.
From that secret studio somewhere in Syria, al-Zawraa TV’s signal extends to the entire Arab world thanks to a satellite owned by Egypt, Pajamas Media has learned.
Egypt is officially an ally of the United States in the war on terror. It receives more than $1 billion a year in U.S. foreign aid, more than any other country on Earth except Israel.
The channel’s reach is not limited to Iraq-a fact that highlights the Egyptian government’s apparent permissiveness. Al-Zawraa is broadcast on Nilesat, a satellite administered by the Egyptian government. Through Nilesat, al-Zawraa’s signal blankets the Middle East and North Africa, thus ensuring that the insurgents’ message reaches the entire Arab world.
Al-Zawraa TV began broadcasting on November 14. The channel was set up by the Islamic Army of Iraq, an insurgent group comprised of former Baathists who were loyal to Saddam Hussein and now profess a conversion to a bin Laden-like ideology, according to Middle East-based media monitor Marwan Soliman.
The Islamic Army of Iraq is subordinate to the Mujahideen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of Sunni insurgent groups, a military intelligence officer told Pajamas Media. The al-Zawraa network is viewed as “credible” by users of established jihadist internet forums.
Al-Zawraa’s content is heavy with insurgent propaganda, including audio messages from Islamic Army of Iraq spokesman Dr. Ali al-Na’ami and footage of the group’s frontline operations. The station openly calls for violence against Shia Iraqis and the Iraqi government. News anchors appear in military fatigues to rail against the ruling government, and news crawls urge viewers to support the Islamic Army of Iraq and “help liberate Iraq from the occupying U.S. and Iranian forces,” Marwan Soliman told Pajamas Media.
Sitting in the Fallujah Government Center in Fallujah, Iraq, military analyst Bill Roggio, who is embedded with the Military Transition Team, watched al-Zawraa with two soldiers from the Iraqi army and a pair of interpreters. Roggio reports that songs mourned Iraqi victims of the “U.S. occupiers,” and that images featured on al-Zawraa included “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.” These pictures were meant to be provocative to jihad-minded youth. His complete account can be found on his blog.
Roggio told Pajamas Media that the station’s strategic role for insurgent and al-Qaeda information operations is clear: “Al-Zawraa is designed to recruit for and prolong the insurgency in Iraq. It openly espouses violence, particularly against the Shia, but also against the Iraqi government and security forces and Coalition troops.”
Radio Netherlands’ media analyst Andy Sennitt told Pajamas Media that al-Zawraa’s broadcasts on Nilesat creates questions about the Egyptian government’s role. “Nilesat is mostly Egyptian owned,” Sennit said, “so it means they will turn down any customer who is thought to produce material against Egypt’s national interest. So apparently the Egyptian authorities are happy with al-Zawraa.”
The programming originates from Syria, where its main backer, Mishaan al-Jabouri, a well-known Sunni Baathist agitator and former Iraqi parliamentarian, recently fled to escape an Iraqi arrest warrant for suspected corruption and embezzlement. He initially set the station up in Tikrit, Iraq, but in early November its studio was raided by authorities and closed down for incitement.
Al-Jabouri, who in Damascus during the final years of Saddam Hussein’s rule, is widely believed to have forged close ties with Saddam’s intelligence services. More recently, he has been linked to al-Qaeda.
The speed with which al-Zawraa was able to resume its transmissions from Syria and Nilesat after the raid on the Tikrit station is unusual, according to Sennitt. Moreover, the reach of al-Zawraa’s broadcasts indicates that the station is attempting to influence viewers far beyond Iraq.
Government officials tell Pajamas Media that they are trying to remove al-Zawraa from the airwaves. Jim Turner, deputy director of Defense Press Operations, told Pajamas Media in an e-mail that this is the State Department’s decision because “they are the department of the US Government that would interact with another country on such an issue.”
In turn, a State Department official told Pajamas Media, “We are strongly supporting the Iraqi efforts to work with the Egyptians to get this off the air.” The State Department’s comment seems designed to avoid diplomatic fallout, since Egypt’s control of Nilesat would allow it to stop al-Zawraa’s signal.
Turning off al Zawaraa without Egypt’s help would be nearly impossible. Jamming its signal may prove difficult since the physical location of the signal’s feed would need to be located and, according to Sennitt, it could be anywhere. “All that’s needed is a dish pointing at the satellite, and a transmitter on the correct uplink frequency. The satellite will carry whatever signal it receives.”
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is the author of My Year Inside Radical Islam (Tarcher/Penguin 2007). Nick Grace is the founder of ClandestineRadio.com, a site that tracks subversive broadcast media, and producer of the Global Crisis Watch radio podcast.