Iraqi reality-TV hit takes fear factor to another level
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Yet the show may also be raising Sunni-Shiite sectarian tensions. Hard-line Sunni rejectionists list the Wolf Brigade and its Shiite commander among their prime enemies in the new political order. As the show has gained fame, preacher Abdel Salam Qubaysi has condemned the televised humiliation of Sunni prisoners, thundering in one Friday sermon, "Al Iraqiya is not Iraqi."Skip to next paragraph
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The most familiar part of the show are the confessions, which frequently link suspects to atrocities reported on the news. There is little doubt among Iraqis that the captives really are terrorists. Iraqi journalist Salam Jihad, who was detained by insurgents for several hours on a desert highway late last year, says he later saw one of his captors turn up on the show.
In a recent episode, three insurgents sat sullenly, confessing to their role in the kidnappings and murders of Shiite residents around Salman Pak, south of Baghdad. One suspect, named Muhsin, holds up a photo of one alleged victim.
"And how did you kill him?" the interrogator demands. "By shooting," the 22-year-old Muhsin says.
But because some of the suspects bear visible cuts and bruises on their faces, and confessing terrorists often also admit to drunkenness or sexual deviancy on the show, critics question the legitimacy of both the interrogation techniques and the confessions. The Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights has filed complaints with the Interior Ministry and has asked the judicial council to review the show's legality.
"We think all detainees must go to court before any interview on TV," human rights official Saad Sultan says.
Wolf Brigade members, however, say that any official legal proceedings can come later. And rank and file Iraqi police interviewed make no apology - either for exposing suspected terrorists on television or for beating them up beforehand.
"Human rights advocates should think more about the rights of the Iraqis killed by car bombs," says Yasser Qurayshi, a civilian aide to Commander Waleed. "The Wolf Brigade fights terrorism, without regard to specifics about religion."
On a recent evening in the south Baghdad's heavily Shiite Muwassalat district, neighbors gathered at a house with a private generator to keep the power on.
Momentarily turning from the show, resident Dhiya Kimit says the on-air interrogations are "only a minor rights violation" by the brutal standards of Iraq's recent history. "In Saddam's time, if someone was a criminal, then three or four of his family members would be punished," he says. "In this case, only the criminal suffers."
A Sunni Arab viewer, who requested anonymity, says that "terrorism is a new experience for Iraq." He watches the show regularly with his wife and daughter. "Suicide bombings and kidnappings have only been happening here in the last year or two. So people want to know why?"
He says the show compares favorably to the more contrived programming of Saddam's time. "This show is an example of government accountability," he says. "This is democratic."