TV Station Seized: Maliki Fights For Control Of Iraq

Fears that Iraq is barreling down the road to civil war reached fever pitch yesterday after Shi’ite followers of Moqtada al-Sadr took over the state-run Iraqiya television station to denounce the Iraqi government, label Sunnis “terrorists” and demand revenge for Thursday’s sectarian attacks in Sadr City in northeastern Baghdad. The program featured a live community gathering and was broadcast out of Sadr City, where multiple car bombs exploded in crowded markets on Thursday leaving 215 Shi’tes dead and 250 wounded.

The Sadr City takeover of Iraqi state television is a major development in the escalation of sectarian conflict, especially since the Maliki government appears to have been powerless to stop the broadcast. “We’ll obviously try to control them as much as we can, but when they (kill) more than 150 people in bombings, they have the right to speak,” said Bassam al Husseini, one of Maliki’s top advisers. “What are we going to do? We can’t stop this. It’s too hot right now.”

Shi’ite militias used the broadcast to announce plans to launch further attacks on Sunni neighborhoods as soon as the Iraqi government lifts its curfew on Monday. Many Sunni viewers were shocked to hear their neighborhoods targeted. “I got four phone calls from friends telling me to change the channel to Iraqiya and see what’s happening,” said Mohamed Othman, 27, a Sunni resident of Ameriya, one of the districts mentioned in the program. “I think this is an official declaration of civil war against Sunnis. They’re going to push us to join al Qaeda to protect ourselves.” Sunni politicians vowed to file complaints against the channel for inciting sectarian violence.

There have been repeated recent reports of Shi’ite militiamen dressed in Iraqi police uniforms carrying out kidnappings and watching on as militias carried out attacks against Sunnis without trying to intervene. During the live broadcast from Sadr City, members of the Mahdi Army apparently boasted that they were distributing police uniforms throughout Shiite neighborhoods “to allow greater freedom of movement”. This will only escalate sectarian tensions and further undermine confidence in the Maliki government which has allowed Shi’ite militias to control parts of the police and army, and has also allowed government departments to be run as sectarian fiefdoms.

In the wake of the latest sectarian violence, local support for militias on both sides has surged because people do not believe the Maliki government can provide a reasonable level of security. During the televised broadcast, Sadr City residents shouted, “There is no government! There is no state!” One unidentified Sadr City resident told the cheering television crowd, “This is live and, God willing, everyone will hear me. We are not interested in sidewalks, water services or anything else. We want safety. We want the officials. They say there is no sectarian war. No, it is sectarian war, and that’s the truth.”

Information/breaking news taken from McClatchy Newspapers

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