Iraq War: Sects Battle With Technology, Media

Shi’ites and Sunnis are waging a war by media against the backdrop of sectarian violence in Iraq, using television broadcasts and the internet to draw battle lines and rally behind their militias, supporters and neighbors in Baghdad.

On Saturday, the Shi’ite siege of the state-owned Iraqiya television station included a live two-hour broadcast from Sadr City, where three Iraqi Members of Parliament loyal to local cleric Moqtada al-Sadr fielded questions from residents who blasted the Maliki government for not preventing Thursday’s car bombings which left 215 Shi’ites dead and 250 wounded. The Shi’ite Mahdi Army also used Saturday’s broadcast to denounce the Maliki government, label Sunnis “terrorists” and vow revenge for the bombings. On Sunday, angry residents hurled stones at Prime Minister Maliki’s motorcade when he visited Sadr City to attend a gathering to honor the victims of Thursday’s attacks. As the mob surged towards Mr Maliki’s armored car, one man was heard to shout, “It’s all your fault!”

Meanwhile, the Sunni-owned satellite channel al-Zawraa TV is back on air full-time in defiance of a ban by the Iraqi government; the station was shut down in early November for covering a pro-Saddam Hussein rally and inviting viewers to phone in to discuss his death sentence. Over the past week, al-Zawraa TV correspondents have abandoned their boarded up offices in Baghdad and hit the road, roaming the countryside and broadcasting around the clock from a satellite truck. They beam the programs to an Egyptian satellite distributor, Nilesat, which then retransmits the channel to countries across the Middle East, including Iraq.

In Baghdad, a number of Sunnis are using internet technology and electronic bulletin boards to warn each other about Shi’ite troops amassing in their neighborhoods and carrying out attacks; this has raised fears that more violence will follow Monday’s lifting of the three-day curfew in Baghdad. The following messages appear to have been collected from local discussion boards and translated by an Iraqi dentist who maintains a blog on the web site

“Urgent. Please intervene to save the Jihad district from another massacre … estimated to be around 500 mercenaries, fully armed with medium and light weapons. And now some of them are taking attack positions in preparation for a new massacre in the district. The buses have not stopped arriving, even though terrified residents have called the police and governmental officials.” – Anonymous, Jihad

“Salam Aleikum. Over 40 vehicles with Mahdi Army militiamen have gathered near the Dora police station. They started arriving at 7 p.m., and at 7:45 p.m. we could see about 40 vehicles preparing to attack Dora.” – Abdul Rahman Abdul Qadir, Karkh

“Residents of Mansour, large groups of armed militiamen have been seen heading from the Washash and Iskan districts to attack Mansour. Prepare to defend yourselves and your neighbours, Sunni and Shia, from the attack of the treacherous Mahdi Army militias.” – Ibn Al-Mansour, Mansour

Other postings offer a range of pointers for residents who have no experience in urban warfare, including instructions on how to prepare weapons, conserve ammunition, avoid mortar fire (by not gathering in large groups), spread out in small groups but maintain communication (to quickly identify security breaches) and choose positions that offer a means of retreat and escape.

Although the seizure of radio and television stations has long been a feature of military coups, and certainly the use of video technology by terrorists has taken horror viewing to a new level, it is a relatively new development for civilians to harness web technology and satellite communications to express their views, request protection from militias, issue warnings to each other and organize resistance during a civil war crisis. These are some of the early indications of how modern communication technologies are changing the way wars are fought and people are organized, even in countries where normal infrastructure has broken down.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. jambomb
    Jan 24, 2007 @ 10:35:52

    do you mind if i comment here?


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