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Al-Jazeera TV airs video of attack on Sunni area by Iraqi army, Shi’i militia

BBC Monitoring

Doha Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel Television in Arabic at 1404 gmt on 29 May carries the following announcer-read report: "Al-Jazeera has obtained footage taken by a mobile phone camera showing units from the Iraqi Army accompanied by armed civilians, who say they belong to Al-Mahdi Army militia, attacking [Sunni] Al-Fadl neighbourhood in central Baghdad. The footage shows clashes between elements of the Iraqi Army and armed men hiding behind cement barricades on the one hand and unknown men firing at them on the other."

    Following this, Al-Jazeera runs a videotape which shows men dressed in civilian clothes carrying weapons, accompanying men wearing Iraqi Army uniform. A voice on the tape is heard saying: "Those are members of Imam Al-Mahdi Army fighting with us. [Imam] Ali be with you, God willing. We ask for your support, [Imam] Ali."

    Al-Jazeera commentator on the video says: "Civilians and armed men. Some are affiliated with the Iraqi Army, whereas the rest are unknown. However, the voice accompanying the footage, which was taken by a mobile camera phone, says they are from Al-Mahdi Army accompanying the National Guard. As for Al-Jazeera, it was not possible to verify the authenticity of the footage." He adds: "This footage was taken near Al-Fadl area on Al-Rusafah side of Baghdad. The time of this footage is unknown, but Al-Fadl area witnessed violent clashes several months ago, during which the residents accused Al-Mahdi Army of attacking them."

    The commentator notes that "this footage is not the first of its kind as other leaked videos show members of Al-Mahdi Army firing a number of mortar shells on an unknown destination. Leaders of Al-Sadr trend have always reiterated that these rockets did not target Sunni areas, but rather places housing US forces during the battles in Al-Najaf."

    Following this, Al-Jazeera at 1406 gmt carries a live four-minute telephone interview with Shaykh Salah al-Ubaydi, media official at the Sadr trend, from Al-Najaf.

    Commenting on the footage broadcast by Al-Jazeera, Al-Ubaydi says: "First, Al-Jazeera TV has always aired lots of videos which it said the authenticity of which could not be verified. I say that such videos, whose authenticity could not be verified, should not be broadcast by media outlets as they could stir a negative or positive reaction towards both parties appearing on the videotape."

    When anchorman Tawfiq Taha responds by saying that if Al-Jazeera does not air this footage then other TV stations will do, Al-Ubaydi says: "Al-Jazeera has to be more objective and accurate in its coverage so as to broadcast video footage the authenticity of which could be verified." Al-Ubaydi says that "it is known that the National Guard is a body that is not dominated by the Shi'is, but rather by Kurdish and Sunni brothers."

    Rejecting accusations that Al-Mahdi Army cooperates with the Ministry of Interior, Al-Ubaydi says: "The footage which has just been aired clearly shows that there are some Shi'i persons working or cooperating with the National Guard simply because they are the residents of these areas."

    Responding to a question on why Al-Mahdi Army is frequently accused of carrying out attacks against others at a time when Shi'i leader Muqtada al-Sadr calls for safeguarding the unity of Iraqis, Al-Ubaydi says: "The point that we would like to stress is that the solution to the Iraqi crisis lies in cooperation among the various Iraqi parties." He goes on to say that the situation in Iraq is very complicated, accusing "a third party" of being responsible for the current security deterioration. He says: "What we are suffering from in Baghdad and Iraq is the interference of those coming from abroad, be they Americans or others. Yes, the occupation is mainly responsible for the destruction of Iraq. However, there are also others who come from abroad under the pretext of supporting Iraq, but they kill, hurt, and blow up Iraqis, be they Sunnis or Shi'is."

    Source: Al-Jazeera TV, Doha, in Arabic 1404 gmt 29 May 07

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