Mudcat Café message #1392468 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #77734   Message #1392468
Posted By: Amos
29-Jan-05 - 02:41 PM
Thread Name: BS: Good News in Iraq
Subject: RE: BS: Good News in Iraq
Iraqis hopeful despite threat of bloodshed

'Good Morning, Orange City' radio airs a marketplace of ideas

By Arwa Damon
Saturday, January 29, 2005 Posted: 11:12 AM EST (1612 GMT)

BAQUBA, Iraq (CNN) -- "Welcome all listeners, welcome to a new episode of 'Good Morning, Orange City.' Welcome, we are waiting for your calls, our numbers are 530898 and 530 ..." Before radio talk show host Rafed Mahmud can finish his sentence, the phone at Diyala TV and Radio is ringing.

The show, called "Good Morning, Orange City" because of the region's famous citrus and palm groves, is quite the buzz in Diyala province, which is northeast of Baghdad, and has created a stir even in the capital, Mahmud said.

Iraqis can call in and lodge complaints, discuss daily issues, or merely express themselves.

"When the show first launched, it was very bizarre for citizens and for the government officials. This freedom has never been seen. As each episode went by I noticed that citizens were opening up and getting their issues off their chest," Mahmud said.

"The government officials were not expecting the citizens to be this open and really hold them [the officials] accountable. The government officials themselves often phone back to react to the complaints. We have really seen results."

The results came at a high price for the station established in September 2003.

In March of last year, gunmen attacked a bus carrying employees of the station, killing three employees and wounding another eight. About a week ago, Mahmud's 4-month-old daughter was killed in a car crash.

Mahmud was moving his family from Baquba after receiving death threats, when he noticed a vehicle tailing him. While trying to outmaneuver the vehicle, his car flipped, killing his daughter and injuring his wife and 6-year-old son.

Friday's guest at the station was Amer Latif, provincial director of the Independent Electoral Commission.

Amid what Mahmud said are the usual complaints about power outages, gas shortages, allegations of corruption by the local and national governments, and the security situation, Friday's callers also addressed the elections.

A caller from Moqtadiye said angrily, "All the people are all asking -- Who is going to guarantee our security when we are going to the polls?"

Amer said the electoral commission has arranged with Iraqi security forces and the coalition forces to ensure voter security.

"On the day of elections, all will be secure and Iraqis will be able to vote," he said.

Another caller complained about the black market for benzene, a common fuel. He said every station has different prices and that he thinks something fishy is going on.

Regarding the elections, he asked, "Up till now we still don't know how to vote or who is on the lists. How will we get to the polls? Can we go or will they come and get us?"

Amer explained the voting process and said there will be TV and radio broadcasts, leaflet distribution, and banners that will direct voters to the polls.

Mahmud said most of his callers have two concerns about elections.

"They are worried about security. And they also ask how can they vote when they don't even have basic services," he said.

Optimism under pressure

Although he compares the security in Diyala province with that in Falluja and Ramadi, Mahmud said that he believes that most of the province will go to the polls come election day, despite the insurgent campaign to deter them.

"There is insurgent propaganda being put out, and this is where the role of the citizen comes in and their love for Iraq," he said.

"I think that this is what is going to push the Iraqi to the vote. There are even some old women who say, 'We will go vote, even if we die in the voting stations.' This sentiment is what will allow us to have successful elections."

There are 170 polling sites in Diyala province, 40 of which are in Baquba. Many have been attacked despite efforts to keep the locations secret, but military officials in Baquba say there has been no sustained effort to take over the sites. Most of the attacks have consisted of a few bursts of small arms fire or a mortar round.

"They [the insurgents] won't be able to overrun our polling sites. The issue is to make sure that the people are not so intimidated to stay home," said Col. Dana Pittard, commander of the 3rd Brigade of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division.

"That's a tough one. All it takes is a guy shooting a couple rounds and people may decide to stay home."

Security out in force

The Iraqi police are securing most of the sites, with Iraqi army units and coalition forces a radio call away.

Brig. Gen. Tahsin Tawfia Jasim, director of the Joint Coordination Center, said 1,590 policemen and 509 police officers are securing polling sites throughout the province.

At one site, a primary school in central Baquba, Iraqi police said they came under machine gun fire the previous night but they repelled the attackers.

"There have been several attacks in this neighborhood. The police station down the road from here has been taken over several times by insurgents," said Capt. John Bushman.

But officials say that security has improved dramatically since the summer, when the attacks were more intense and sophisticated.