Baghdad, March 26 (Reuters): The operator at Iraqi Television calmly picked up the telephone minutes after several US missiles struck the complex in the early minutes today and cut transmission.
“We have a technical glitch, we will back on air shortly,” the operator said. Sure enough, programming resumed half an hour later. State television, which monopolises Iraqi airwaves, then aired a movie about heroism and romance during the Arab golden age — part of efforts to raise morale during the US-led attack on Iraq.
Millions of Iraqis have been glued to the television since the war broke out last week, watching President Saddam Hussein urge them to defend the motherland and seeing footage of captured enemy soldiers and equipment. The screens went suddenly blank just after midnight as explosions were heard coming from the television and radio complex on the Tigris river.
No casualties were announced. The missiles appeared to have struck transmitters. AlShabab, a channel run by Saddam’s son Uday, remained off air.
But the main state television and radio services resumed operation shortly afterwards.
Information minister Mohammad Saeed alSahaf said the US, realising it was killing Iraqi civilians and losing the propaganda war, had decided to strike at Iraqi state media. “They are becoming hysterical. This is the result of frustration,” Sahaf told reporters at the information ministry as he displayed part of a missile he said hit the television compound.
The ministry, which overlooks the Iraqi Radio and Television Corporation, was not damaged, although some expect it to be targeted at some point during the war as a symbol of what the US says is Iraqi government propaganda. An Iraqi communications engineer said the government, which has been on a war footing for months, had backup systems that would allow it to keep operating through the US attacks.
“The television staff have operated in war before. They have more transmitters, secondary studios and mobile dishes that could be mounted on pickup trucks and go anywhere,” he said. “The Americans could track them though. It will be a cat-and-mouse game,” he added.
Along with other government organisations, Iraqi television is fully geared to supporting the war effort. Saddam uses it as his main launchpad for messages to Iraqi forces, part of an array of communications tools at his disposal.
Like Soviet leader Josef Stalin during World War II, Saddam portrays the war as a struggle to save the motherland, rather than defence of his Baath Party ideology or seat of power.
Iraqi TV anchormen, who have switched jackets and ties for military fatigues, drive home the message that Americans are trying to subjugate the people of Iraq and steal their oil wealth.