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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Confessions Are a Hit on Iraqi TV

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's hottest new television program is a reality show. But the players are not there by choice. And they do not win big bucks, a new spouse or a dream job.

Instead, all the characters on "Terrorism in the Hands of Justice" are captured suspected insurgents. And for more than a month, they have been riveting viewers with tales of how they killed, kidnapped, raped or beheaded other Iraqis, usually for a few hundred dollars per victim.

"I watch the show every night, and I wait for it patiently, because it is very revealing," said Abdul Kareem Abdulla, 42, a Baghdad shop owner. "For the first time, we saw those who claim to be jihadists as simple $50 murderers who would do everything in the name of Islam. Our religion is too lofty, noble and humane to have such thugs and killers. I wish they would hang them now, and in the same place where they did their crimes. They should never be given any mercy."

Broadcast on al-Iraqiya, the state-run network set up by the U.S. occupation authority in 2003, "Terrorism in the Hands of Justice" has become one of most effective arrows in the government's counterinsurgency propaganda quiver.

"It has shown the Iraqi people the reality of those insurgents, [that] they are criminals, killers, murderers, thieves," Interior Minister Falah Naqib said last week.

Sabah Kadhim, an Interior Ministry spokesman, added, "The last few weeks have been incredible in terms of tips coming in from the public."

The bruised faces and the death of at least one prisoner after his appearance on the show have raised questions about the men's treatment in custody.

In recent reports, the State Department and Human Rights Watch have criticized the use of torture by Iraqi police.

"In light of our recent findings about the prevalence of torture in Iraqi prisons," said Joe Stork, a Washington-based spokesman for Human Rights Watch, "we have serious concerns that these confessions were not also coerced and that the Iraqi authorities failed to provide essential due process protections." But such concerns have not dimmed the program's popularity.

The program usually opens with a graphic shot of a bloodied bombing victim lying in the street, followed by one of two smiling young boys holding a handwritten sign that reads, "No to Terrorism."

At times, the insurgents appear to be parroting packaged answers, and critics of the program say the prisoners' stories fit well with the government's portrait of the insurgency: that it is in large part a bunch of greedy criminals run amok, that foreigners play a big role and that funding is coming from neighboring Syria and Saudi Arabia.

Less emphasized on the program is that the predominantly Sunni Arab insurgency is also driven by fears of Shiite political domination and resentment of the U.S. occupation. As a result, "Terrorism in the Hands of Justice" provokes mixed feelings among some Sunni Arabs.

"My criticism of the program is that it is sometimes simplistic, repetitive and gives the impression that those [men] are being coached to say what they are saying, although I believe they have committed these crimes," said Abdul Kareem Janaby, 46, a Trade Ministry employee. "Those people are nothing but dirty, lowly gangs who are being used to defame the true character of the Sunnis."