Iraq's private TV station ramps up for Ramadan

BAGHDAD — While Iraq’s popular private television station Al-Sharqiya will be pushing the boundaries this Ramadan with its sharp mix of satire, current affairs and comedy, state-run Al-Iraqiya will be toning down its already dour fare.

Al-Sharqiya has been showing teasers of its main drawing card, “The Leader,” featuring popular actor Rasim al-Jumaili, who now lives in exile in Damascus, sending up Iraq’s politicians.

The program shows the hefty Jumaili surrounded by bodyguards, one an attractive female, poking fun at Iraq’s latest crop of political leaders, who have been panned internationally for their inability to effect reconciliation across bitter sectarian divides.

Unsurprisingly for the station launched with political comedy as its main theme in March 2004 by London-based Iraqi media tycoon Saad Bazzaz, Jumaili has been made up to look like the portly Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

The channel saw one of its offices raided by government forces in January, but since it broadcasts largely out of Dubai, the clampdown has had little effect on its popularity. According to a June Ipsos-Stat poll, the satcaster has 40% reach in war-torn Iraq, just behind Saudi-owned news channel Al-Arabiya.

Al-Iraqiya, however, is unlikely to draw any fiery response — or audiences, for that matter — for the bland mix with which it is rewarding its faithful viewers over Ramadan.

Though it hasn’t been pitching its upcoming attractions, it has cautioned that it will be providing less variety and more religion.

The one “highlight” it has sneak-previewed is a daily interview with a doctor outlining the benefits of fasting.

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