Baghdad: Haider Ali Motar was convicted of terrorism charges about a month ago for helping to carry out a string of Baghdad car bombings on behalf of the ISIS extremist group. Now, the 21-year old is a reluctant cast member in a popular reality TV show. “In the Grip of the Law,” brings convicted terrorists face-to-face with victims in surreal encounters and celebrates the country's beleaguered security forces.
The show, produced by state-run Iraqiyya TV, is among dozens of programmes, cartoons and musical public service announcements aimed at shoring up support for the troops after their humiliating defeat last summer at the hands of the ISIS group, which now controls about a third of the country. On a chilly, overcast day last week, the crew arrived at the scene of one of the attacks for which Motar was convicted, with a heavily armed escort in eight military pick-up trucks and Humvees. Passing cars clogged the road to watch the drama unfold, but were quickly shooed away by soldiers. After being pulled from an armoured vehicle, a shackled Motar found himself face-to-face with the seething relatives of the victims of the attack. “Give him to me -I'll tear him to pieces,” one of the relatives roared from behind a barbed wire barrier.
A cameraman pinned a microphone on Motar's bright yellow prison jumpsuit as he stood alongside a busy Baghdad highway looking bewildered. “Say something,” the cameraman said to him. “What am I supposed to say?” a visibly panicked Motar asked. Once the cameras were rolling, the show's host Ahmed Hassan quizzed the still-shackled prisoner. When Motar was confronted by one of the victims, a young man in a wheelchair who lost his father in one of the attacks, the convict began weeping, as the cameras rolled. Iraq has seen near-daily car bombs and other attacks for more than a decade, both before and after the withdrawal of US-led troops at the end of 2011. But the central message of the show, the filming of which began last year, is that the security forces will bring perpetrators to justice. “We wanted to produce a programme that offers clear and conclusive evidence, with the complete story, presented and shown to Iraqi audiences,” Hassan said.
The episodes often detail the trail of evidence that led security forces to make the arrest. All of the alleged terrorists are shown confessing to their crimes in one-on-one interviews. Hassan said the episodes are only filmed after the men have confessed to a judge, insisting it is “impossible” that any of them are innocent.