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COVERAGE SLAMMED

Al-Jazeera network banned from Iraq council offices

BAGHDAD -- Iraq's US-appointed Governing Council has barred reporters from the Arab news channel Al-Jazeera from government offices and news conferences for a month, the council said in a statement yesterday.

The ban on one of the most popular stations in the Middle East went into effect Wednesday and is punishment for the disrespect the station allegedly showed toward prominent Iraqis, the statement said. It is the second such ban against Al-Jazeera since September.

A spokesman, Jihad Ballout, said: "Al-Jazeera is trying to ascertain exactly what happened with a view to rectify the matter," he said from Qatar, where Al-Jazeera is based. "All that Al-Jazeera wants is to do its job professionally."

The council said Al-Jazeera has shown "disrespect to Iraq and its people and harmed prominent religious and national figures."

The statement listed senior Shi'ite cleric Mohsen al-Hakim and his sons Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim and Mohammed Mahdi al-Hakim as among those whose memory has been tarnished by Al-Jazeera. It also mentioned Mustafa Barzani, the late father of Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani.

The statement did not say when Al-Jazeera is supposed to have committed the offenses, but regional reports have cited the station's program "The Opposite Direction," or "Ittigah al-Moakis."

Adnan Pachachi, the Governing Council president, described the ban as a warning to Al-Jazeera for what he said was a "very abusive" program.

In September, the Governing Council imposed a two-week ban on Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, a Dubai-based news channel, because it suspected the stations had violated rules that include not disclosing information about pending attacks on US troops.

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