A new talk-radio station has opened in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, that for the first time, lets callers vent their frustration at government officials over everything from trash pick-up to the continuing violence. That's a far cry from the days of the Saddam Hussein government, when the media were tightly controlled and dissent against the government was punished. From Baghdad, VOA’s Patricia Nunan tunes us in to radio Dijla.
Across Iraqi airwaves comes a new type of radio program.This is Radio Dijla - a new Iraqi talk radio station - and its hosts are preparing to go to air.
On this program, called "Service Period," Radio Dijla brings government officials into the studio to talk about the problems facing Iraq. Today's guest is Police Brigadier General Jasimal Bahadly, the commander of all Baghdad traffic police.
More than a dozen new radio stations have opened in Iraq since the fall of the Saddam Hussein government last year. But Radio Dijla is the only one dedicated to just talk. It broadcasts 20 hours a day - all of it live, call-in programming.
After some opening remarks, General Bahadly is ready to face his first caller.
CALLER ON SPEAKER PHONE
The caller compliments the general on what hard work he's been doing. But he wants to know why there are so many traffic police on Ramadan Square, but none on nearby Ali Khaa square, where there is a great deal of illegal parking. The general concedes the point.
JASIMAL BAHADLY (translated)
"We haven't got enough traffic police to man all the intersections in Baghdad. There are 214 intersections in the city - and we haven't got the staff to cover them all. But our goals are different from the reality - and we want to recruit more staff so we can cover them."
The program may seem banal by some standards. But to Radio Dijla host Shaymaa al Amari, it's helping Iraq become more democratic, because for the first time, the Iraqi people can deal directly with government officials.
Radio Dijla is independent, she says, and its format is a dialogue between the station and the people. Sometimes this solves their problems. Other times we can direct their problems towards other ministries and try to resolve them that way.
And there are a lot of problems to solve.
US and Iraqi government forces continue to fight an insurgency across the nation that shows no signs of letting up. There are also signs of growing friction between rival groups of Iraqis previously held in check by the iron-fisted rule of the Saddam Hussein regime.
For that reason, calls to Radio Dijla programs are screened. And the station's editorial line is decidedly anti-violence, says assistant General Manager, Karim al-Yousif.
KARIM AL YOUSIF (translated)
"Most of our programs are cultural in nature, and we try to direct the people to stop the bloodshed, to stop the killing, and to stop any acts that are detrimental to the people. We want to be a civilized society like other places."
After more than three decades of Saddam Hussein's rule, it may be years before Iraq can be said to be fully democratic. Radio Dijla wants to make that change happen, one phone call at a time.