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Voice of Iraq soothes tense nation

By Christiane Amanpour
CNN Chief International Correspondent

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Violence is the callers' main concern, but jobs and electricity are a close second.
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Many Iraqis are using talk radio as an outlet for their frustrations.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- She is the voice of Iraq -- and about as close as you can get to the pulse of the Iraqi people.

Two generations of Iraqis have grown to love broadcaster Amel al-Mudarress. Now, as they approach the handover of political power to an interim Iraqi government, they need her soothing tone more than ever.

A day after the latest car bomb that killed 13 and wounded scores more, security is again topic No. 1 for callers to her Studio 10 radio show.

A policeman calls in from Baghdad with a torrent of complaints: We need more police cars, he says, our flak jackets are useless, and we have only AK-47s and pistols against an enemy who uses grenades.

A caller from Ramadi in the infamous Sunni triangle sounds frantic: We need checkpoints and car searches, he says. It would make people feel safer; right now there is no deterrence.

Amel and her co-anchor, Alaa Muhsein, field comments and complaints for 90 minutes every morning.

Amel has been a broadcaster for 42 years. She tells us how Iraqi intelligence agents harassed her after her sister-in-law was caught insulting Saddam Hussein at a party -- and then executed.

You'd expect Amel to be happy about today's Iraq, but after thanking the U.S. for removing Saddam, she dissolves into tears.

"Iraqis want to live in peace, especially we women. We fear for our children," she says. "When my son leaves the house every morning, I don't know if he'll come home."

Like many Iraqis, her station also has been targeted.

Terrorists and insurgents have killed eight of the network's employees and wounded more than 15 others in ambushes and execution-style killings.

A U.S. security contractor is trying to train at least 1,000 Iraqis to ensure safety at the network's 31 sites around the country.

Violence is the callers' main concern, but jobs and electricity are a close second.

Um Baqr, a mother in Baghdad, calls almost in tears, saying she fears for the life of her 6-month-old child because of major power and water cuts. The price of generators has skyrocketed and she can't afford one.

Amel's listeners say just hearing her voice makes them feel better, but by the end of each morning she is overwhelmed.

"Iraq is now living in a fog. We don't know what will happen, we just hear words and promises, but so far these promises have not materialized," she says. "We hope for July 1 when a new government takes over."


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