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Iraqi TV stunt show finds comedy in bomb threats

By Arwa Damon, CNN
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Bomb scares score big in Iraq
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • TV show scares Iraqis into believing they in danger of being blown up by bombs
  • Program is hit on Iraqi TV, but many people fail to see the joke as violence continues
  • Show is meant to provide entertainment during holy month of Ramadan
  • Host defends program, saying aim is to inject humor into Iraqis' misery and educate public

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- Imagine you're a celebrity heading to a TV station for an interview. Along the way you run into a well-known TV host whose car has broken down. You know each other because you move in the same circles so you offer him a ride to the station since you're traveling in that direction.

Your car is stopped at a checkpoint, when suddenly an Iraqi army soldier looks underneath the vehicle and screams "bomb, bomb, get away from the car!"

There's enough reality in today's Iraq, without reality TV, but not for one network.

The occupants of the car frantically run out, some in circles, others screaming, some faint, others cry, all while the Iraqi army accuses the occupants of being terrorists, members of al Qaeda and threaten dire retribution.

But here's the black joke. The bomb's a fake, the man you offered the ride to is the show's host Ali al-Khalidi, and the Iraqi army is in on it. This is Punk'd: Baghdad-style.

The action is all being recorded with candid cameras for a show called "Put him in Bucca" -- a now closed U.S. detention facility.

Jassim Sharaf, who has been a comedian for 40 years, found himself in the center of one of the show's stunts.

I could have been traumatized, I could have died but it's all worth the sacrifice to make Iraqis laugh.
--Jassim Sharaf, comedian
RELATED TOPICS
  • Iraq
  • Al Qaeda
  • Terrorism

He jumps out of his vehicle, tears off his shoes so he can run faster, waves them hysterically in the air and tries to bolt from the scene. The Iraqi soldiers grab him and accuse him of trying to bring in a car bomb. He falls to the side of the road.

"Why would I come to bomb? I am an Iraqi, I am a son of Iraq," he screams back at them.

"Sit in the car, you did it, let it explode on you," the soldiers yell back. Sharaf says the show is harsh, but as we watch his episode he says he does see the funny side.

"I should be upset," he tells us, "but watching myself now I am laughing."

"I could have been traumatized, I could have died but it's all worth the sacrifice to make Iraqis laugh," he adds.

The show is a special production meant to provide entertainment during the holy month of Ramadan, a time when TV viewership peaks in the Muslim world. But this take on the old "candid camera" routine has sparked as much outrage as it has laughter.

Skeptics say it's all an act, while critics add it's in poor taste in a country still awash with bombings and too close to the reality that too many Iraqis have to live with.

The show generated a public campaign slamming its concept and opposition to the program hit the web. In addition to an online petition to stop it, more than 1,600 people signed up to a Facebook page called "No to put him in Bucca." Most of the comments call the show insulting and ridiculous. But there are plenty of fans who do find the show hilarious.

Opinion among Iraqis we spoke to in Baghdad was mixed.

Farouq Fuad says: "It's a very good show, it's amusing and it reflects the suffering of the Iraqi people but in a humorous way." But he adds that he dislikes the pressure that it puts on the actors by scaring them.

Ahmed Abdul Sahid disagrees. He says "the show is a failure. We hope that anything similar to this show is stopped. We want to see more pleasant themes of peace and laughter not terrorism, weapons, and gunfire."

Al-Khalidi, the host, defends his program, saying the aim was to inject humor into Iraqis' misery and educate the public.

"The show is an educational one, we send a message through it so that people are aware," he explains. "People need to be alert and check under their cars before getting in."

Most Iraqis however, including Sharaf, say that's already part of their daily routine.

If there is a silver lining at all for the "victims" it is this -- their health is allegedly checked before they are subjected to such stress.

"And after we have them on the show I tell them congratulations -- you don't need to go see any doctor because you are in good shape," al-Khalidi says, bursting into laughter.