Backlash Leads to Cancellation of Iraq TV Show Simulating IS Attacks on Unsuspecting Guests

An Iraqi TV prank show was canceled by the country's media regulator for a stunt in which fake Islamic State militants ambush unsuspecting guests, inciting outrage from viewers who said they had to relive the trauma of life under the extremist group.

Tannab Raslan, which was available on the local Asia TV as a special during the Ramadan holy month, followed Iraqi celebrity guests and invited them to a "charity event" that turned out to be a staged ambush by actors playing militants. The ambush involved fake weapons, explosions and fake suicide vests.

"The scenes bring back memories of Daesh once again," Baghdad resident Bashir al-Saddi told the Associated Press, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group. "Frankly, this is not acceptable, it is inhuman and uncivilized."

Under IS, Iraqis experienced abductions, beheadings, enslavement and sexual violence against women. The group is responsible for thousands of deaths in the fight to remove militants from Iraq.

The show's presenter, Raslan Haddad, said he does not believe the stunts violated any boundaries and referenced contracts that could lead to major penalties for the channel.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Raslan Haddad
Raslan Haddad, the presenter of the local TV prank show, Tannab Raslan, stands in front of a map of Iraq during an interview with the Associated Press in Baghdad, Iraq, on May 5, 2021. Responding to viewer outrage, Iraq's media regulator canceled the show that lured guests into simulated ambushes by militants, forcing participants and viewers to relive the fear that was widespread under the rule of the Islamic State group. Hadi Mizban/AP Photo

Iraq's Communication and Media Commission ordered the show off the air this week.

The show's name, Tannab Raslan, refers to the name of its presenter and a popular Iraqi game that children play with marbles in which a score is called "tannab."

Hidden cameras film everything—and the fear that grips the show's guests is real. The show has raised ethics concerns and provoked outrage from angry viewers who said its content was highly offensive.

But some, like one of the show's actors and presenter Haddad, said the cancellation was unfair as the show also depicts the heroism of Iraqi security forces.

"The decision is unjust," Haddad said.

In one the most controversial episodes, cameras follow Iraqi actress Nessma Tanneb as she is taken to a rural area outside Baghdad under the pretext of meeting a family liberated from IS rule.

Along the way, she is told at a mock checkpoint that the area they are about to enter is unsafe and was under attack by IS militants just three hours earlier. Tanneb is visibly concerned and asks to turn back but is ignored.

Once she is brought inside a house, an explosion is heard, and actors playing militants storm the building. Tanneb—who at this point is blindfolded—cries out, screams and eventually faints as actors playing Iraqi soldiers burst onto the scene and "liberate" her.

The show was produced by the Popular Mobilization Forces, a government-backed umbrella group of mostly Shiite militias, many backed by Iran, which fought alongside Iraqi security forces against IS.

The Islamic State group was defeated in a three-year campaign with assistance from U.S.-led coalition forces. At the height of its power, IS held one-third of Iraq's territory and terrorized those under its rule.

"Participants have no objection, they agreed to it," Haddad claimed.

ISIS Aftermath
A worker of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) paramilitary forces uses an excavator to clear debris in the old city of Iraq's northern Mosul on April 6, 2021, following the three-year reign of the Islamic State group. Zaid AL-OBEIDI / AFP/Getty Images