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Reality TV hits home in Baghdad

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"I watched it from the first house that they rebuilt, which was the house of Umm Hussein," says Rasha Said Redha, a young housewife from the working-class neighborhood of Hurriya. "When they opened the house, I began to cry, I was so happy."

Staffed by a crew of jolly ex-Baathists - most of them worked for Saddam Hussein's Ministry of Information - "Labor and Materials" airs every Friday on Al Sharqiya ("The Eastern One"), Iraq's first privately owned satellite channel. The scrappy station is the newest venture of London-based Iraqi media tycoon Saad Bazzaz, who owns the Arabic- language daily Azzaman and is reputed to have political ambitions.

For now, the station is supported by investors. But shows like "Labor and Materials" are expensive - each of the two houses rebuilt so far have cost about $28,000 - and the station is considering trading donations for advertising.

Today, the crew is going to the Sunni stronghold of Adhamiya, a tough neighborhood where residents still battle US troops. For protection, everybody wears white baseball caps with the Sharqiya logo emblazoned in Arabic, which they jokingly call their hijabs (head scarves). Two months ago, Mahdi Army militants pistol-whipped a Sharqiya cameraman, thinking he was a Western journalist, and stole his equipment. They gave it back when they realized he was from an Iraqi station.

"OK, everybody, put on your hijabs," says Riyadh Salman, the show's gentle bear of a producer, as the car pulls up to Kadhim's house.

Inside, an overwhelmed Kadhim watches while the crew unloads box after box into a room. "On our program, the last episode is like Christmas," says Mr. Hanoon, smiling with pride.

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