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Despite Iraqi ban on two reporters, Al-Jazeera vows to stay course

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MUMBAI: It's not just hack attacks on its website that it has to confront. Al-Jazeera - "the mouthpiece of the Baghdad regime" (as the US-British establishments like to call it) - has run afoul of Saddam Hussein. Two correspondents of the popular Arabic television network have been issued marching orders.

Reacting to the development Al-Jazeera said today it would continue to cover the war on Iraq. The Qatar-based station had earlier said that none of its eight correspondents would report from Iraq after the Iraqi authorities expelled a colleague and asked another reporter to stop working.

Al-Jazeera however said during a news bulletin on Thursday that it would continue to broadcast live and taped events - including news conferences by Iraqi officials and air strikes on Iraqi cities - without any commentary.

The network said the Iraqi authorities gave no reason for its decision. CNN's reporters were also expelled from Baghdad last week. The Guardian has however, reported that Al-Jazeera drew the ire of the Baghdad establishment after its reporters tried to interview Iraqi citizens away from the "supervision" of government minders.

Meanwhile, hacked off the Internet by "patriotic" Americans, Al-Jazeera said on Wednesday it was launching a new service to send its news to mobile phones.

It will beam news alerts in both Arabic and English to mobile phones around the world. An al-Jazeera spokesman said the new mobile service that launched on Wednesday would be available in 130 countries.

Al-Jazeera is the only international network with correspondents in the southern city of Basra and the northern city of Mosul. It is one of the most widely watched networks in the Arab world, with at least 35 million viewers.

The network, which has been criticised by the United States and Britain for airing pictures of slain US and British troops, said the Iraqi Information Ministry had asked its correspondent Tayseer Alouni to leave the country and another reporter, Diyar al-Omari in Baghdad, to remain off air.

Alouni gained international renown for covering the US-led war on Afghanistan for eight-year-old Al-Jazeera, which made its name by airing statements by Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda members after the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Alouni was one of a few international correspondents allowed to operate under the Taliban.

Many Arab viewers regard the network's Iraq war coverage as more comprehensive and balanced than Western media reports.

US and British officials, however, say its coverage is biased. And toeing the US establishment line and gald to do its "patriotic chore" is the New York Stock Exchange which has banned two Al-jazeera business correspondents from reporting from the because of its so-called "irresponsible" reporting.

Asked by UK's Radio 5 Live to respond to the accusation by the British home secretary, David Blunkett, that Al-Jazeera had close links with the Baghdad regime, a company spokesperson said: "I think it's quite ironic then that the Iraqis are kicking out one of their own."

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