Salah Negm branded "unfair" the US-installed Iraqi Governing Council's Monday decision to ban the Arabic-language broadcaster from working in Iraq for an unspecified period of time.

The ban has drawn widespread criticism that the Governing Council is suppressing freedom of speech.

"We regret this decision and think that it's unfair," Negm told Aljazeera.net. "When Saddam Hussein was in power, the BBC and CNN broadcast [his] speeches inciting violence against other Arab leaders, but no one commented then," he said.

Negm said it was unclear how long the ban would be in force, saying the Dubai-based Saudi-owned broadcaster was "exploring the situation legally".

Negm vowed to continue to cover events in Iraq, despite the handicap. "We have a lot of sources in Iraq, not only al-Arabiya correspondents," he said.

Ban

Earlier on Monday, the council's current chairman Jalal Talabani announced the measure, saying, "We have decided to ban al-Arabiya in Iraq for a certain period of time because it broadcast an invitation to murder, an incitement to murder by the voice of Saddam Hussein."

Dubai-based broadcaster aired
message from Saddam Hussein

The offending tape was broadcast on 16 November by al-Arabiya, which was launched this year as a competitor to Aljazeera and has received a number of Saddam recordings since the US-led April invasion.

"Those who are installed by foreign armies ... are in the same situation (as the occupiers), and we have to fight them even before (we fight) the foreign armies," said the voice on the tape, referring to the Governing Council.

US backs decision

The US State Department on Monday backed the Governing Council decision, saying it agreed the station had incited violence.

The council issued strict rules for media reporting in Iraq on 23 September and vowed to keep a close watch to make sure they do not incite violence or comfort supporters of Saddam Hussein.

The five rules were part of a statement announcing that Aljazeera and al-Arabiya had been banned from reporting on government activities for two weeks because of their "irresponsible actions" after an earlier message calling on Iraqis to take up arms and attributed to Saddam.