The Middle East Channel

Iraq suspends licenses of 10 satellite TV channels

Iraq’s media commission has suspended the licenses of 10 satellite channels, including Al Jazeera, and has accused them of airing "misleading and exaggerated" coverage of recent fighting and "promoting violence." The Iraqi government will not be able to cut the broadcasts of the channels which are based abroad, but it will prevent journalists from the ...

AFP/Getty Images/FRANCK FIFE
AFP/Getty Images/FRANCK FIFE

Iraq’s media commission has suspended the licenses of 10 satellite channels, including Al Jazeera, and has accused them of airing "misleading and exaggerated" coverage of recent fighting and "promoting violence." The Iraqi government will not be able to cut the broadcasts of the channels which are based abroad, but it will prevent journalists from the channels from reporting from inside Iraq. All of the channels affected except for one have Sunni financial backers, and most have aired heavy coverage of the Sunni protest movement. Therefore, the move has been largely seen as a crackdown on dissent by the Shiite-dominated government on a growing Sunni uprising. Al Jazeera released a statement saying, "We are astonished by this development. We cover all sides of the stories in Iraq, and have done so for many years. The fact that so many channels have been hit all at once, though, suggests this an indiscriminate decision." More than 200 people have been killed in Iraq since last Tuesday in a spike in sectarian violence sparked by a raid by Iraqi security forces on a Sunni protest camp.

Syria

Syrian Prime Minister Wael Nader al-Halki survived what appeared to be an assassination attempt on Monday in the capital, Damascus. A car bomb exploded near the prime minister’s convoy in the central Mezze district reportedly killing six people, including one of his bodyguards. Halki was appointed by Assad in August 2012 after the former Prime Minister Riyadh Hijab defected. Halki doesn’t have much power within the Syrian regime, but the attack shows a growing ability of opposition forces to target President Bashar al-Assad’s officials. The attack hit an upscale neighborhood that is home to several political figures and where government buildings are located, as well as an important military airport. Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers have been pushing the Obama administration to act on Syria over a belief that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons in the civil war. Most are hesitant to send U.S. troops to Syria, but are considering a no-fly zone and air campaign. However, U.S. officials are concerned about Syria’s formidable air-defense system, which is built and supported by the Russian military.

Headlines

  • Five car bombs have reportedly killed an estimated 25 people and injured 97 others in mostly Shiite areas across Iraq as sectarian tensions rise.
  • Armed men blocked Libya’s Foreign Ministry, Interior Ministry, and a state-owned TV station Sunday demanding fighters who helped in the overthrow of Qaddafi to be hired, and calling for the removal of Qaddafi-era officials.
  • Gazan militants fired a mortar shell, which hit an open area in southern Israel on Monday, after retaliatory airstrikes by Israel occurred a day earlier. 

Arguments and Analysis

Iraq after Hawija: Recovery or Relapse? (International Crisis Group)

"The months-long standoff in Iraq between Sunni Arab protesters and the central government has begun a perilous, downward slide toward confrontation. The emergence of an arc of instability and conflict linking Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, fuelled by sectarianism and involving porous borders as well as cross-border alliances, represents a huge risk. Failure to integrate Sunni Arabs into a genuinely representative political system in Baghdad risks turning Iraq’s domestic crisis into a broader regional struggle.

On 23 April, over 50 were killed and 110 wounded when security forces stormed a sit-in in the town of Hawija, in Kirkuk governorate. While Baghdad argued its crackdown was justified by the demonstrators’ refusal to surrender both weapons and individuals implicated in an earlier attack on an army checkpoint, the disproportionate response provoked predictable outrage among protesters; retaliatory assaults against the security apparatus threaten to trigger an even tougher reaction from authorities. Only by credibly addressing the protesters’ legitimate demands – namely, ensuring genuine Sunni Arab representation in the political system – can the government ensure that the current Sunni Arab leadership not remain beholden to, or gradually be abandoned by, an increasingly frustrated street. And only by doing so can Iraq stem a rising tide of violence that, at a time of growing sectarian polarisation throughout the region, likely would spell disaster.

The popular protest movement that developed beginning in late 2012 in predominantly Sunni Arab areas is symptomatic of a widespread sense of disenfranchisement. Demonstrators feel alienated from Baghdad (perceived as the seat of a newfound Shiite power); from their purported representatives (blamed for focusing on their own parochial interests at the expense of their constituents’); and from security forces (accused of committing human rights abuses on a sectarian basis). The war in Syria also plays a significant part: as the conflict intensifies, Sunni Arabs experience mounting solidarity with their brethren next door and share feelings of hostility toward a purported Shiite axis linking Hizbollah, Damascus, Baghdad and Tehran. Sunni Arab tribal chiefs, religious leaders and politicians – including some previously co-opted by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki – soon threw their lot in with grassroots protesters, seeking to reap political benefit; remnants of both the former regime and the insurgency that spread after its demise followed suit."

A lesson from Birmingham for the Arabs (Rami G. Khouri, The Daily Star)

"One of the most troubling aspects of recent developments in several Arab countries has been growing domestic polarization based on an interplay of ideology, religion and ethnicity. Iraq and Syria are the two most worrying immediate cases, with fighting resulting in hundreds of deaths during the past week. Other Arab countries suffer similar problems, and everywhere in the region societies face challenges of how to heal themselves in the aftermath of years of tension, clashes or killing.

Is reconciliation a feasible option for the Arab world that now seems to be moving in the direction of greater domestic intolerance and warfare? Only time will tell. The track record of intra-Arab reconciliation has not been impressive in recent decades, in countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Sudan and others.

The issue is on my mind because I have had the good fortune to be reminded of the importance of these powerful forces during a visit to the city of Birmingham, Alabama. Here and in much of the deep south, racial hatred among many white Americans left black Americans living in a state of abuse, humiliation and dehumanization. The civil rights movement that culminated in the early 1960s brought an end to officially sanctioned discrimination by color. Racist views by some individuals persisted, however, and full harmony has not been reached in many southern cities and towns."

–By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey

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