Attacks on multiple TV stations in Iraq by 'masked armed men'

Government crackdown continues as more than 105 killed, journalists attacked and offices of critical media reported burned

October 7, 2019 02:45
2 minute read.
Demonstrators set on fire the Hikma movement building during a protest over unemployment, corruption

Demonstrators set on fire the Hikma movement building during a protest over unemployment, corruption and poor public services, in Najaf, Iraq October 2, 2019. (photo credit: REUTERS/ABDULLAH DHIAA AL-DEEN)

At least 19 people were reported killed on Saturday as the Iraqi government continued a brutal crackdown on protests. The offices and journalists of several prominent networks, including Al-Arabiya, were attacked by masked gunmen in what seems like a coordinated attempt to shut down all dissenting channels. Internet and social media were also suppressed, a practice that began on October 2 in response to massive protests in Baghdad and southern Iraq.

Several stations were attacked on Saturday night, including NRT, Al-Arabiya and Dijlah TV. The attacks appeared to be coordinated because they happened at around the same time.

Al-Arabiya was the first to be attacked, tweeting at 10:04 p.m. that its offices had been targeted by “masked gunmen.” Its journalists said they had received threats over the past few days, and that on the night of October 5, black-clad gunmen appeared. The journalists were attacked, equipment destroyed and their mobile phones damaged. They said they called for assistance from Federal Police, who did not intervene to help.

NRT reported that protesters burned the Badr Party headquarters in Nasiriyah at 8 p.m. Two hours later, NRT’s offices in Baghdad were attacked and burned, according to their own report. It was 10:07 p.m.

In addition, Dijlah TV’s offices were burned. That was reported around 9:57 p.m.

Al-Hadath reported at 10:24 p.m. that masked men attacked its offices in Baghdad. Three cars with armed men apparently stormed the office, according to a tweet from the station. At least one of its journalists was injured after being beaten.

There is anger across Iraq and abroad over the attacks on the channels. It was not clear if the closure of the channels had been ordered. One tweet from just after 9 p.m. claimed the Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi had ordered Dijlah closed. The destruction of equipment and the beatings of journalists appear to show that the attacks were more than just a government order, but were conducted by a paramilitary organization. The government of Iraq had already moved last month to suspend Al-Hurra after it conducted an investigation into corruption of religious endowments. Reports indicated that Fallouja TV, Alghad Alaraby, SkyNews Arabia and Al-Sharqiya were also targeted. It was not clear from SkyNews or Sharqiya when their offices were targeted.

The death toll is now more than 105 people in Iraq, and the coordinated attacks on media appear to be a foreboding sign for the future of the crisis. Even though major leaders such as Muqtada, Sadr and Haider al-Abadi have called for early elections, the government appears to be digging in. There are other forces at work as well. The stations attacked are linked to countries, groups or voices that are more critical of Iran. That means the attacks could have been carried out by pro-Iranian militias.

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