Just after midnight Baghdad time, the Facebook and Twitter accounts of the elite and popular Counter-Terrorism Service in Iraq announced that a coup was under way. Oddly, they announced it in English as well, claiming that the CTS had begun a “military insurrection” and the “start of the military coup against the illegitimate government in response to the demands of the people.”
Within an hour it turned out that the social media accounts had apparently been hacked. By that time, the account, which has 266,000 followers, had confused numerous people. Some expressed support in Arabic for the non-existent “coup.”
It followed reports that another 13 protesters had been killed after another day of clashes with security forces. More than 350 Iraqis have been killed during protests since early October.
The CTS is one of the first elite and trustworthy security institutions that is viewed as a positive force across sectarian lines in Iraq. It was a key to defeating ISIS. However in September, one of its popular commanders was fired, fueling some of the anger that led to protests that have swept the center and south of the country. Much anger has been directed at Iranian-backed militias and parties.
In addition, officials have alleged that a “third force,” apparently made up of Iranian-backed groups, have used sniper fire to murder protesters. At various times during the protests, there have been rumors that the army might protect the protesters.
The fake coup was also announced briefly on the CTS Facebook page to more than a million followers, but was soon taken down. The CTS denied at around 1:30 a.m. that they were conducting a coup. Mustafa Salim of The Washington Post’s Baghdad office called a contact in the CTS and noted that they told him the account had been hacked.
The fake coup rumor has led to some jokes on social media, but also adds to the rumors swirling in Iraq. While some wondered why an account would announce a coup before it happened and call it a “coup” in English, others in Iraq are dealing with the fallout from more than a month of protests. Streets in Baghdad have become like a war zone, with barricades and fighting with Molotov cocktails.
It has also led to a flowering of dissident youth who are struggling against a corrupt system. On Sunday, the government announced that more closures of media outlets were coming, including decisions likely to affect critical foreign Arabic media. This has led to fears of a crackdown. The government has also sought to limit Internet access like is being done in neighboring Iran.