Saturday, June 23, 2012

Iraq's press threatened, Tony Blair exposed and more

Iraq's Journalist Freedoms Observatory has issued the following alert:

An official document has been obtained by the JFO, revealing that security forces in Iraq have received orders from the authorities to shut down the offices of 44 media agencies. Included are prominent local TV channels and radio stations such as Sharqiya and Baghdadia satellite television stations and foreign-owned media such as BBC, Radio Sawa and Voice of America.  
This matter comes at the time of escalated public debate between the administration of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and political opponents about the threats and the pressures that journalists have been exposed to during the current ongoing political crisis. On June 20, followers of cleric Muqtada al Sadr held a demonstration in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, in which they protested restrictions on Iraqi media, as well as calling for a vote of no confidence in Mr. Maliki to be held at the Iraqi parliament.

The document obtained by the JFO was issued by the CMC (Communications and Media Commission), signed by acting director Safa al-Din Rabiah, and was addressed to the Ministry of Interior. It recommends banning 44 Iraqi and foreign media agencies from working in various areas in Iraq, including Kurdistan. The document states it has already been approved by the Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al-Assadi, described in the letter as having instructed the ministry’s Department of Relations and Media “to stop media cooperation with these agencies and to notify the police to ban these channels along with the necessity of informing the channels to contact the CMC.”
In past decisions, the CMC has caused controversy for its heavy-handed regulations and tactics, seen by critics as conducting a program to undermine freedom of expression in Iraq by ordering arrests, fines and the closing of media organizations, which many media workers argue demonstrates a bias in favor of the current political administration.  
The document was circulated among police forces in Baghdad on May 8, 2012, five days after the International Press Freedom Day. In it, the CMC informs the interior ministry that it has suspended the operating licenses, or has banned cameramen and other media workers from working, from television stations such as Sharqiya, Baghdadia, al-Diyar, Babliya and BBC, and radio stations such as al-Marbad, Nawa, Radio Sawa, Nawa, and Voice of America. In the document, the CMC also states that additional TV channels and media agencies are currently not licensed and requested by the interior ministry to have legal action taken against them.

Dar Addustour reports on it here. RT adds, "The followers of prominent Islamist cleric Muqtada al Sadr flocked to Baghdad’s central square on Wednesday to protest against what they see as a government crackdown on press freedom. They also called for a vote of no confidence against PM Nouri al-Maliki to be held in the country’s parliament. Al-Maliki is currently acting head of the CMC."  From Thursday's snapshot:

A large number of Iraqis took to Baghdad's Firdous Square this week to protest Nouri.  Dar Addustour (check out the photo of the turnout, this was a huge turnout) reports Moqtada al-Sadr supporters showed up demanding that the media be free, that people speak freely and that no one muzzle the voice of democracy.  Kitabat notes that Nouri's effort to shut down satellite chanel Baghdadi resulted in the large turnout and that the crowd chanted Moqtada's name.  Dar Addustour reports that Nouri attempted to limit -- if not halt -- the protests by butting off raods to the square, stationing security guards throughout and more.  Nouri dismissed the protest and their objections to him while insisting that his critics can say anything about him but he's gagged/prevented from speaking about them.

Violence continues in Iraq.  Alsumaria reports that the corpse of a 48-year-old woman (shot to death, the mother of ten children) was discovered in Dohuk.  In addition, Alsumaria reports that three fisherman were kidnapped outside Ramadi.

The political crisis continues as well.  Lara Jakes (AP) reports a new development, proposed legislation which would allow the Parliament to take the full summer off.   Jakes observes, "Much of the government's work has been slowed by a political crisis, fueled by ethnic and sectarian tensions, that flared immediately after U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq last December and has produced demands for the Shiite prime minister's ouster."  Alsumaria reports that Ayad Allawi (Iraqiya leader) declared today that the efforts to oust Nouri via a no-confidence vote continue and that this might require months.  Alsumaria notes that Moqtada al-Sadr told his followers the recall effort continues as well noting that he could guarantee forty signatures and it was up to Allawi and the others to deliver the other 124 votes necessary.  Meanwhile Dar Addustour tries to track down all the latest rumors which includes that someone from the National Alliance will attempt to prod Moqtada to change his mind, that Ammar al-Hakim (leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq) has stated he will pull Saleq al-Mutlaq away from Iraqiya (al-Mutlaq is a Deputy Prime Minister), that Allawi has scheduled a meeting in Tehran with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to discuss Tehran dropping their support for Nouri

Nouri tries to prevent the flow of information in Iraq with threats of violence.  In England, Tony Blair had other ways to keep secrets.  Jane Merrick and Matt Chorley (Independent) report:

MPs demanded an emergency recall of the Chilcot inquiry last night after new revelations that Tony Blair blocked the Government's most senior lawyer from explaining to Cabinet the legality of the war in Iraq. According to the newly published full version of Alastair Campbell's diaries, the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith wanted to "put the reality" to cabinet ministers that there was a case against, as well as for, military action in March 2003. But, according to his former spin doctor, the then Prime Minister feared that the legal opinion was too "nuanced" and would allow the war's ministerial critics Robin Cook and Clare Short to say that the case had not been made.

"Why does Alastair Campbell's account of cabinet decision-making about Iraq nine years ago still matter?" asks the editorial board of the Independent before answering:

Because, more than any that a government can make, the decision to join military action is the most serious. Millions of British people believed at the time that they were being taken to war on a false premise. They, and The Independent on Sunday, feared that Tony Blair had committed himself to the US. George Bush's motives were an unhealthy mixture of wanting to impress US voters with a vigorous response to the humiliation of 9/11, completing his father's unfinished business from the first Gulf War and a strategic concern about security of oil supplies.

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