Iraqi journalists report threats from pro-Iran ‘electronic armies’

by WorldTribune Staff, September 8, 2019

Pro-Iran factions in Iraq are deploying “electronic armies” to social media outlets in an attempt to silence their detractors, accusing them of being agents of Israel in what is tantamount to “incitements to murder,” a report said.

“Iraqi journalists, activists and researchers are facing a wave of accusations and threats by shadowy online groups they suspect are linked to powerful pro-Iran factions,” Arutz Sheva reported on Sept. 7.

Downtown Baghdad. / Mohammad Huzam / Creative Commons / CC By SA 4.0

Media rights groups are worried such incitement could lead to real violence.

“The sensitivity of the Palestinian question in the region means that accusing someone of working with Israel is tantamount to calling for their killing,” said the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory.

Iraq does not recognize and has no diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

On Sept. 5, monitor and rights group Iraqi Media House called for better protection of journalists.

“The phenomenon of electronic armies has reached dangerous levels, issuing threats including incitement to violence and hatred,” it said. “We are surprised by the authorities’ continued silence so far, including the judiciary, in a clear abandonment of its responsibilities when it comes to electronic crimes.”

According to the report, there have been suspicious explosions this summer at five camps and arms depots under the direction of Hashed al-Shabbi, a network of mostly Shi’ite armed factions linked to Iran.

The Hashed blamed the U.S. and Israel for the attacks, but also took to social media and accused Iraqi journalists and activists of being “agents” of the two countries and contributing to the attacks.

A graphic shared on social media by an Arabic-language page named “Don’t Tread on Us” accused 14 Iraqis of de facto supporting a policy of “normalization with Israel.”

The graphic named figures such as journalist Joumana Mumtaz and blogger Ali Wajih.

In response, Wajih wrote an open letter to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, Hashed chief Faleh Fayyadh and his powerful deputy Abu Mehdial-Muhandis.

“For years, a group of us journalists and bloggers has faced incitements to murder by people and pages that may be close to the Hashed, or directly linked to it,” he wrote.

Allegations they were “agents” or seeking normalization with Israel, Wajih said, were “empty and silly.”

While Iraq has developed close ties with the United States, Iran “holds considerable sway in Iraq’s political scene and within the Hashed,” the Arutz Sheva report said.

The pro-Iran factions launched another social media attack in the past week, this time taking aim at U.S.-funded Al-Hurra TV for a documentary alleging corruption among Iraq’s religious bodies, both Sunni and Shi’ite, the report said.

Perceptions Iraq was being “attacked” by Israel and America were “broadened to include critical and independent Iraqi voices, who have been maligned as agents in a broader plot,” said Fanar Haddad, an Iraq expert at the National University of Singapore.

“In this way, entrenched domestic interests and rivalries have been folded into the ongoing tensions between the Iran-led axis of resistance and the United States, Israel and their allies in the region,” he said.

Omar al-Shaher, a journalist named in the graphic, said there was “not a shred of proof” to back up the claims.

“These days, it’s more dangerous than ever to have your name associated with the Israeli camp,” he told AFP.

Historian Omar Mohammad, who documented atrocities in Mosul under the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group, said he suspected the new accusations came “as a result of the recent (purported) Israeli airstrikes and U.S.-Iranian tensions.”

Mohammad said the graphic’s sleek production meant he was “absolutely” taking its threats seriously.

“It is institutional and professional. Seems there is a team specialized in dehumanizing us,” Mohammad told AFP from outside Iraq.

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