Iraq Sunni unrest prompts TV channel licence suspension

Sunni gunmen protest in Ramadi (April 26 2013) Sunni anti-government protests have been staged across northern and western Iraq

Iraqi authorities have suspended the licences of 10 satellite channels because of a rise in sectarian unrest.

Al-Jazeera TV and Sharqiya are among the channels accused of "inciting violence". A ban has been imposed on their operations across Iraq.

More than 170 people have been killed in less than a week and PM Nouri Maliki has spoken of a "wave of sectarianism" in Iraq that began abroad.

An army raid on a Sunni protest camp on Tuesday sparked widespread clashes.

'Misinformation'

More than 20 people died at the camp, in the northern town of Hawija, near Kirkuk, prompting two Sunni ministers to announce their resignation. Demonstrations spread to Ramadi and Falluja in western Iraq as well as towns and cities elsewhere in the north.

TV channels affected

  • Baghdad TV - belongs to Islamic party
  • Sharqiya and Sharqiya News
  • Babiliya - belongs to Sunni deputy PM
  • Salahuddin
  • Anwar2 (Shia Kuwaiti channel)
  • Taghyeer
  • Falluja
  • Al-Jazeera, HQ in Qatar
  • Gharbiya

The protesters accused the Shia-led government of discriminating against Sunnis and demanded the resignation of Mr Maliki, himself a Shia.

The Iraqi Communication and Media Commission said in a statement that the satellite channels had "exaggerated things, given misinformation and called for breaking the law and attacking Iraqi security forces".

The watchdog complained of a "sectarian tone" in the TV coverage and said "undisciplined media messages exceeded all reasonable limits" and threatened to "jeopardise the democratic process".

BBC Baghdad correspondent Rafid Jaboori says most of the 10 channels are Sunni-owned while Qatar-based al-Jazeera is perceived as more pro-Sunni in its Arabic-language reporting in Iraq.

A source at al-Jazeera told BBC News that it was not yet clear whether or not the suspension covered its English-language operations as well as its Arabic programming.

The director of Baghdad TV, which is owned by the Iraqi Islamic party, told the BBC that he was waiting to hear from the authorities what action would be taken.

Several people were killed on Friday in bomb attacks on two Sunni mosques in Baghdad. On Saturday, another 10 people, including five soldiers, were killed by gunmen close to the main Sunni protest camp west of the capital.

On Saturday, Mr Maliki appeared to blame the conflict in Syria for the surge in sectarianism as he warned of strife "knocking on the doors of everyone".

UN envoy Martin Kobler has also called for restraint, describing Iraq as "at a crossroads".

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