Iraq has ordered the closure of 44 international news outlets, among them the Voice of America, and the BBC.
Iraqi Media Commission chairman Safa'a Rabie said the closures were due to “expired operating licenses,” and were “an organizational matter, not a crackdown on the press.”
However, the U.S.-funded Radio Sawa said that it does have an operating license. The broadcaster's deputy director, Salah Nasrawi, commented he was “surprised to see our radio station on the list because we think that we work in accordance with all Iraqi laws.”
The situation in Iraq has been heating up for a while, and Baghdad would not be the first Arab government to be unwilling to share with the world its inability to control the violence within its borders.
There have been a growing number of terrorist and roadside bombing attacks throughout the country, including around the capital, Baghdad, and in Kirkuk, an oil town, as the various Shi'ite and Sunni Muslim and political factions struggle for control. On Wednesday, a bomb attack by unknown terrorists in the al-Wahda district on the outskirts of southern Baghdad killed at least nine people, including four from the same family, and wounded 17 others at the home of a tribal sheikh.
Vice-president Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Muslim politician in the Iraqiya bloc, fled Baghdad last December just days after the withdrawal of U.S. troops to avoid arrest by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led government, which sought his arrest on charges he ran a death squad. His trial in absentia on corruption and murder charges has been scheduled for July.
Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO) head Ziyad al-Aajey told the Associated Press in a telephone interview that he believes the latest action against international news outlets is a direct warning from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
"It is a government message to the media outlets that if you are not with us, then you are against us,” he said.
It is common practice for Arab governments to intimidate journalists, particularly those representing international media outlets, into "toeing the party line."
In the Palestinian Authority, and particularly in the Hamas terrorist-ruled Gaza region, journalists have been kidnapped, beaten and sometimes murdered. Not one international news bureau remains in Gaza due to the dangers involved. In the PA-controlled areas of Judea and Samaria (Yehuda and Shomron), reporters are often denied access to news events, politicians or other personalities unless they first agree to stringent government censorship rules.
In Syria, at least a dozen journalists were killed in action by government troops while covering the civil war ignited by the 2011 “Arab Spring” uprisings that swept the region. Dozens more have been injured, some severely, and several have disappeared.