01 October 2020
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Iraq Orders Complete Internet Shutdown in 5 Provinces

Tuesday, 24 June 2014 01:06

The letter, embedded below, asks ISPs to "shut down the Internet totally" in five districts: Ninawa, Anbar, Saleh El Din, Kirkuk and Diyalah, according to a translation published by Mohamad Najem, the advocacy director of Social Media Exchange, a Lebanon-based group that encourages Internet freedom in the Middle East. (Mashable has confirmed Najem's translation.)

"So far, it's not clear 100% if the ISPs are doing exactly what they have asked to do," Najem, who has been in touch with people inside Iraq, told Mashable in an email.

Najem said the government ordered the shutdown only in those five regions because of ISIL's "strong presence" there.

It's not clear if the shutdown order has been effectively carried out by the local providers. Such a shutdown, according to Mohammed Al Rawi, the former IT director for the Los Angeles Times Baghdad bureau, would be hard to implement since Iraq has hundreds of ISPs, some using satellite connections that are outside government control.

Since Friday, Internet monitoring firms like Akamai and Rensys have reported significant disruptions in the country that could be caused by regional shutdowns as well as the blocking of social media sites.

"Traffic has been much lower than it would normally," said David Belson, the editor of Akamai’s State of the Internet Report. "Whatever was going on [on Friday], is still going on."

Iraq Internet Traffic

 Belson said Akamai has access to countrywide data but not regional data, making it hard to ascertain whether the dip in traffic is due to individual sites being blocked or a total network shutdown. But his guess is that it's more likely due to major sites being blocked.

The Iraqi Network for Social Media, an association for bloggers in Iraq, also reported on Monday that the government has blocked Internet access via cellphones in all Iraqi provinces, except for Kurdistan.

Major social media sites still appeared to be blocked in many areas on Monday. The chart below shows YouTube traffic data inside Iraq; the Kurdistan region has not been affected, and other Iraqis can use tools to circumvent the bans, explaining some of the traffic that still gets through.

The Ministry of Communications' letter on Sunday reiterated Friday's order to block social media sites and chat services. Along with Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, Iraqi ISPs have been ordered to block Viber, Skype, Instagram and WeChat.

Even though Iraqis can access these services with the right tools, and despite the unlikelihood of a countrywide Internet shutdown, Al Rawi said the world should be concerned about these censorship efforts by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

"We're going back to Saddam's time," said Al Rawi, who is now in Los Angeles but is originally from Iraq. "The whole reason behind the invasion of Iraq was to get rid of a dictator and give people democracy and freedom. And now we're going back to square one."

Here's the full letter sent to Iraqi ISPs by the country's Ministry of Communication, in Arabic:

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