Middle East

Iraq crisis: Media coverage split along sectarian lines

Iraqi newspaper front pages Image copyright Al Alam / Al Mada / Al Dustour
Image caption Iraqi newspapers are divided over the crisis

The turmoil in Iraq, as heavy fighting continues between government forces and Sunni militants, is reflected in its media with coverage by TV stations aligned with Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's Shia-led government and those that are pro-Sunni taking sides along sectarian lines.

The resulting confusion is compounded by uncertainty over whether the insurgency is mostly the work of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS), plus some militant Sunnis, or whether it is a general Sunni uprising,

The pro-government TV stations in early bulletins on 17 June highlight the recruitment of volunteers in various Shia-dominated towns.

The Shia poet, Ali Hasan al-Fawaz, speaking on government-controlled al-Iraqiyah TV tells viewers that "volunteering" is a response to a call of duty, or a fatwa, for holy war. "It is also an expression of commitment and belonging to stress one's belonging to your country, faith and ideology," he adds.

Meanwhile, Sunni channels are reporting extensively on attacks on the Iraqi army by the Sunni fighters, whom Rafidayn TV describes as "tribal revolutionaries" and mentions the losses inflicted on government troops.

The pro-government channels in contrast highlight Iraqi troops' successes and operations against what they call "the terrorist ISIS gangs".

Security expert Wafiq al-Samarrai, for instance, tells al-Iraqiyah TV that "clear indicators affirm that the momentum of the terrorism and antagonistic attacks and operations have been contained and absorbed. The Iraqi forces have now moved from containment and absorption to a phase of waging counter-attacks on important axes".

There is a difference too in the language and rhetoric used by the rival TV stations.

Al-Iraqiyah TV uses the pejorative name for ISIS "Daish" prefixing the name with "terrorist" when reporting on the Sunni group and other fighters who are joining the armed Islamist group. On the other side, it refers to Mr Maliki as the "supreme commander of the armed forces".

Al-Rafidayn TV on the other hand uses the words "tribal revolutionaries" to refer to the Sunni fighters and does not mention ISIS in its reports. The channel also uses expressions like "Maliki's army" and "Maliki's militias" to refer to the Iraqi army forces and the phrase "Maliki's war against the people" to refer to the continuing fighting.

The nature of the fighting is also in dispute between the two media sides, with some suggesting it is an uprising by Sunni tribesmen against the Shia-led government.

Bashar al-Faydi, a spokesman for the Iraqi Association of Muslim Scholars, said on al-Rafidayn TV that it was "a conspiracy by the government against the people".

Press divided too

The Iraqi press is similarly divided. Fuad al-Haj, writing in the pro-Sunni daily al-Muharrir (The Editor) newspaper, considers the insurgency to be "a Sunni uprising".

He argues the intensive use of "Daish" in the media is just "a new stage of US media deception and misguidance", adding that the media focus on Daish is meant to "prevent the progress and success of the revolution of the free people of Iraq".

Image copyright Al-Muharrir
Image caption The pro-Sunni al-Muharrir newspaper featured this cartoon

Al-Muharrir posts a cartoon suggesting Iran is behind what is going on in Iraq.

The cartoon depicts the map of Iraq as a pool of fuel leaked from a barrel with an Arabic phrase reading "Maliki's sectarianism" written on it. Then, a hand holding a lit torch seems to be trying to set fire to Iraq. On the sleeve, the word Iran is written, while the torch bears the name of the Iranian "al-Quds brigade".

Writing in the pro-government daily al-Sabah, Muhammad Abdul Jabbar al-Shabut deplores the "deteriorating" situation, especially in Mosul, saying this was expected for various reasons, including "the fact that Daish gangs are not qualified to rule even a town, especially since the Daish group is not primarily a civil organisation, but a terrorist group that calls for nothing but murder and cruelty".

In the pro-Shia al-Adalah newspaper, Iraqi Vice-President Adil Abdul Mahdi calls for mass public mobilisation to confront the "terrorism" of Daish.

"Sunnis should be key partners and resist terrorism. Kurds should put their full potential in the battle as well. Shia should be reassured that they have got rid of the danger of Daish and its criminal operations forever," he says.

Editor-In-Chief Fakhri Karim writes in the daily al-Mada: "Newly emerging voices seeking to market the rottenness of terrorist groups as a tribal revolution are dealing an insult to tribal values... Waving sectarian flags behind those of Daish and al-Qaeda does not reflect a national choice, does not express a sense of grievance over lost rights, and is no medicine for the epidemic in our slaughtered country."

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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