From Al Jazeera. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraq has been engulfed in violent protests in the past few weeks as soldiers fired live rounds into crowds.

But this has only entrenched the protesters’ position as they demand a complete overhaul of the political system.

The government has cut off access to the internet, as it says that its youth are being influenced by what they read.

But the protesters have found other means to get around the online silence.

Al Jazeera‘s Natasha Ghoneim reports from Baghdad:

By John Lee.

The decision by the Iraqi authorities to cut the internet in an attempt to thwart demonstraters is reported to have cost the economy nearly a billion dollars.

According to AFP, from the second day of unrest, the internet was restricted and the day after authorities ordered it cut entirely; a fortnight later, social media websites are still blocked.

More here.

(Source: AFP)

Internet access has been cut off across much of Iraq including the capital Baghdad with connectivity falling below 70%, internet blockage observatory NetBlocks said, amid renewed anti-government protests that turned violent and spread nationwide.

Earlier on Wednesday social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as messaging application WhatsApp all appeared to be have been disabled across Iraq except in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region which has a separate internet infrastructure.

The services were only accessible by using a VPN, which effectively disguises the location of a device.

Graft is widespread and basic services such as power and water are lacking.

A government statement on Tuesday said 40 members of the security forces were among those injured and blamed “groups of inciting riots” for the violence.

At least six members of security forces were injured in Baghdad on Wednesday and five in Nassiriya.

The United Nations on Wednesday expressed concern over the violence and urged calm, with the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert reaffirming in a statement the right to protest.

The US Embassy in Baghdad urged all sides to avoid violence.

(Source: Middle East Monitor)

By John Lee.

Iraqi media reported on Thursday that an agreement was signed between the Iraqi Ministries of Education and Communication to cut internet service during the period of the next “ministerial examinations” (sic).

The Ministry of Communications denies the reports, adding that it wishes to assure the Iraqi public that there is no intention to cut off the internet under any circumstances, because it “affects the lifeblood of life in Iraq, causing it to be blocked or severely damaged by the Iraqi national economy and all life facilities in the country“.

The Ministry also calls upon the relevant authorities in the Ministry of Education to use other methods to combat exam fraud.

(Source: Ministry of Communications)

A new low-cost satellite broadband service will be launched across Iraq and Afghanistan as Belgium’s SatADSL, a provider of professional VSAT services via satellite, and UK-based Talia agreed to expand their long-term partnership.

The two companies’ current agreement lets SatADSL link directly to Talia’s teleport to provide services across the whole of Africa, with Talia’s equipment providing high performance and low-cost per megabit. Under the new deal, SatADSL will also be able to access Talia’s new platform in Jordan Media City, enabling it to offer Ka-band services across Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We are taking our relationship with Talia to the next level by using its facilities to offer our innovative services across Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Caroline De Vos, Co-founder and Chief Operations Officer at SatADSL. “The use of Ka-band High Throughput Satellite capacity, combined with Talia’s equipment means the services we provide can be quickly and easily installed by users and offered at an extremely competitive price, taking a significant step towards bridging the digital divide.”

By connecting its Cloud-based Service Delivery Platform (C-SDP) to Talia’s hub, SatADSL will be able to offer the full range of services available on its platform in Iraq and Afghanistan, including vouchers, VNOFlex, Wi-Fi Hotspots, etc. The C-SDP is a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) solution which enables operators to deliver a full range of satellite-based connectivity services without investing in physical infrastructure. SatADSL expects to have worldwide coverage by the end of the year, further expanding the reach of its C-SDP.

To enable connectivity, Talia uses capacity on the Arabsat 5C Ka-band satellite, located at 20o East. Talia is offering its services based on the Newtec Dialog® multiservice platform which features small VSAT antennas (75cm) on the remote site to create a new lower price point for Internet access and innovative setup guides for self-installation via a smartphone app. A variety of Newtec’s broadband satellite modems have also been deployed, supporting different bandwidth allocations to ensure optimal bandwidth usage. This includes Newtec’s dynamic Mx-DMA technology to achieve the efficiency of SCPC with the dynamic bandwidth allocation of MF-TDMA.

“We see this next chapter with SatADSL as building upon what has so far been a hugely successful partnership in Africa, enabling many developing countries to have access to affordable fast satellite Internet,” said Jack Buechler, VP Business Development at Talia. “Just as in Africa, the services which SatADSL will provide in Afghanistan and Iraq, using our infrastructure will help bridge the digital and economical divide and transform societies for the better.”

(Source: Talia)

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

By Mustafa Habib.

Iraqi Internet Shuts Down, Fake News Blossoms During Information Blackout

When it came to disinformation, shutting down the Internet to prevent protests in Iraq may have backfired. Iraqis get most of their information from social media and there was none, so false reports circulated wildly.

On June 14, the Iraqi government shut down the Internet in an effort to try and prevent the spread of anti-government protests. The demonstrations, which called for better state services, power and water, had spread from the southern city of Basra to nine other provinces, including Baghdad. And clearly the government wanted to prevent them from going any further.

For the past few years, these types of protests have broken out every summer. In stifling heat rising to 50 degrees Celsius, the lack of power to refrigerate foods or keep houses cool and the fact that water coming out of the taps is salty, is enough to drive Iraqis to protest. But these demonstrations spread further than previous years.

And one imagines that the Iraqi government was trying to prevent the spread of information about the protests, in order to contain them. They are able to block the Internet thanks to the fact that most of infrastructure used for relaying the Internet is government-owned.

However the Internet blockage seemed to only frustrate Iraqis further. Locals here rely heavily on social media to get their news; they tend not to trust local media, believing it to be partisan or funded by interested parties who push their own agenda. What friends and relatives post on Facebook has become a major and important source of information – and when the Internet is down they obviously cannot access this.

So locals found themselves watching TV to get more information about the protests or resorting to VPN – virtual private networks – to access the online world. Iraqis have become accustomed to using this kind of software when the government shuts down, or throttles the Internet here, but as digital privacy experts point out, these too can be  dangerous, especially with regard to privacy.

Clearly Iraqis right around the country were interested to know more about the protests. But pictures and videos were hard to come by, given the Internet shutdown. This led dozens of Facebook pages, specializing in Iraqi news and current affairs, to write up stories about the protests – but as they did, they also used older pictures and videos and many ended up publishing unsubstantiated rumours.

Iraqis who sympathized with the demonstrators didn’t just publish news reports on their pages, they also uploaded pictures and videos to Facebook – some of these were real and some were not. News organisations, like NIQASH, received these kinds of items via messages from people who appeared to be private citizens; however, due to the Internet shutdown, it was difficult to verify the content that was being sent and some of it was certainly not from the current demonstrations.

In fact, as Internet-rights activist and head of the Ansam Network, Haidar Hamzouz, says, the Internet blockade may well have had the opposite of the government’s intended effect. “Shutting down the Internet is a violation of the freedom of expression,” Hamzouz told NIQASH. “And the decision to do this was not the right one – it actually contributed to the spread of false news and it also became very difficult to inform anyone that  certain items were false news.”

It seems that in Iraq, as elsewhere in the world, false reports and emotion-generating half-truths spread far faster than the truth.

Even though the government owns the public broadcaster, Iraqi Media Network, and they have huge resources, they still have not been able to stop the spread of these false reports and rumours, Hamzouz says. “We need institutions that are capable of relaying the facts and combatting fake news, rather than those who just shut down the Internet,” he argues. “Combatting fake news and untrue reports requires a change in the communal culture, one that values verification and checks sources. Unfortunately this doesn’t yet exist in Iraq,” he notes.

One of the more dangerous pieces of false news involved reports that the security forces, who were clashing with the demonstrators in the south, were actually from elsewhere, and more specifically from Anbar and Mosul. The message was that Sunni Muslim soldiers – who mainly come from central and northern Iraq – were abusing Shiite Muslim protestors, who mainly live in southern Iraq. It was clearly a report aimed at fuelling sectarian conflict.

“It is so unfortunate that this news incited hatred against us,” says Ali al-Rubaie, a police captain based in Rustafa, Baghdad. “The members of the security forces who were deployed to the protests were actually residents from the same cities. Each province has its own police and counter-terrorism forces. It would be impossible to do that job with troops from outside of the provinces in which the protests occurred,” he argues.

Additionally when the protests first started, news that the demonstrators were clashing with Iraqi security forces spread fast. But given the internet blockade, it was difficult to find pictures from incidents. One picture that was shared many times shows an Iraqi soldier pointing his gun at an unarmed civilian lying on the ground. However the picture was actually taken during a military training exercise in 2014, organized for a military training graduation ceremony in Karbala.

Another dangerous piece of news had Talib Shaghati, the head of Iraq’s special forces troops, commenting on the clashes between the demonstrators and the security forces. “This is not our battle and we will not stain our hands with the blood of our sons and brothers for the sake of some corrupt officials,” Shaghati was alleged to have said in a  statement that was widely circulated on social media.

The same report said that Shaghati  had been asked to send his troops to the protests but he had refused, and that he had asked the government to listen to the demonstrators’ demands before it was too late. Thousands of Iraqis believed this report and some even said that there should be a military coup because it was clear that the protests had no impact on the government, and the military were on the protestors’ side.

The US was not coming to the rescue either: One report said that US president Donald Trump had said his government was keeping a close eye on the protests in Iraq. This was followed by video footage of two military divisions landing at Baghdad airport. None of this was true: The video was an old one.

Saudi Arabia was not coming to the rescue either. As the protest movement gained momentum, its critics were divided. Some said Iran was behind the protests because the neighbouring nation was going to stop supplying power to Iraq. Others said Saudi Arabia was at fault and was pushing people to demonstrate in order to cause chaos in Iraq.

One of the obviously false reports was started by a page on Facebook called Saudi News. It said that Saudi Arabia’s ruling monarch had ordered water lines and electricity transmission lines to be built urgently for the southern parts of Iraq. The report spread quickly throughout Iraqi social media despite its fanciful nature.

By John Lee.

An Iraqi government block on internet access is reportedly costing the country $40 million per day in lost business, sales and opportunities.

The estimate is from the COST tool, based on the Brookings Institution economic impact methodology for internet shutdowns, using data collected by the NetBlocks internet shutdown observatory in collaboration with volunteers across Iraq.

Internet restrictions that have been implemented in an attempt to suppress the recent protests across the country.

According to Amnesty International, the internet was cut to stop protesters posting images of security force attacks.

(Source: NetBlocks)

By Amnesty International.

Internet Cut to Stop Protesters Posting Images of Security Force Attacks

Amnesty International has learned that the Iraqi authorities have disabled internet access shortly before the security forces have attacked – and in some cases killed – people protesting over unemployment and inadequate government services across the south of the country.

In the past week, witnesses in Basra governorate have reported to Amnesty that security forces have been using tear gas and live ammunition against peaceful protesters. At least eight people are reported to have died in the protests so far, according to the Iraqi Health Ministry. Witnesses also reported peaceful protesters being beaten with batons, cables and plastic hoses in violent attempts to disperse them.

Trusted sources have told Amnesty they believe internet access is being deliberately cut off to prevent protesters and human rights activists from sharing images of the excessive force being used by security forces. One source in Baghdad told Amnesty:

“When there is no internet, people are being beaten and killed because we can’t upload it. Iraqis now know the value of social media. We need it to raise our voice.”

Protests in Iraq erupted on Sunday 8 July and the internet was cut late at night on Thursday 12 July. Although access was mostly restored on Monday, the signal reportedly remains weak across the country and several social media platforms remain blocked.

More here.

By John Lee.

The Iraqi government is reportedly temporarily suspend internet connections across the country to stop school pupils cheating during exams.

According to media reports, this is the third consecutive year that this will happen.

The internet is expected to be blocked for two hours each morning during the two-week exam period.

(Sources: Al Jazeera, The Independent)

(Picture: Internet, from ViewVie/Shutterstock)

By John Lee.

Plans are reportedly progressing to launch a free ka-band satellite broadband service in Iraq in the second quarter of 2018.

UK-based Quika promises the world’s first entirely free high-speed satellite internet for consumers in developing countries.

Its free plan will be funded by paid-for services for enterprises and internet providers.

According to Engadget, the company is led by the chief of satellite provider Talia.

(Source: Engadget, Quika)