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 Histyar Qader.

One might assume that the long-stalled Kurdish parliament would have other things to talk about: One of the most pressing issues up for debate revolves around banning porn websites.

At the end of January, 13 members of parliament in the semi-autonomous northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan submitted a memorandum to the presidency asking for porn websites to be banned. Seven of the 13 came from the region’s Islamic parties, which might reasonably be expected to have a religious objection to the porn sites.

But six of the MPs were from less religiously inclined political parties including the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the oppositional Change movement.

It’s actually an idea that was first mooted in 2015 but the Kurdish parliament stopped working, so it’s only just being brought back up now, says Najiba Latif, a member of one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s Islamic political parties and a signatory to the memo asking for the ban.

“We want to ban porn sites to prevent any young person from opening such a site,” Latif explained. “We feel these sites pose a danger to the young people of Kurdistan.”

“These sites are foreign to our society and they cause alienation among our young people,” added Awaz Hamid, a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, noting that she is opposed to porn websites for sociological reasons not religious ones.

The memo-writers did not offer any scientific evidence to support their case, but Latif says that more work is being done and that this will include an opinion poll on the subject, before a draft resolution of the ban is read in parliament.

The whole issue was the butt of many jokes on Iraqi Kurdish social media, but it has also had serious ramifications, showing up the role that religion still plays in politics here.

Only one group in parliament has declared its opposition to the draft resolution. “The draft resolution has shown the reality of the Islamists and the supposed secular parties in Kurdish politics,” says Abu Karwan, a senior member of the Kurdish Communist party, which opposes the ban on porn.

“Such a ban is a violation of personal freedoms and the issues should not be handled this way. Given the current parliamentary set up the MPs won’t be able to oppose the resolution for fear of offending voters, most of whom are Muslim. And because elections are getting closer, this ban will also attract a lot more attention,” he points out.

Sarwad Salim, a Christian MP in Iraqi Kurdistan, points out that a better way to deal with this issue would be an educational campaign for local youth. Parliament shouldn’t be regulating this, he argues.

The kerfuffle about a ban on porn is just one example of the less important issues the Kurdish parliament is currently occupying itself with. “There are more important laws that affect the lives of citizens, but these have not been discussed by parliament,” says the head of the Kurdish parliamentarian’s union, Namaat Abdallah.

A lot of politicians want to keep away from those more important topics and they certainly don’t want to tackle controversial subjects shortly before the elections. Rules around a porn ban would be acceptable to most local voters as the majority are religious, he suggests. It’s an easy win.

Even if the legislation is eventually approved in Iraqi Kurdistan, it may not do much good. The Iraqi federal parliament also passed a resolution in 2015 to block porn sites. But locals keep finding ways to access them.

“In practice, this decision was not successful,” says Zana Rostai, a Kurdish politician in Baghdad. “So it was never enforced by the government.”

If the government passes the resolution then it will be our duty to enforce the rules, Omed Mohammed, the spokesperson for Iraqi Kurdistan’s Ministry of Transport and Communications, based in Erbil, told NIQASH.

“But in practical terms that is going to be very difficult. There are over three million porn sites in the world and it would be difficult to block such a huge number. If we use the word “sex” as a term for blocking, then it would be difficult for anyone to access anything, including scientific or medical research, online,” Mohammed points out.

This line of argument is clear to many locals and is part of the reason why they suspect their parliament is engaged in such useless debates. The aim is to create a fuss in the local media, to achieve at least something – such as passing this resolution – that most of the population will get behind and then tell voters about all they have accomplished, in the hopes of winning another seat.

“Political parties in Kurdistan are not honest with their voters,” says Omed Rafiq, a political scientist who heads a local think tank, the Centre for Future Research. “They are always afraid to clash with mainstream opinions and the resulting loss of votes. The existing confusion is all about scoring political points,” he concludes.

By John Lee.

In preparation for the anticipated increase in data traffic and demand in Iraq, Zain Iraq has invested in the implementation of Ericsson’s award-winning virtual Evolved Packet Core (vEPC) solution nationwide.

The deal is Ericsson’s first vEPC contract in Iraq, and one of the first in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region.

Ali Al Zahid, CEO, Zain Iraq says:

“Since we have introduced 3G on a large scale in Iraq, data traffic has surged, and demand continues to grow. This will present exciting opportunities as we move forward. This deal will bring greater connectivity and virtual capabilities to our subscribers.”

Rafiah Ibrahim (pictured), Head of Ericsson Middle East and Africa, says:

“The deployment of our vEPC will not only provide the scale and reach Zain requires, but it will also provide the demand management and advanced cloud infrastructure that will allow them to address new revenue streams in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and Internet of Things (IoT).”

Ericsson vEPC provides verified solutions addressing a large number of vertical use cases, opening up new operator opportunities and improving deployment flexibility.

(Source: al Bawaba)

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Iraq launched a trilingual mobile application for iOS and Android to become the first ever UNDP Country Office to have such an application and one of a few within the UN community worldwide.

UNDP Iraq’s Communications Unit led the development process of this application with support on information technology from the Regional Hub.

The Unit explained:

Out of over 37.2 million Iraqis, more than 30.2 million are mobile users*. The UNDP Iraq mobile application was developed not only to keep Iraqi users well informed of UNDP’s support to the people of Iraq, but also to reach out to a wider global audience.

“With its user-friendly design, the application is very informative in terms of highlighting UNDP’s work and impact as well as the country’s progress towards respective Sustainable Development Goals.

The mobile application features news, impact stories, publications, a media library, infographs and visualized data in Arabic, Kurdish and English languages. It is now available for free download from App Store and Google Play.

(Source: UNDP)

By John Lee.

Qatar-based Ooredoo has announced that revenue at its Asiacell subsidiary in Iraq increased 6 percent to QAR 4.5 billion, while and EBITDA increased 3 percent to QAR 2.0 billion, for the year ended 31th December 2017.

EBITDA margin was put at 44 percent.

In a statement, the company said:

A key opportunity in 2017 was restoring our network sites in the liberated areas and helping customers living there to reconnect to our services.

“As a result, Asiacell increased customer numbers by 8% to reach almost 13 million as network recovery advanced in the liberated areas in the north and west of the country.

(Source: Ooredoo)

By John Lee.

Zain Iraq has reported a net profit of $29 million for 2017, up from a loss of $5 million the previous year.

In a statement, the company said:

Despite the challenging yet improving socio-economic circumstances facing the operation, Zain Iraq performed exceptionally well when compared to the previous year.

“Revenues grew consecutively on a quarter-on-quarter basis, with full-year revenues reaching USD 1.1 billion, a 2% increase Y-o-Y and EBITDA reached USD 382 million, down 3%.

“The operation reported a net profit of USD 29 million, up 657% Y-o-Y compared to a loss of USD 5 million in the previous year, with EBITDA margin standing at 35%. The expansion of 3.9G services across the country and restoration of sites in the West and North, combined with numerous customer acquisition and retention initiatives, especially in core regions, resulted in impressive addition of two million customers (16% increase) to reach 14.7 million.

“Also contributing to the operation’s financial revival was the significant growth of data revenues, strong growth in the corporate segment, increase in voice revenues through the launch of numerous segmented offers, and the improvement of customer experience and customer services.

“The strength of the Zeyara holy season was also a factor as Zain Iraq heavily promoted connections and exclusive deals with roaming its partners. Cost optimization was also a key focus in major items such as repair and maintenance.

(Source: Zain)

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has denounced the multiple media freedom violations in the Iraqi Kurdistan region documented in a new report by IFJ affiliate the Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate.

The 2017 annual report of media freedom violations, published by the KJS’ Committee for the Defense of Press Freedom & Rights of Journalists, reveals that as the intensity of the rivalry between political parties increases, incidence of violations against journalists and media organisations also increase as they face revenge by the belligerents.

Several media have been blocked during and after the referendum in the Kurdistan region to secede from Iraq and especially during the follow up military campaign by the Iraqi central government to regain control over Karkuk and other areas controlled by Kurdish forces.

Turkey and Iran also closed down offices of media organizations seen as promoting the vote for independence while the Kurdistan regional government closed down (a) TV channel(s) which took an anti-independence editorial line.

Four journalists were killed in the region in 2017, 30 journalists were arrested, 5 were wounded, 39 suffered from physical attacks, 111 were restrained and 18 were threatened. In addition, 3 media houses were burned down and 13 channels were shut down.

“The IFJ condemns all the attacks documented by our affiliate against our colleagues in the region and urges the various parties to stop using the media in their political fights,” said IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger. “Both the Kurdistan Regional Government and Iraqi central government must take immediate steps to show that they are serious about fighting impunity in the attacks against journalists in Iraq.”

For more information, please contact IFJ on + 32 2 235 22 16

(Source: IFJ)

By John Lee.

Iraq’s Communications and Media Commission (CMC) has reportedly ordered several Kurdish communication companies to stop providing landline services.

According to a report from Rudaw, the CMC ordered that all companies licensed by them should cut communications with companies that are not licensed, including Fast Link, Newroz, Link Tech, Wego/7net-layer, Nawant, Kurdtel, Tishknet and Cellnet.

A spokesperson for Newroz Telecom told Rudaw that the work of the civil services, such as hospitals, emergency lines for children, “police and security numbers, and the fire departments has been damaged.

More here.

(Source: Rudaw)

By Adnan Abu Zeed for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

During Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s visit to the southern city of Najaf on Jan. 7, his bodyguards attacked a group of journalists, causing them physical harm. Abadi’s office launched an investigation into the incident, which was welcomed by the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate.

“The syndicate is following up on the investigations and their results and is legally prosecuting the aggressors, as this is one of its core duties. These attacks intimidate journalists and prevent them from doing their job, which is to inform the public,” Muayed al-Lami, the head of the syndicate, told Al-Monitor.

This was not an isolated incident, as violent behavior by the bodyguards of politicians against journalists is a common occurrence. One such attack took place in July 2017, when a team of journalists from Al-Mousiliya TV station was attacked by the security guards of the governor of Mosul. The bodyguards also confiscated the journalists’ equipment. This incident was condemned by the Iraqi Journalistic Freedoms Observatory.

On Aug. 5, 2017, the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory reported that journalists in central Baghdad had been beaten by members of the internal security forces. In March, Abadi’s security team severely beat a journalist at the gate of the Green Zone, near the government headquarters, with dozens of passersby present.

The Iraqi Center for Supporting Freedom of Speech documented Jan. 1 the first attack in 2018 on a journalist in Dhi Qar governorate, who was assaulted by internal security officers while covering the New Year’s celebrations.

In 2017, the number of journalists subjected to assault had reached 200 by Dec. 26; some were threatened, others beaten, arrested without a warrant, murdered or they had their equipment confiscated and had been tried for their publications.

These flagrant numbers prompted Hammam Hammoudi, the first deputy speaker of the Iraqi parliament, to call in May 2017 for the implementation of the law to protect journalists, which would guarantee freedom of expression, urging the government to “preserve their safety.”

This law provides for the protection of journalists against any assault and for punishing anyone “who would assault journalists on duty.” However, according to legal expert Tariq Harb, this law is contradicted in the provisions of the Iraqi penal code of 1969. The law provides for a life sentence and confiscation of funds for those who are charged with insulting the president or any other political figure. “Anyone can interpret an article or some news as an insult,” Harb told Al-Monitor.

He said, “As per the law on the protection of the rights of journalists, the latter are considered to be affiliated with a public office, even if they work outside government institutions. Thus, any assault of this kind is considered against employees who are on duty. The attack by bodyguards on journalists is also considered a crime of general right, which can only be waived after implementing punitive measures against the aggressor. These laws remain words without actions in most cases.”

The head of the media office of Vice President Nouri al-Maliki, author and journalist Hisham al-Rikabi, told Al-Monitor, “Attacks by bodyguards and security members are not new in Iraq. Several journalists, reporters and their team members have been killed and many sustained various injuries since the entry of the US forces into Iraq in 2003.”

He added, “The violence continues. The lives of journalists in Iraq will remain at risk until security and legal measures are enforced.”

In regard to the first steps to be taken to protect the lives of journalists, Rikabi said, “Impartial, independent and transparent investigations into the attacks against journalists must be conducted with the participation of the judiciary and civil society. The outcomes must be published for the public to see in tandem with taking appropriate measures to prevent their recurrence.”

Writer and journalist Ali Daneef, who heads the investigations section at the quasi-governmental newspaper Al-Sabah, has a more objective point of view. He told Al-Monitor, “Attacks are repeated, and both parties have yet to learn their lesson. Officials have yet to instruct their security teams to respect the media. Also, media figures and outlets are still adopting provocative positions.”

Daneef added, “Some media figures have exploited these attacks to gain fame, which is a premeditated act. Protection and security teams of official figures often take the blame. But sometimes media figures cross the line and violate some constants or work ethics.”

Ali al-Bayati, a spokesman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, blames security and protections teams. He told Al-Monitor, “They do not respect human rights and exhibit a violent behavior toward journalists. The law ratified by parliament has yet to be enforced to deter such attacks and hold perpetrators accountable.”

He continued, “The prevailing practice in cases of assault on journalists is that routine procedures are followed with no results. The journalist who is the victim is often blamed, while the aggressor goes unpunished. Moral and ethical codes of conduct must be drafted to regulate the relations between the media and the security teams that respect the rights of each party. Impartial laws ensuring justice should be implemented to deter such attacks.”

(Photo credit: Josh Hallett)

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)

Key Ministers and officials from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KR-I) alongside representatives of the private sector, civil society, labour unions, the international community, donors and development agencies convened at a high-level conference yesterday in Erbil on E-Governance and Public Service Centres.

The Ministry of Interior of the KR-I organized the conference under the auspices of the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, H.E. Mr. Nechirvan Barzani, and with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The conference examined progress on efforts of the Ministry of Interior to simplify citizens’ access to basic government administrative services, such as the e-visa and the new drivers’ licence renewal system, through online electronic platforms that can be used also from the convenience of their homes.

This comes under a project entitled E-Governance for Better Service Delivery that the Ministry launched in March 2017, with help from UNDP, aiming to improve the responsiveness, transparency, and accountability of its delivery of quality administrative services to the public. To that end, the project promotes the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), including computer-aided platforms that can also be accessed remotely through the internet.

“The Ministry of Interior is committed to providing the quickest high-quality services to the citizens,” emphasized the Minister of Interior, Mr. Kareem Sinjari. “This will not only save considerable time and money for the citizens and Ministry alike, but it will help address potential administrative and financial corruption as well.”