BAGHDAD: Access to social media sites remained restricted in Iraq yesterday, despite calm returning to the streets after a week of anti-government protests that left dozens dead. For a week internet access in Iraq has been progressively limited. First access to certain social media sites disappeared, followed by internet connections for telephones, computers and even virtual private network (VPN) applications.
Cyber-security NGO NetBlocks noted that “the state imposed a near-total telecommunication shutdown in most regions, severely limiting press coverage and transparency around the ongoing crisis.” Since Tuesday, connection has intermittently returned to Baghdad and the south of the country. During these short reconnections, social media sites were accessible via a VPN connection, and images of protesters killed during marches began to be shared.
Yesterday, the connection remained unreliable. Providers told customers they were unable to provide a timetable for a return to uninterrupted service, information on restrictions, or any other details. Iraqi authorities have not commented on the restrictions, which according to NetBlocks affected three quarters of the country. In the north, the autonomous Kurdish region is unaffected.
Iraqi authorities cut off internet access last year in response to mass protests in southern Iraq. Those outages followed a similar pattern: social media was unavailable at first before a wider internet blackout across the entire country. Since October 1, according to official figures, more than 100 people have been killed, mostly protesters, and more than 6,000 others wounded.
The protests were unprecedented because of their apparent spontaneity and independence in a deeply politicized society. They began with demands for an end to rampant corruption and chronic unemployment but then escalated with calls for a complete overhaul of the political system. The protests and accompanying violence have created a political crisis, prompting President Barham Saleh to call for a “national, all-encompassing and frank dialogue… without foreign interference.”- AFP