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Shifting security situation for journalists in Iraq

An Iraqi army armored fighting vehicle patrols among destroyed buildings in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq August 5, 2017
An Iraqi army armored fighting vehicle patrols among destroyed buildings in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq August 5, 2017

REUTERS/Marius Bosch

This article was previously published on cpj.org on 23 August 2017.

Threats to journalists in Iraq have changed after government forces regained control over the city of Mosul and significantly reduced the territory controlled by the militant group Islamic State. CPJ's Emergencies Response Team (ERT) has issued the following advisory for journalists who plan to continue working in Iraq.

Despite the decline of the Islamic State group's presence in Iraq, the country is no more stable. The reemergence of Shia militias is blurring defined front lines and has elevated general risks for journalists in the region.

The Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), have played a key role in the fight against Islamic State and, in recognition of their work, the Iraqi parliament has designated them an official military force. In this new landscape, journalists will be required to get approval from these groups as well as the government, depending on where they plan to work.

Many of these newly approved armed groups have poor human rights records, according to a Human Rights Watch report published in July 2016. The New York-based group has documented summary killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and the destruction of homes by some of these factions, and has called on Iraqi authorities to stop operating alongside these militias.

There are concerns that these groups could turn to violence as a means to censor reporting on corruption, violence, abuse or human rights violations.

In December 2016, a group of gunman affiliated with a Shia militia kidnapped Afrah Shawqi al Qaisai from her home and held her for nine days after the Iraqi journalist wrote an article criticizing an interior ministry official and the culture of impunity surrounding militia groups.

While Islamic State has suffered territorial losses, the militant group still remains a threat to journalists working in Iraq. It still controls Tel Afar, a city 39 miles (63 kilometers) west of Mosul, and surrounding areas.

Currently, Iraqi troops, with support from Kurdish Peshmerga forces and PMUs, are waiting for official orders to start a ground offensive to retake Tel Afar. Iraqi troops are already carrying out airstrikes on Islamic State and have stationed military equipment in Badush, 25 miles (40 kilometers) northwest of Mosul. Some of the area's villages have already been retaken.

Islamic State also maintains support among parts of the population in Iraq's western Anbar province. In recent weeks, there has been an uptick in attacks that use guerrilla tactics, a trend that security experts say is likely to continue. Islamic State is expected to continue targeting media as well.

Click here for tips for journalists working in Iraq.

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