By Arash Karami
June 25, 2014
An Iranian news agency listed six ways in which the Arabic-language media is misrepresenting the crisis in Iraq that reveal hostility toward the Iraqi government.
The list by Fars News Agency, which has close ties to the Revolutionary Guard Corps, reveals some of Iran’s concerns and the positions of the Iranian right toward the crisis in Iraq, especially on speculation about US-Iran cooperation on Iraq. The article also reveals Iran’s concerns regarding sectarianism in the region and the attempts of some officials and media outlets to downplay sectarianism and highlight the issue of terrorism.
Since the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) took over parts of north and west Iraq, the Al-Qaeda offshoot has altered the balance of power within Iraq and threatened to advance to Baghdad. Iran’s political closeness to the central government in Baghdad, its overall influence in Iraq and memories of an eight-year war fought against former leader Saddam Hussein has put Iran’s political elite and western border guards on alert.
According to article, Al-Arabiya, Al Jazeera, BBC Arabic, Sky News and other Arabic-language print and television media in the Persian Gulf are engaged in a kind of psychological warfare by misrepresenting the events in Iraq. While most of the media outlets named above are government-funded, the article made a point of identifying which ones are funded by Saudi Arabia.
The first issue the article noted with the Arabic-language media was the use of the terms "tribes" and "Iraq’s Sunnis" instead of ISIS. For instance, Al-Arabiya reported that “Tribal revolutionaries are on their way to Baghdad.” At the same time, these media organizations will refer to “Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s forces” or “Maliki’s militias” instead of “Iraqi forces.”
The second point was the exaggeration of the ISIS advance in certain parts of Iraq. Some Arabic-language publications, such as Sky News, reported that Iraq’s largest oil refinery in the town of Baiji had been taken over by ISIS. While there have been conflicting reports about Baiji, these outlets continuously report on the advances by ISIS.
The article also criticized newspapers such as Ashargh Al-Awsat for stating that leading cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s fatwa would increase sectarianism, whereas his fatwa was for the defense of Iraq. They accused these media organizations of creating differences by making the crisis a Shiite-Sunni issue rather than one of terrorism that even many Sunnis are fighting against.
These media outlets, according the article, have been attempting to portray Maliki as Iran’s guy in Baghdad and highlighting Iran’s interference in the country. The article stated that exaggerating Iran’s presence in Iraq gives an excuse for ISIS to attack Iran.
The fifth point, perhaps the most revealing, concerned speculation that the United States and Iran would cooperate in Iraq. Al Jazeera asked, “Would Iran work with the Great Satan?” and Al-Arabiya claimed, “American drones next to Iran’s Quds Force …” The article described these claims as political disinformation meant to portray Iran as the enemy of Sunnis and the United States as the enemy of Islam, collaborating against Iraq’s Sunnis.
The sixth point was the promotion of disintegration of Iraq or changing the structure of power of the central government. The article read that the recent parliamentary elections' failure to change the balance of power against Maliki disappointed countries such as Saudi Arabia.
As a news agency, Fars News' English-language page is a scaled-down but much more ideological site that at times publishes dubious reports. Its Persian-language site offers timely and mostly accurate reports from across the country. Still, the Persian side is not without its political leanings. For instance, articles refer to the 2009 post-election protests with the politically charged term “sedition,” whereas media organizations more sympathetic to the protests refer to the highly sensitive issue as “the events” of 2009.