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Iraq government to police press after contested Sunni burnings story

[JURIST] The Iraqi Interior Ministry [JURIST news archive] has announced that it is forming a specialized unit to monitor news coverage. A ministry spokesman told AP the unit was designed to correct “fabricated and false news” that he claims gives the Iraqi people the wrong idea that the situation is worse than it actually is. The Ministry further threatened to sue journalists who do not modify stories that the ministry deems inaccurate upon receiving a demand to do so.

The spokesman cited a recent AP story [text] on the Nov. 24 burning deaths of six worshipers at the Mustafa Sunni mosque, dragged outside by suspected Shiite militiamen, doused with kerosene and set alight, as an example of an undesirable and allegedly inaccurate news story. The Iraq Interior Ministry claims the AP quoted a source on its staff who does not exist and further alleged that witnesses fabricated the story. US Navy Lt. Michael B. Dean, a public affairs officer for the Multi-National Force, also demanded the story be retracted. AP stood by its story as its reporters claim to visited the mosque in question and confirmed the stories of witnesses. AP has more.

Media reportage of sensitive events and opinions has recently become the focus of intense concern in Iraq in the context of escalating sectarian violence that some now publicly call "civil war." On Monday, the Iraqi parliament indefinitely barred journalists [JURIST report] from its sessions as part of efforts by Iraq's National Security Council to stop contradictory and potentially incendiary statements made by some Iraqi politicians. The Baghdad-based Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, an independent press freedoms association, said Friday in a statement that it would be challenging the move: "(We) did not expect the house of representatives to deprive journalists from one of their most important and safest sources of information in addition to accusing them publicly of being behind fomenting sectarian divisions in Iraq." The group has threatened to file a formal legal complaint with the country's Supreme Court if the decision is not rescinded. VOI has more.

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