The Iraqi government threatened on Saturday to close the Baghdad office of Al Arabiya News Channel and ban correspondents of both Al Arabiya and sister news channel, Al Hadath, from reporting in the country.
The warning from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki comes as a growing number of political figures in the country have been urging the Iraqi leader to resign and form a transitional government.
Al Arabiya’s response
For his part, Al Arabiya’s General Manager Abdulrahman al-Rashed vowed in a statement that the news channel and its sister channel al-Hadath will continue reporting the story in Iraq despite Maliki’s threats as well as other threats from the likes of ISIS.
“Our two channels, Al Arabiya and Al Hadath have caused much embarrassment to Nouri al-Maliki after they aired a large number of videos and eyewitness accounts following the rapid collapse of his forces in Mosul and Tikrit over the past few days, prompting wide criticism against his government,” said al-Rashed in his statement.
“Maliki wants to punish Al Arabiya as he did when he closed a large number of newspapers and television stations during the past few years only because those media outlets criticized his policies. In addition, we have received continuous threats from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), including threat to kill our correspondents. The latest of these threats was against our correspondent in Anbar. ISIS threatened on its Twitter account to kill him because we have broadcast footage showing the group’s practices,” added the general manager of Al Arabiya.
“Al Arabiya has lost 13 employees who were deliberately killed over the past 10 years and despite this we never gave up and we will never give up even if Maliki closes our offices,” concluded Rashed’s statement.
Sheikh Ali Hatem, the leader of the al-Dalim tribe, urged political blocs in the parliament to sack Maliki and ensure the formation of a transitional government to “save what is left of Iraq.”
“We urge you [politicians] to prevent terrorism in all its forms from marring this revolution because Maliki and his associates want to dress this revolution in terrorist clothes,” Hatem said in a video speech that circulated on the Internet.
Maliki was not alone in threatening Al Arabiya News Channel.
The radical Islamist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) threatened to target Al Arabiya’s correspondent in Iraq Ahmed al-Hamadani.
On Monday, ISIS fighters spearheaded a major offensive in Iraq, seizing swathes of territory in predominantly Sunni areas and pushing towards Baghdad.
Meanwhile, Iraqi political analyst Ahmad al-Abyad, spokesman of the National Iraqi Alliance, said the United States and Maliki’s government are responsible for the recent chaos in Iraq.
Tareq al-Hashimi, the country’s former vice president, also demanded Maliki step down and start immediately with the formation of a new government.
Maliki’s government is facing a major security challenge with militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria threatening to storm the capital after seizing large swathes of territory including Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city.
Maliki told army officers in the city of Samarra Saturday that the Sunni insurgents would fail.
"Samarra will not be the last line of defense but a gathering point and launch pad," Maliki said, addressing military officers in the city around 100 kilometers north of Bagdad on the road to Mosul.
"Within the coming hours, all the volunteers will arrive to support the security forces in their war against the gangs of ISIL. This is the beginning of the end of them," Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, said in comments broadcast on Iraqi television on Saturday after he travelled to Samarra on Friday.
The United States has said that it would help the Baghdad government.
On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama said that he was looking at “all options” to help the Iraqi prime minister thwart the insurgency.
Obama left himself a clear off-ramp by making military action in Iraq contingent on a "serious and sincere effort by Iraq's leaders to set aside sectarian differences" between the nation's Sunnis and Shiites.
"We can't do it for them," Obama said.
"And in the absence of this type of political effort, short-term military action, including any assistance we might provide, won't succeed."
The threat to close the news outlets Saturday comes a day after the government moved to block access to a variety of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.