The US Justice Department has seized a website belonging to Iraq’s paramilitary Badr Organization in what one expert said is part of a broader US attempt to pressure Iran-backed groups in the country.
“There’s been much more pressure on the groups as a whole,” Phillip Smyth, an analyst at the Washington Institute told Al Arabiya English.
The latest site taken down belonged to al-Ghadeer TV, which was affiliated with the Iran-backed Badr Organization, a political party and paramilitary group that is one of Iran’s oldest proxies in Iraq.
Articles on the site were critical of the current US president and US foreign policy, “while anti-Israel narratives were also observed,” a Justice Department affidavit published online read.
“At least three articles appeared to have pro-Iran sentiments regarding oil and sanctions, specifically, opposition to US sanctions on Iran,” read the affidavit that lists nearly 30 other sites registered on sites owned by US-based domain registrars that have been seized since October 7.
Iran-backed groups in Iraq have targeted protesters and claimed attacks on US forces and Western interests in the country. They have also been blamed for a string of assassinations, including that of Iraqi researcher Hisham al-Hashemi. While Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi promised to rein in the groups, little progress has been made, and attacks over recent months have increased.
It appears that the Badr Organization's (Iraq) al-Ghadeer TV page has been seized by the U.S. government. pic.twitter.com/aj6XQzcpMP— Phillip Smyth (@PhillipSmyth) November 30, 2020
In September, the US seized the websites for Al-Etejah TV, a satellite television channel affiliated with Iran-backed Kata’ib Hezbollah, which the US designated as a terror organization in 2009. Before Hashemi’s death, he received death threats from Kata’ib Hezbollah members. The group is one of several under the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) umbrella militia group.
In November, the US Department of Commerce took down another militia's website that belonged to Iraq’s Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba’s and was associated with Nujaba TV.
“This year has been quite a big one in terms of listing media groups that are linked with Iranian proxy groups,” Smyth said.
Many of these Iran-backed groups have sleek websites and videos designed to push their narrative forward in Iraq.
The groups and their associated media have pushed the narrative that the US and its allies created ISIS and that the US helps to resupply ISIS militants or evacuate the organization’s leaders from the battlefield, a November 2019 report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies read.
“Following the destruction of the Iranian consulate in Basra in September 2018, and several offices of Iraqi Shia parties/militias aligned with Iran, media outlets linked to both Tehran and its Iraqi allies have pushed the narrative that the US consulate helped foment the protests and the destruction of these facilities,” the report continued.
Smyth previously told Al Arabiya English that while physically countering these groups is key, countering these groups’ narratives online – and promoting the notion that Iraq is a sovereign state – is also important.