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Iraq said to halt al-Jazeera’s license, closes Jordanian border

Iraq has suspended the licenses of Al-Jazeera and nine other television channels for allegedly promoting violence and sectarianism, Al-Jazeera reported, citing a senior official at the country’s media watchdog.

“We took a decision to suspend the license of some satellite channels that adopted language encouraging violence and sectarianism,” Mujahid Abu al-Hail of the Communications and Media Commission said Saturday, according to Al-Jazeera.

In another sign that unrest is gripping the nation, the Iraqi embassy in Amman informed the Jordanian interior ministry that Iraq will close borders with Jordan today for 48 hours, citing domestic issues, Jordan’s state-run news service Petra said. The report cited a statement issued by the interior ministry.

Protests against Iraq’s Shiite Muslim government and clashes in Sunni-dominated provinces continued for a fifth day, pushing the death toll past 200, Al-Jazeera reported Saturday.

Tensions have been rising since Sunnis began anti-government protests in December and worsened Tuesday, when troops backed by helicopters stormed a plaza in Hawija, killing at least 20 protesters.

Iraq has been “affected by a region seething with sectarianism, and we are starting to see those problems come to us,” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said after the violence.

Five soldiers were killed in fighting with gunmen west of Baghdad, Al Sharqiya television reported Saturday, citing police officials. Anbar province’s security chief, General Mardhi al-Mahlawi, said a curfew has been imposed on the province from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., Al Mada press said.

The Iraqi communications commission said “the rhetoric and substance coverage” on channels Al Sharqiyah, Al Sharqiyah News, Babylonian, Baghdad, Salah al-Din, Anwar 2, al Tagheer, Fallujah, Al-Jazeera and Al Gharbiyah have been “provocative, misleading and exaggerated with the objective of disturbing the civil and democratic process” Al-Jazeera reported, citing the commission.

“This action undermines confidence in the Iraqi government’s ability to govern democratically and guarantee freedom of expression,” a State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Al-Jazeera said on its English language website that it was “astonished” by the development.

“We cover all sides of the stories in Iraq, and have done for many years,” the agency said. “The fact that so many channels have been hit all at once though suggests this is an indiscriminate decision.”

Protesters in Sunni Muslim-dominated Anbar province released a statement calling on the Iraqi government to reconsider its suspensions, the Iraqi news organization Al Mada said.

They also called on the United Nations to send peacekeeping troops to Anbar province, Al Mada said, citing the statement.

Violence has escalated since the U.S. withdrew its combat troops from Iraq at the end of 2011, with 4,568 civilians killed in 2012 compared with 4,144 in the previous year, according to the Iraq Body Count website.

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