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Iraqis Face Another Major Internet Outage

A screen grab from Twitter user "Aveen Jaff" of an Internet block notice on an Iraqi computer (Image via Twitter)

A screen grab from Twitter user "Aveen Jaff" of an Internet block notice on an Iraqi computer (Image via Twitter)

For the third time in little over a week, Internet users in Iraq’s northern and western provinces have experienced a sudden and major Internet shutdown.

The outages are believed to have targeted many of the same regions that recently came under the control of the militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

Starting at about 5:30 am Baghdad time Sunday, the most recent outage lasted just under six hours and resulted in a complete blackout of Internet access across several major Internet Service Providers, or ISPs.

Data provided by the Internet security and intelligence firm Renesys indicates service was reconnected just as suddenly, suggesting it was caused intentionally and not by accident.

Two previous Iraqi Internet outages recently followed the same pattern, Renesys analyst Doug Madory told VOA via email. “In those cases, we were able to get contacts in Iraq (including a source in the Iraqi government) confirm that those were outages directed by the Ministry of Communications,” Madory wrote.

“Given that these recent outages occurred at the same time as further fighting, I believe that it is safe to assume that they occurred under similar circumstances.”

Sunday’s outage, the longest lasting yet, also appears to have hit the same regions as previously affected. An earlier June 12 document from the Iraqi Ministry of Communications ordered Internet access to be cut in four provinces: Ninava, Kirkuk, Saladeldin and Anbar.

The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is also working to block a variety of websites across the nation, such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, in an apparent effort to counter ISIL’s aggressive social media outreach, notably on Twitter and Instagram. However, those efforts have been less successful with Internet users employing a variety of tactics to circumvent the blocks.

Madory said that while some portions of Iraq’s Internet remain relatively undeveloped and vulnerable to such service interruptions, the far northern regions in Iraq’s Kurdish enclave remain robust with much of the service provided through Turkey.

“Likely the smaller towns in rural parts of the country are dependent on the state infrastructure (like it is in most countries) and therefore would be most subject to outages directed by the Ministry of Communications," Madory said.
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    Doug Bernard

    Doug Bernard covers cyber-issues for VOA, focusing on Internet privacy, security and censorship circumvention. Previously he edited VOA’s “Digital Frontiers” blog, produced the “Daily Download” webcast and hosted “Talk to America”, for which he won the International Presenter of the Year award from the Association for International Broadcasting. He began his career at Michigan Public Radio, and has contributed to "The New York Times," the "Christian Science Monitor," SPIN and NPR, among others. You can follow him @dfrontiers.