Baghdad: Iraqi authorities announced on Sunday that they had revoked the operating licenses of pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera and nine other satellite TV channels, alleging that they are promoting a sectarian agenda as the country grapples with a wave of violence.
The move, effective immediately, comes as Baghdad tries to quell rising unrest in the country following clashes at a protest camp last week.
More than 180 people have been killed in gunbattles with security forces and other attacks since the unrest began Tuesday. The violence follows more than four months of largely peaceful protests by Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority against the Shiite-dominated government.
Al-Jazeera, based in the small, energy-rich Gulf nation of Qatar, had no immediate comment.
The channel has aggressively covered the "Arab Spring" uprisings across the region, and has broadcast extensively on the civil war in neighboring Syria. Qatar itself is a harsh critic of the Syrian regime and a leading backer of the rebels, and is accused by many supporters of Iraq's Shiite-led government of backing protests in Iraq too.
Iraq and other governments across the Middle East have temporarily shut down Al-Jazeera's offices in the past because they were disgruntled by its coverage.
The other nine channels whose licenses were suspended by Iraq's Communications and Media Commission are al-Sharqiya and al-Sharqiya News, which frequently criticize the government, and seven smaller local channels - Salahuddin, Fallujah, Taghyeer, Baghdad, Babiliya, Anwar 2 and al-Gharbiya.
In a statement posted on its website, the commission blamed the banned stations for the escalation of a sectarian backdrop that is fueling the violence that followed the deadly clashes at the Hawija camp on Tuesday.
Iraq's media commission accused the stations of misleading and exaggerated reports, as well as of airing "clear calls for disorder and for launching retaliatory criminal attacks against security forces." It also blamed the stations for promoting "banned terrorist organizations who committed crimes against Iraqi people."
The decree states that if the 10 stations try to work on Iraqi territory, they will face legal action from security forces.
Signals of their broadcasts, however, remained available to Iraqi viewers on Sunday.