There is plenty of fake news in Iraq, a country where many locals get their information from dubious sources on Facebook because they’re not sure they can trust established media. Fact-checking is a rare skill. NIQASH took a closer look at two of the most recent instances of potential misinformation that had people right around the country talking, and which also made it into mainstream media reports.
The Iraqis Who Support Israel
An attack in Jerusalem in mid-July, that saw two police officers killed by three Palestinians, resonated throughout the Arab world, partially because it saw the important Al Aqsa mosque there closed for security reasons. There were no prayers there for the first time in decades and worshippers were turned away. Afterwards in Iraq, strange posts started to appear on social media. Often these would involve notes written in Arabic, in which the Iraqis said that they were on Israel’s side and that they supported the Israeli authorities’ response.
Iraqis have a conflicted relationship with Palestine that dates back decades. Not everyone in Iraq sees it like this but the negative feelings are partially due to former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, who supported the Palestinian cause and funded extremist organisations and the families of suicide bombers, while, as they see it, ordinary Iraqis were left to suffer.
Most of the time the pictures showing that support only contained a note and an Iraqi passport, or a note being carried by an unidentified person. Many of the pictures were genuine. But several were more controversial than others. One of these, widely circulated on social media and published in the mainstream press, including in Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine, showed only the torso of a person carrying such a note.
It caused outrage because the picture of the note appeared to have been taken in front of the Imam Hussein mosque in Karbala, one of the most important shrines to Shiite Muslims all over the world. Iraq’s Shiites often suffered under Saddam Hussein, who favoured his own sect, Sunni, over them.
The note the person was carrying said: Shalom, I am with Israel.
A simple search showed that, in fact, the picture had been published previously, a good six months before the most recent events in Jerusalem. Several Arabic-language media outlets had even published the picture in January 2017.
Further investigation showed that the picture was even more fake than this. The same picture had been published around three years ago by a supporter of the Sunni Muslim extremist group known as the Islamic State. The chilling sentence first written on the notebook said: From the State’s soldiers in Karbala to our brothers in other provinces: The Caliphate will continue. It was obviously a threat from the Sunni extremists against Shiite civilians, whom the Islamic State group see as heretics.
In terms of the notes of support for Israel, there was a further photo that caused a lot of trouble in Iraq: It appeared to show an officer in Iraq’s much-respected counter-terrorism forces holding a note that said: The counter-terrorism forces show solidarity with the Israeli people. Love from Lieutenant Abu Dirgham.
The picture was spotted on several Facebook pages and collected over 17,000 Likes and 10,000 comments; it was shared almost 700 times and various Iraqi media published the picture without trying to verify if it was real.
Further investigation has shown that the picture is actually genuine. Unlike the other shot from Karbala, this one does not appear to have been doctored. However the person who appears in it is highly unlikely to be part of the counter-terrorism forces. In the picture, the circular symbol of the counter-terrorism forces appears on the left shoulder when in fact, the official uniforms have this on the right shoulder. It is not hard to get hold of one of these uniforms: They are commonly sold in local markets.
The aim of the picture was clearly to cause trouble, says Fadel Abu Raghif, a local expert on Iraqi military, after confirming that the logo was on the wrong side of the jacket. The kind of pistol that appears in the picture is not used by the counter-terrorism division either, Raghif added.
The Bad Teachers of Baghdad
When Iraq’s Ministry of Education recently announced the results of the 2017 secondary school examinations, they had to admit that only 28 percent of students had passed their exams – that’s the lowest rate in the country for years.
Locals angry at the result were quick to point out a YouTube video that showed a teacher, who happened to be handicapped, hastily correcting exam papers. They said that the speed at which the teacher was working demonstrated negligence and was part of the reason that so many Iraqi students had not passed.
Hundreds of people commented on the video, saying the Ministry of Education was a disgrace.
However it turns out the video is not actually relevant. The video first appeared in November 2012 and it was first posted by Hussein al-Karimi, who lives in Dhi Qar province. NIQASH was able to contact al-Karimi, who says he was asked to post it on a forum he used to administer and that the anonymous sender wanted him to use it to demonstrate how badly Iraqi teachers behaved.
This age of the video was confirmed by Neema Harbi, director of examinations and assessment at the Ministry of education. It dates back to 2012 and features a high school religious studies teacher called Tariq Abdul Wahab at a school in the Karkh neighbourhood in western Baghdad, Harbi said.
“The teacher was shown correcting the exam papers of secondary school students,” Harbi told NIQASH. “The Ministry actually fired this teacher but every year the same video gets posted on social media and nobody bothers to find out where it came from. The aim is to ruin the Ministry of Education’s reputation or to get more Likes and fans on Facebook,” Harbi concluded.
This article was prepared by Rami al-Salhi, Manar al-Zubaidi, Ghazwan al-Jibouri and Mustafa Habib.