In Iraqi Kurdistan, Facebook and YouTube continue to be the main hosts for erroneous or mistaken, as well as deliberately faked, news reports. Of the 69 posts that the NIQASH team debunked this month, the ones that got the most attention involved ongoing tensions between Kurdish and Arab military in the disputed city of Kirkuk as well as Kurdish-Turkish fighting across the border in Syria. The first shots have been fired in Kurdish elections too, as politicians try to defame the competition, as the Iraqi elections near.
The presence of Iraqi troops and Shiite Muslim militias in Kirkuk is continuing to be a source of false reports posted on Facebook. One picture showed the Iranian military mastermind, Qassim al-Soleimani, in Kirkuk, claiming he was there in October last year supervising the Iraqi takeover of territory the Kurdish military had been controlling up until then. Given the tensions still ongoing in Kirkuk, the picture caused a lot of anger. However the picture actually dates back to 2015.
Another picture that got a lot of attention was of a burned-out car allegedly left behind after fighting in Kirkuk. But it turned out the original picture came from an auto accident in the Karmayan area: A driver had dropped his cigarette and ended up setting fire to his car. The Karmayan police originally published the picture.
This month, there was a not a day that passed without Kurdish Facebook users posting reports and pictures from the Kurdish-controlled Afrin area, under siege from Turkish troops, in Syria. Many of these were not actually from Afrin at all but came from other fights, or other times.
One of the videos that caused particular controversy in Iraqi Kurdistan had locals criticizing the region’s former resident, Massoud Barzani. In the video, the Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks Barzani’s name. And the Kurdish subtitles said that Barzani had called Erdogan to congratulate him on his victory over the Syrian Kurds in Afrin.
Many locals in Iraqi Kurdistan thought that they should be going to the aid of the Syrian Kurds but the politics that the Afrin group represents are anathema to Barzani and his party. The video appeared to confirm that Barzani was pleased to see the other Kurds defeated by the Turkish.
However upon closer inspection, the video actually dates back to April 2017. In the video, Erdogan does speak Barzani’s name, but it is in connection to something totally different, having to do with Russia, the US and the attack on Sinjar by the extremist Islamic State group.
Another significant event in Iraqi Kurdistan this month involved the airports in northern Iraq. The government in Baghdad had closed Kurdish borders to international flights and this had cost the Kurdish millions in revenues, as well as delays and much inconvenience.
This move by Baghdad also caused a lot of anger among Kurdish locals. Among the posts on Facebook was a video that showed Iraqi soldiers entering the airport in the Kurdish capital, Erbil.
Further research quickly found that the video actually came from a different event altogether. Senior Iraqi military commander, Talib Shaghati, had gone to a military headquarters – it was not even an airport – to visit some of his soldiers and eat lunch with them. The video had originally been posted on the Facebook page belonging to the commander of Iraq’s special forces.
One of the soldiers who was there confirmed the visit to Niqash, saying that their commander had visited on January 19, 2018, to celebrate the soldiers’ victory over the Islamic state, or IS, group.
Also very much in the news in Iraqi Kurdistan were protests by civil servants, such as teachers and staff from the health sector, who were demanding that the Kurdish authorities pay them long-overdue salaries.
After some of the protests were broken up violently, Facebook users started a campaign that protested about insulting teachers, as well as suggesting how one should be more courteous and kind to those in such a worthy profession.
As part of that, one photo that got a lot of traction showed the king of Jordan, Abdullah II bin al-Hussein, kissing a teacher’s hand. It provoked many reactions. But perhaps not surprisingly, it too was fake. It was originally a photo of the Turkish foreign minister kissing the hand of an old man.
As the Iraqi elections near, it seems certain that there will be a higher volume of false reports about politicians and their campaigning. One of the first in Iraqi Kurdistan showed the late leader of the oppositional Change movement, Nawshirwan Mustafa, playing computer games. The caption claimed that, instead of working for the Kurdish people, the head of the party with an anti-corruption platform, was too busy playing video games.
In fact, the picture had been manipulated. In the original Mustafa is reading the news online, on his screen, not entertaining himself.