Iraq blocks Telegram messaging app over national security fears

Baghdad says app, frequently used by militia groups, has also leaked user data

The Telegram app has been blocked in Iraq, the Ministry of Communications announced on Sunday. AFP
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Iraq's telecoms ministry on Sunday said it had blocked the Telegram messaging app over national security concerns and to preserve users' personal data, which it said had been mishandled.

The ministry said it had asked the app to close down "platforms that leak the data of the official state institutions and the personal data of citizens ... but the company did not respond and did not interact with any of these requests".

"The Ministry of Communications affirms its respect for citizens' rights to freedom of expression and communication, without prejudice to the security of the state and its institutions," it said in a statement.

Telegram is widely used in Iraq, including by Iran-backed militia groups linked to political groups in parliament.

Some channels contain large amounts of personal data including the names, addresses and family ties of Iraqis.

Experts say the app has been crucial in allowing some paramilitary groups to publicise their attacks, including on military bases hosting coalition troops fighting ISIS remnants.

Nearly two dozen Telegram channels emerged between March 2020 and 2021, of which more than 75 per cent were affiliated with militias, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Telegram channel Sabereen news is affiliated with Iran-backed groups and is a major source of information on militia activity in the country.

It has regularly posted news of militia attacks, including rockets launched at coalition bases and the US embassy following the US assassination of Iranian general Qassem Suleimani in Baghdad three years ago.

The encrypted instant messaging app is also widely used by politicians and official government ministries across the region.

Terrorist organisations also use Telegram to broadcast announcements to large groups at once. This week, ISIS confirmed the death of its leader Abu Hussein Al Husseini Al Quraishi via the app.

Last year, an ISIS follower was sentenced to more than eight years in prison by a London court for sharing terrorist propaganda on the app.

Updated: August 06, 2023, 2:10 PM