Iraqi TV presenter and actor face trial over parody of military corruption

Complaint filed by Iraq's Defence Minister is based on a Saddam Hussein-era law that could lead to a jail sentence of up to seven years

Actor Ayad Al Taie, left, and TV presenter Ahmed Mulla Talal take part in a mock interview in which they discuss accusations of corruption in Iraq's Defence Ministry. Ahmed Mulla Talal

An Iraqi TV presenter and an actor appeared in a Baghdad court on Sunday after Iraq's Defence Minister filed a complaint over a satirical TV interview during which they discussed corruption in the armed forces.

The interview was part of a segment added to the daily With Mulla Talal show broadcast by the privately owned UTV channel as part of its Ramadan schedule.

The segment used mock interviews conducted by the show's host, Ahmed Mulla Talal, to address several issues considered controversial in Iraq.

In an episode broadcast on April 4, he interviewed actor Ayad Al Taie, who played a general, to discuss allegations of corruption in the military.

They spoke about accusations that officers made money by granting soldiers leave in exchange for half of their salary, how posts could be bought by paying senior military leaders and politicians, and how bribes are extracted from shopping centres, nightclubs, shops selling alcohol and at checkpoints around major cities.

Defence Minister Juma Al Jabouri, who has acknowledged corruption in his ministry, filed his complaint based on Saddam Hussein-era law against “publicly insulting any public institution or official".

The law carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison.

Lawyer Tariq Al Maamori, who leads Mulla Talal and Al Taie's defence team, said his clients appeared before a judge on Sunday after warrants were issued for their arrest.

The judge ordered their release after confirming their addresses and receiving assurances they would co-operate in the investigation and trial, Mr Al Maamori said.

The day after their interview was broadcast, Iraq’s media regulator suspended the TV show indefinitely for insulting the armed forces.

The regulator issued an order for the segment be removed from all platforms.

The Communication and Media Commission also demanded that the TV production company issue an apologise to the army, a request Mulla Talal has rejected.

The measures have been widely condemned for restricting freedom of speech in the country.

“Iraqi authorities should recognise that journalists and media outlets have the right to air critical coverage of the country’s military,” said Sherif Mansour, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ regional programme co-ordinator.

The commission “should drop its suspension of the With Mulla Talal talk show and ensure that journalists can discuss newsworthy topics without fear of reprisal", he said.

Iraq was ranked joint 157th out of 180 nations on Transparency International’s 2021 corruption index.

Corruption in the armed forces has widely been blamed as one of the reasons the military lost large areas of northern and western Iraq to ISIS in 2014.

Shortly after ISIS began to seize territory, a government investigation found there were 50,000 “ghost soldiers” on the army's payroll.

These soldiers either did not exist or no longer reported for duty but were still paid salaries.

Updated: April 10, 2022, 2:43 PM