Iraq’s culture and society are in decline due to an increasing obsession over an online multiplayer computer game, populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr said on Thursday.
The cleric is calling for tighter government controls to combat computer game "addiction". In particular, he is worried about over PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, PUBG for short.
Iraqi media have reported incidents of suicide and divorce related to the game during the past year.
“It saddens me to see our youth are brainwashed by PUBG,” Mr Al Sadr said.
The game is a best seller with over 400 million players across the world. It was developed by South Korean firm Blue Hole, and based on a first-person shooter battle for survival format.
“Iraq’s society is deteriorating as its youth are occupied by the fighting in PUBG’s battlefields,” Mr Al Sadr said on Twitter.
Mr Al Sadr launched an insurgency against the US occupation of Iraq, and in recent years has revived himself as an Iraqi nationalist who opposes foreign meddling in the country.
“What is the point of this game? What will you benefit if you had killed one or two people while playing PUBG? It is not a military or an intellectual game,” he said.
Numerous Fatwas have been issued across the county, saying that wasting time on the game is “un-Islamic”.
The Kurdish Union of Islamic Scholars declared the game as “haram” as it is “wasting” people’s valuable time.
“The game will badly affect vision when played on mobile phones, it will impact the body too,” Iran Rasheed, a member of the Kurdish Union said.
“The game benefits no one,” Mr Rasheed said.
Iraqi news outlets have published in-depth reporting on the craze and even said it has led to 40,000 divorces around the world and more than 20 cases in Iraq, although it didn't cite the source for such claims.
Iraqi army officials have warned that soldiers are neglecting their duties because of the mobile version of PUBG.
The health impacts of gaming are debated. But psychiatrists warn that individuals should be aware of the game’s possible long-term impacts, including some evidence it can make users less empathetic.
The game allegedly inspired an Iraqi teen to commit suicide in January, Iraq's Independent Human Rights Commission said in a statement.
The 17-year-old’s family said his death was a “wake up call for the dangers that Iraqi children are being exposed to.”
But Iraqi youth have brushed aside the warning, arguing that they have nothing better to fill their time with.
"The most important thing for us, as male youth, is this game. It's our life, we have nothing better to do with our time. Everything has been taken away from us," Mustafa Abeed, 22, an unemployed engineer told The National.
“I graduated from university last summer, I’m struggling to find a job, so this game is a distraction for us,” Mr Abeed said.
Iraq’s youth make up around 60 per cent of Iraq’s nearly 40 million population.
Aapproximately 17 per cent of men and 27 per cent of women are unemployed, according to World Bank figures.
“We all love this game, it’s become a part of our daily routine,” Hamza Naji, 20, said.
“I have taken Sayid Moqtada Al Sadr’s statement on board but every day I play this game, I cannot stop,” he said.
But not all have decided to put aside the cleric’s calls.
"We are ruled by corrupt politicians the country is in shambles and its youth are distracted by video games, this is a disgrace," a Baghdadi housewife, Susan Ali, 45, told The National.
“This is a habit that’s ingrained in their minds, the statement unfortunately, will do nothing to change this,” Ms Ali said.