BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s intelligence service is suing the Guardian newspaper for defamation, after it ran a story describing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s administration as “increasingly autocratic,” the newspaper said.
In a report on Wednesday, the newspaper said Maliki had called for legal action after it quoted three unnamed Iraqi National Intelligence Service members saying “elements of Maliki’s rule resembled a dictatorship.”
“We are disappointed that Prime Minister Maliki has launched this misguided action against the Guardian. We will, of course, contest it,” the Guardian’s editor in chief Alan Rusbridger said in the report.
The Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INIS) is demanding $1 million (626,000 pounds) in damages and the disclosure of the unnamed sources, the Guardian said. The newspaper said it had refused to reveal its sources and had hired an Iraqi lawyer.
The Iraqi government initially ordered the closure of the Guardian’s Baghdad office, but it had since backed away from the threat, the newspaper said.
The Iraqi government’s spokesman distanced the prime minister from the INIS’s legal action, but said Maliki was keen for the “law to take its course.”
“We respect the Guardian a lot, but it needs to observe professional standards,” Ali al-Dabbagh said, adding that Maliki had intervened to ensure the Guardian’s Baghdad office stayed open.
Journalists have a right to discuss the performance of the prime minister, ministers and the government, but the Guardian’s story contained “personal” accusations, Dabbagh said.
Dabbagh said it was a democratic right for the government, or a government body, to complain to the judiciary if it feels it has been wronged. “The judges can look at the situation without any influence from the executive authorities,” he said.
Iraqi state bodies have ordered the closure of media outlets before and often threaten legal action when angered by their stories, but the threats are rarely carried out.
Dozens of media outlets have sprung up in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein and Iraqi journalists enjoy considerable freedom compared to before and to other Middle Eastern countries.
Maliki lauded press freedom in a speech to a conference of journalists’ unions in Baghdad on Saturday.
“The government does not impose restrictions on the media, unless it provokes sectarianism, enmity and hatred, and the country guarantees journalists’ freedom as long they work within the rules,” he said.
The court case against the Guardian was postponed till June 23, the newspaper said.