Amid raging violence, Iraq orders Internet shutdowns

Update (10:00ET, 14-Jun-2014): See below for a copy of Friday’s Iraqi MoC order to disconnect social media.

Iraq is descending into further violence, as militant group ISIL takes control of Mosul and beyond. Renesys has observed two large Internet outages this week (here and here) that our sources confirmed to be government-directed outages. These interruptions appear to coincide with military operations, amid concerns that ISIL forces are using Internet websites to coordinate their attacks.

The screencapture image in this tweet shows an email message announcing the latest shutdown. It reads:

Dear Valued customers

Due to the current security situation in iraq and as per the MOC instruction sent by the PM Mr Nori Kamel Al-Maliki ,the internet service will be suspended for the below provinces until further notice starting from today Thursday 12/6/2014 , 3:00 PM GMT+3

Ninava
Kirkuk
Salaheldin
Anbar

As of this writing, a day after the cited deadline, we see no further evidence of low-level routing-based disconnections to Iraqi Internet service.

However, in a possible sign of shifting strategy within the government, there are now numerous credible reports of blocking of particular services like Facebook and Twitter in various Iraqi cities. This tactic, of “moving up the stack” to shut down particular Web services at the local provider level, mirrors the evolution toward more technically subtle partial Internet shutdowns we’ve seen in other countries.

It’s not clear that the central government in Baghdad will be able to impose its will across the affected regions, however. The Iraqi Internet contains too much inherent diversity (mirroring the divisions within the federal state) to allow a blanket content block to easily succeed.

Iraqi Federalism On The Ropes

Last fall, we detailed the impact of the Iraqi government’s attempt to shutdown main parts of its national fiber network during a pricing dispute between the Ministry of Communications (MoC) and the retail providers. The result of that outage revealed that providers such as Newroz of Kurdistan and IQ Networks (based in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq) easily survived the outage using service through via Turkey by way of Zakho, Iraq.

Instead of affirming the MoC’s control over the Iraqi Internet, this incident proved how little it truly controlled. Iraqi Kurdistan’s own telecommunications ministry has little patience for taking orders from Baghdad. This week’s outages have followed the same pattern – suggesting a breakdown of the central government’s tenuous control over the Iraqi Internet. Because the Kurdish regions maintain independent connectivity through Turkish providers, they are unlikely to participate in either large-scale Internet shutdowns or content blocking at Baghdad’s direction.

In a possible sign of future escalation, the Ministry of Communications posted a notification on its Facebook page, warning of strangely-timed “network maintainance” to follow this weekend:

“We would like to draw your attention to the process of scheduled cuts to the Internet in all parts of Iraq on the 15th day of this month. Maintenance will affect optical cable connectivity across the Turkish border.”

It’s unclear whether the central government still has enough influence in Zakho, on the northern frontier, to shut down Iraq’s Turkish Internet connectivity. But it looks like a nationwide shutdown could still be attempted later this weekend. Here’s a current snapshot of the Iraqi providers’ connections to international markets from the northern regions.

kurdish internet

What’s Next – A Return of Transit from Iran?

In 2010, we detailed the emergence of Iran as a regional Internet bandwidth supplier to neighbors Iraq and Afghanistan. While Iranian incumbent TIC (DCI) still provides service to AFTEL in the western province of Herat, Afghanistan, its service into Iraq dried up months ago. TIC’s last Iraqi customer was City Telecom, which handles connectivity for BP’s operations in southern Iraq. BP may have been unaware that it was being sold Iranian transit, and once BP discovered how they were connecting to the outside world, they were quickly redirected to Iraqi transit options. 50461_IQ-2

Neighborhood Sources of Stability and Connectivity

The resolution of Iraq’s crisis will ultimately depend on the actions of its neighbors, none of whom really want to see a continuing spread of the Syrian contagion. Iraq’s Internet connectivity — to Iran, to Turkey, to Jordan, and via submarine cables to the GCC states — maps onto the same set of evolving neighborhood power relationships that will either preserve or fragment the fragile Iraqi federal state.

The central government’s attempts to exercise control over its own national telecommunications services may provide important insights into Baghdad’s ability to effectively govern nationwide in the weeks to come.


Update: 14 June 2014

The following email went out from the Iraqi MoC to national service providers on Friday, 13th June, outlining the specific services to be disconnected.

Renesys has been able to confirm some blocks but not others; specific domains such as Facebook are blocked in DNS, but routing has not been affected.

Arabic original on the left; partial English translation on the right. We would greatly appreciate it if readers could correct and extend this translation.

الى جميع الشركات المزودة لخدمة الانترنت (افق السماء , IQ , السرد , نوروزتل ,
ITC )

م/ اطفاء خدمة انترنت مع اطفاء تطبيقات الانترنت

اشارة الى الوضع الراهن والوضع الامني الذي يمر به بلدنا الحبيب وتوجيهات وزارة
الاتصالات تقرر اطفاء التطبيقات التالية في خدمة الانترنت المجهزة في عموم
العراق

1. الــ (facebook)
2. الــ (youtube)
3. الــ (twitter)
4. جميع المواقع الاباحية
5. الــ (what’s- up )
6. الــ ( viper )
7. الـ (Skype )
8. جميع التطبيقات الاخرى ( Tango , wechat , keek, instagram , …..)
مع اطفاء خدمة الانترنت بشكل كامل للمحافظات التالية
1. محافظة نينوى
2. محافظة كركوك
3. محافظة صلاح الدين
4. محافظة الانبار
5. محافظة ديالى
6. اطفاء خدمة الانترنت في المناطق التالية في بغداد وبشكل كامل (العدل ,
الغزالية , ابوغريب , الرضوانية , المحمودية , اللطيفية , الفلوجة , جرف الصخر
, التاجي , اليوسفية , المسيب )
والمجهزة بالانترنت من خلال شركاتكم وابلاغ جميع الشركات الاخرى والتي تجهز
بلانترنت عبر شركاتكم وجميع الابراج التي تجهز الانترنت واعتبار الموضوع في
غاية الاهمية وسوف تتحمل الشركات المخالفة التبعات القانونية في حالة ثبت انها
غير ملتزمة بهذ الاعمام والتبليغات السابقة علما بوجود لجنة امنية متتخصصة تقوم
بالتدقيق بهذا الخصوص راجين الالتزام المطلق بذلك مع الاتزام بعدم امرار الخدمة
من خلال الشبكات اللاسلكية .
للتفضل بالاطلاع واتخاذ ما يلزم وبالسرعة القصوى واعطاء الموضوع الاهمية
البالغة .
…… مع التقدير

معاون رئيس مهندســـــــين
احمد عبد الـــكريم عبد
مسؤول الشركاء
13/6/2014

To all ISP companies (ScopeSky, IQ, Al Sard, Newroz, ITC)

Disconnection emergency service Internet with online applications

Referring to the current situation and the security situation which our beloved country is going through, the Ministry of
Communications directs suppression of the following applications in the Internet service across Iraq:

1. The (facebook)
2. The (youtube)
3. The (twitter)
4. All porn sites
5. The (what’s-up)
6. The (viper)
7. The (Skype)
8. All other applications (Tango, wechat, keek, instagram, …..)
With emergency service fully online to the provinces following
1. Nineveh province
2. Kirkuk province
3. Salahuddin province
4. Anbar province
5. Diyala province
6. Extinguish the internet service in the following areas in Baghdad (Justice,
Ghazaliya, Abu Ghraib, Radwaniyah, Mahmudiya, Latifiya, Fallujah, Jurf al Sakhar, Taji, Yusifiya, Musayyib)

[...]

With appreciation ……

Deputy Chief Engineer
Ahmed Abdul Karim Abdul
   Official partners
06/13/2014

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  11. […] Following the seizure of Mosul and Tikrit, the government of Iraq implemented restrictions on Internet accessibility as means of limiting the ability of ISIS to mobilize and communicate their message.  On June 13, 2014, reports emerged that numerous social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, had been blocked. By June 16, reports suggested that Ministry of Communications officials had ordered a complete Internet shutdown in certain regions. These reports are confirmed by BGP data from Renesys: […]

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