Iraq shuts down internet again as protests intensify
Network data from the NetBlocks internet observatory show that internet access has been cut across much of Iraq as of 21:00 UTC, Monday 4 November 2019 (00:00 Baghdad time, 5 November 2019).
At the time of writing, national connectivity has fallen below 19% of normal levels sending tens of millions of users offline across Baghdad, also impacting Basra, Karbala and other population centers except semi-autonomous Kurdish northern regions. Network measurement data indicate that the new disruption is the most severe telecommunication restriction to have been imposed by Iraq’s government since protests began.
Update: Internet has been partially restored in Iraq as of 4:00 a.m. Baghdad time (01:00 UTC), Tuesday, 12 November, four hours earlier than in the two previous mornings. Social media remain blocked for most users:
Confirmed: Internet partially restored in #Iraq as of 4:00 a.m. Baghdad time (01:00 UTC) in hour 172 of shutdown; real-time network data show social media remain widely blocked and messaging apps restricted by providers 📈 #IraqProtests
— NetBlocks.org (@netblocks) November 12, 2019
Update: Internet has been shut down again across most of Iraq with curfew-like information controls applied at 4pm, Monday 11 November, following an 8 hour restoration. Real-time network data show national connectivity down to 24% despite rising international concern:
⚠️Alert: Internet shut down again across most of #Iraq with curfew-like information controls applied at 4pm following 8 hour restoration; real-time network data show national connectivity down to 24% despite rising international concern #IraqProtests📉
— NetBlocks.org (@netblocks) November 11, 2019
The disruptions come weeks after connectivity was generally restored by 11 October following a shutdown amid intense protests against government corruption that began 2 October 2019.
On the evening of Sunday 3 November, protesters outside the consulate of Iran in the Shiite holy city of Karbala were met with live fire by unidentified assailants drawing international concern. Protests have continued there and at other locations through Monday with Reuters reporting at least six killed in Baghdad hours prior to the internet shutdown.
⚠️ Alert: Internet shut down across most of #Iraq as of 00:00 5 November with loss of life reported as protests intensify; national connectivity down to 19% of ordinary levels; incident ongoing #iraq_protests #KeepItOn 📉https://t.co/SeCyP2mj1T pic.twitter.com/WxYX54WXH9
— NetBlocks.org (@netblocks) November 4, 2019
Many citizens remain unaccounted for since early October and network disruptions have made it difficult for local and international observers to assess the true scale of incidents impacting human rights.
In addition to the total network outages, most major social media services have been disrupted through October and early November to the present, even during periods when internet access has been restored.
From 8 October, the government experimented with nightly internet curfews in an apparent bid to limit impact to national productivity during work hours. Comparable in mechanism to parental controls on a home router but implemented at national scale, the diurnal blocking measure only appeared to add insult to injury for the general public while doing little to address protesters’ demands for transparency and accountability.
⏱ It has been 48 hours since #Iraq shut down internet access amid nationwide protests, representing:
➡️ Violation of UN resolution A/HRC/32/L.20
➡️ Imminent threat to public safety
➡️ Severe restriction to press freedom
➡️ Economic impact est. ~$200m
— NetBlocks.org (@netblocks) October 4, 2019
Technical measurements show that each of the services have been intentionally restricted by leading Iraqi network operators including Earthlink, Asiacell and Zain in a manner consistent with previous incidents of censorship in the country. Findings are based on a set of technical measurements from across the country assessing reachability and network performance.
Instances of network filtering and outages continue to present a significant challenge to media freedom and the rights to free assembly and free association in Iraq.
Why are Iraqis protesting?
Demonstrators are out on the streets over unemployment, corruption and poor public services, focused in capital Baghdad but also impacting other cities around Iraq.
The protests escalated in October after police opened fire in the air as some 3,000 protesters tried to cross a bridge leading into Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, where government buildings and foreign embassies are based.
On the third and fourth of November, protesters were met again with live fire as the public took to the streets seeking change.
Is the internet down in Iraq?
Yes, largely. Geographic impact covers Iraq’s centrally administered cities including Baghdad, while independent zones such as the Kurdish northern cities are governed under a different system unaffected by the restrictions.
NetBlocks has registered severe impact to fixed-line connectivity and moderate to severe disruption to mobile networks beginning 9:00 p.m. UTC, 4 November 2019 (midnight in Baghdad) and widening in extent through the following hour, with connectivity continuing to fall and impact observed to dozens of providers and networks.
Iraq has also been blocking social media since early October, with Facebook and Twitter unreachable and messaging apps WhatsApp and Telegram disrupted as the government has sought to control the narrative and present a semblance of normality to the outside world.
What’s the impact of Iraq’s internet shutdown?
Although it’s too early to fully assess the latest telecommunication disruption’s impact, its extent is such that much of society is due to be brought to a standstill when Iraq wakes to find itself offline on Tuesday morning.
The largest residential and commercial fixed-line internet provider Earthlink, as well as most mobile operators are totally offline, with data indicating the most severe disruption recorded during the protests are now in effect. As the blackout came into effect, a smaller portion of telephone landlines and mobile networks appeared to be inoperable even for ordinary calls and text messaging.
VPN and software circumvention solutions which many have used to access social media in recent weeks offer no solution in the face of total network blackouts. However, some users are reporting that they can get connected via traditional dial-up modems or through use of international SIM cards and data roaming. These options are slow, expensive or not available to most Iraqis in practice.
A foremost concern during Iraq’s shutdowns is for individual safety: Difficulty accessing emergency services or reaching out for assistance through informal channels presents an immediate challenge for all residents of Iraq, but particularly those with long-term health issues or those who sustained injuries needing attention during months of ongoing protests.
The protests’ economic impact has also been in the spotlight: On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi claimed protesters were costing the country’s industrial sector “billions of dollars.”
Update: PM Mahdi claimed on Sunday that protesters were costing #Iraq's industry billions.
However, our economic analysis shows the largest single discrete loss, over $1bn USD in October, is attributed to the government's own internet shutdowns 💸
— NetBlocks.org (@netblocks) November 5, 2019
However, NetBlocks economic data indicates that the largest single economic loss derives not from reductions in productivity or a shortfall in labor, but from the government’s own network disruptions which have had an estimated economic impact to national GDP in excess of $1bn USD in October alone, as assessed by the Cost of Shutdown Tool.
Independently reviewed economic figures indicate that the government of #Iraq, not protesters, are responsible for disruptions to critical infrastructure incurring GDP losses approaching $2bn USD #insm_iq #KeepItOn
— NetBlocks.org (@netblocks) November 7, 2019
News agency AFP found that individual large businesses had lost amounts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars due to loss of connectivity, and that smallest traders were among the most hard-hit due to a standstill caused by the absence of telecommunication networks and failing consumer and business transactions:
— NetBlocks.org (@netblocks) October 15, 2019
NetBlocks spoke with Alhurra (Arabic broadcast) in October to assess this figure and its impact on Iraq’s digital industries and formal and informal economies that rely on basic connectivity to operate.
Internet performance and service reachability are determined via NetBlocks web probe privacy-preserving analytics. Each measurement consists of latency round trip time, outage type and autonomous system number aggregated in real-time to assess service availability and latency in a given country. Network providers and locations enumerated as vantage point pairs. The root cause of a service outage may be additionally corroborated by means of traffic analysis and manual testing as detailed in the report.
NetBlocks diffscans, which map the IP address space of a country in real time, show internet connectivity levels and corresponding outages. Purposeful internet outages generally have a distinct network pattern used by NetBlocks to determine and attribute the root cause of an outage, a process known as attribution which follows detection and classification stages.
NetBlocks is a civil society group working at the intersection of digital rights, cyber-security and internet governance. Independent and non-partisan, NetBlocks strives for an open and inclusive digital future for all.