Of the 45,023 who responded to the question "Is the decision to close the Aljazeera office in Baghdad justified?", 67% felt the action was unjustified, 28% that it was justified while 5% of the respondents were unsure.

Since the interim Iraqi government announced on 7 August 2004 the closure of Aljazeera's Baghdad bureau for an initial period of one month, there have been strong reactions from the media, with some saying that the move only proves that Aljazeera is an independent news organisation.

This is not the first time Aljazeera has come under pressure Arab and Western governments. Since its first broadcast, Aljazeera has had to contend with attacks on its integrity from a wide spectrum of critics. 

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While Iraqi Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib announced the suspension at a Baghdad news conference, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said, "This is a decision taken by the national security committee to protect the people of Iraq, in the interests of the Iraqi people."

The reasons behind the action against Aljazeera actually go deeper than the interim Iraqi Government's accusation that its extensive coverage of captive-taking in Iraq was unacceptable.

"I would like to tell Aljazeera that it lost US and Arab governments, but won the hearts and minds of 300 million
Arab citizens"

Abd Al-Bari Atwan,
Editor-in-chief, al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper

During the Iraq invasion, both Iraqi Government and US officials expressed dissatisfaction with Aljazeera's coverage and called it biased.

As US bombs rained down on Iraqi cities and towns, Aljazeera's coverage of the invasion was simultaneously slammed by Iraqi Government officials, political opponents, Iraqi exiles and the US administration.

The station found itself being accused in some quarters of defending Saddam Hussein's government and by others of suppporting the US invasion.

Even as US officials were describing Aljazeera's coverage as misleading in their press conferences, the then Iraqi information minister, Muhammad Said al-Sahaf, was threatening the station's staff with serious consequences if they continued their "pro-US reporting".

In a memorable incident, the day before the fall of Baghdad al-Sahaf, insisting that Aljazeera was broadcasting news that served US interests, said, "I beg you [Aljazeera], do not play this role."

The situation remains unchanged following the invasion of Iraq. US and Iraqi officials have been critical of Aljazeera's performance, accusing it of siding with the Iraqi movement to oppose US-led troops and inciting violence by broadcasting tapes showing captive-taking in Iraq.

Aljazeera has been accused of
being both pro- and anti-US

However, days before the latest ban on the channel, Aljazeera received threats from Iraqis claiming they represented the movement to oppose US-led forces and saying that Aljazeera was flattering the US troops in Iraq. If it continued its pro-US coverage, employees of the Baghdad office would be targeted, the group warned.

After Aljazeera's operations in Iraq were suspended, organisations representing press freedom and the rights of journalists roundly condemned the interim Iraqi government's move.

The Iraqi Union of Journalists expressed its deep regret and called for real freedom of speech in the country.

The Paris-based Reporters without Borders expressed concerns and demanded "an immediate explanation" from the interim Iraqi government, adding it was "extremely concerned about persistent episodes of censorship in Iraq".

'Illogical censorship'

The International Federation of Journalists in Brussels criticised the suspension, saying it was "unacceptable and illogical censorship that casts a shadow over new hopes for a new era of press freedom".

Along with the press statements came the condemnations of Arab organisations and journalists.

In Beirut, Lebanon, the People's Campaign for the Support of Iraq and Palestine issued a statement urging US citizens to protest against the silencing of independent media.

"The battle to defend Aljazeera is a battle to defend values and rights," said the statement.

Yemeni political figures and intellectuals agreed that the closure order reconfirmed the weakness of decision makers in Baghdad.

Said Thabit, First Deputy of the Yemeni Journalists Union, said the interim Iraqi government proved it was not different from the previous Iraqi government.
 
Abd Al-Malik al-Mikhlafi, general-secretary of the Nasiri Unionist Party, told Aljazeera.net's correspondent in Yemen that the decision was dictated by US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"If US authorities believe in the principle of self-determination, they should practise it — starting now — insisting that the interim Iraqi leaders acting under US auspices do so as well."

The Los Angeles Times

Daud al-Farhan, Assistant Secretary-General of the Arab Journalists Union in Cairo, said the closure order was a serious breach to the right of people in getting the full picture.

"The closure proves that the situation in Iraq is much worse than the world is seeing through media, to the extent that the Iraqi government is willing to cross any red lines to bury the truth," al-Farhan said.

Abd Al-Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of the London-based Arabic newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi, said the shutdown of Aljazeera's Baghdad office would put an end to those who accused Aljazeera of siding with any specific party.

"Accusations [made by the interim Iraqi government] against Aljazeera confirm its credibility and independence.

"I would like to tell Aljazeera that it lost US and Arab governments, but won the hearts and minds of 300 million Arab citizens," said Atwan.

Global reactions

The New York Times commented on 10 August 2004 that the interim Iraqi government's decision was a continuation of a practice that "has stifled democracy in too many neighbouring states".

David Usborne wrote in the Independent of London: "It is one of the larger ironies of the post-war period that a conflict launched in the name of freedom should lead to the banning of one of the region's most significant media."

The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland said Aljazeera was not perfect and could be lurid and overheated - "some say it sits somewhere between the BBC and the heavily slanted Fox News."

"The battle to defend Aljazeera is a battle
to defend values
and rights"

The People's Campaign for the Support of Iraq and Palestine

But Aljazeera, he added, is the nearest the Arab world has to an independent media organisation of weight.

For its part, the Los Angeles Times, in a 15 August editorial, reminded its readers, in light of the Aljazeera ban, that freedom of expression - notably press freedom - was declared an international human right by the United Nations in 1948.

"If US authorities believe in the principle of self-determination, they should practise it — starting now — insisting that the interim Iraqi leaders acting under US auspices do so as well" the paper said.