Alarmism in media paints inaccurate picture of Baghdad security
Many visitors arriving in Baghdad from neighbouring provinces or abroad express their surprise at the stable security situation in the Iraqi capital.
This is in contrast to what they hear about it in the media, and the grim portrayal of this vibrant city on social media.
Though there have been stories on social media about doctors, artists and media professionals in Baghdad being targeted, members of these professions can be seen going about their business as usual in the city.
"Baghdad is very blessed with regard to security, considering what the organised and terrorism crime rate was one year ago, for example," said Mohammad al-Rubaie, deputy head of the Baghdad provincial council security committee.
The number of car bombings in al-Rusafa district has dropped to one every 18 months, a huge drop compared to previous years, he told Diyaruna.
As for organised crime, al-Rubaie said, the number of kidnappings dropped from an average of 129 cases per month in the first half of 2016 to only 13 so far this year.
He attributed the improvements to the efforts of the security authorities and the recommendations the council’s security committee submits to the Baghdad operations command, Interior Ministry and the General Directorate of Intelligence.
All these entities work in concert to control the security situation in the capital.
"I do not deny that the crime rate in Baghdad is slightly higher than normal crime rates in other countries of the world, but the situation is not as grim as some people portray it to be," he said.
Excessive alarmism in the media
Social media sites have been the main source of alarm about the Baghdad crime rate, al-Rubaie said, adding that via these channels, some common crimes have been mistakenly portrayed as high-profile crimes.
News about several criminal cases circulating on social media have wrongly portrayed these incidents as organised crime, while these events turned out to be intra-family disputes and in some cases, mere rumours.
"Online armies carry out intellectual terrorism and counter-propaganda acts to undermine security and terrorise society to achieve certain objectives," said Hashem Hassan, dean of the Baghdad University faculty of information.
Such groups, who usually exploit social media, try to influence "the ignorant" to get to other segments of the community and spread despair, confusion and fear among them, he told Diyaruna.
To address this problem, all social media users should be taught to verify the information they read before they pass it along to others, he said.
They should be taught "how to handle information and to check the veracity of news" before taking it at face value or passing it on, he said.
"The government must lay the foundation for media education to be taught as a curriculum subject to school students," he said.
Civil society organisations also should be required to educate the community on this matter, he added, and to develop guidelines for dealing with the media and the news disseminated through them.
Hassan was critical of the speed with which security agencies respond to rumours intended to undermine security, describing their response as too slow to match the speed with which fabricated and malicious news spread.
Recent victories achieved by Iraqi forces in the fight against terrorism have created a general atmosphere that is supportive of the security efforts in Baghdad, however, which has mitigated the impact of malicious rumours.
"Security agencies have persistently thwarted terrorist attacks and crimes, and have arrested perpetrators just hours after they carried out their criminal acts," said Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Saad Maan.
As an example of this, he cited a criminal assault case involving an elderly Christian woman (Umm Sargon), who was the victim of an armed burglary in early August in Baghdad's al-Dora neighbourhood.
News of the crime went viral on social media, he said, noting that security agencies arrested the perpetrators mere hours after the incident.
"Most crimes in Baghdad fall within the normal crime rate averages when compared to the rest of the world," he added, especially when Iraq's extraordinary circumstances are taken into consideration.