An Iran-backed media network is working against Iraq's interests by inciting violence and division, media analysts warn.
Iran established the Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU) in 2007 to serve as an umbrella for media outlets owned by armed groups closely linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Today, the union includes more than 100 satellite TV channels and 30 radio stations, and manages dozens of websites that employ an army of media professionals trained on the creation of propaganda content.
The union was mostly focused on Iraq and Lebanon, before turning to Yemen and Syria too.
It is formally affiliated with the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, but in reality is financed and managed by the Quds Force, the IRGC's overseas arm.
The Quds Force sets out the guidelines for the work of the media outlets, and trains their employees on content and propaganda creation.
The US Department of Justice in June seized 33 websites used by the IRTVU and three websites operated by Iran-aligned militia Kataib Hizbullah.
The websites included those of Press TV, the Iranian regime's main English-language satellite television channel, and Al-Alam, its Arabic-language equivalent.
The United States earlier in October 2020 sanctioned the IRTVU for being owned or controlled by the IRGC's Quds Force.
The union is a media front for the doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist), said Hilal al-Obeidi, deputy secretary-general of the Federation of Arab Journalists (FAJ) in Europe.
Wilayat al-Faqih calls for allegiance to al-Wali al-Faqih: Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.
The purpose of the IRTVU is "to support Iran's expansionist agenda in the region", al-Obeidi said.
Outlets under the IRTVU -- most of which are media arms of the IRGC's proxies in the region -- do not engage in professional media work but rather "in subversive propaganda activity that explicitly incites violence and hatred and spews sectarian rhetoric, misinformation and distorted facts", he said.
Such activities include incitement campaigns since the end of 2019 against Iraqi activists and media professionals who condemned Iranian interference in Iraq's affairs, leading to assassinations and the exodus of activists from Iraq.
IRTVU outlets have also played a key role in mobilising militia elements against media institutions that counter Iranian propaganda, such as the burning and destruction of the offices of satellite TV channels, including Dijla and MBC Iraq.
In mid-February, Iraqi security forces heightened security measures around the offices of UTV satellite channel in Baghdad, after it received threats from Iran-linked armed groups.
The IRTVU "does not serve the aspirations of Iraqis and the rest of the peoples of the region but rather harms their security and threatens their stability in order to further the interests of the mullahs' regime in Iran", al-Obeidi said.
The union in Iraq is headed by Hameed al-Husseini, a cleric with close ties to the office of Khamenei.
He previously has said that he works "under the command of [Quds Force commander Qassem] Soleimani", before the latter was killed in a US strike in 2020.
The Iraqi judiciary in November ordered al-Husseini's arrest for his alleged involvement in a rocket attack on the Al-Rafidain Centre for Dialogue building in Najaf last August.
The centre, which holds seminars for officials and academic elites to speak freely about Iraqi and regional affairs, had been targeted previously, including in a grenade attack in 2019 that wounded two guards.
"Political pressures presumably prevented the arrest warrant from being executed," al-Obeidi said, pointing to the lack of subsequent information on any trial.
On top of espousing Iranian propaganda, IRTVU has been accused of funding itself with the sale of Iraqi oil.
Former Iraqi MP Mishaan al-Juburi said in an interview in June 2019 that Iran funds all the satellite TV channels of the IRTVU with the theft of Iraqi black oil.
"Through [the smuggling of black oil], $460 million is stolen every year from the Iraqi people's money and distributed to those TV satellite channels," he said on the Alahad TV satellite channel affiliated with the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia.
Khamenei's office directly oversees the union's TV channels and radio stations, and the IRGC is responsible for directing them, providing them with funding and technical support and training their staff, strategy analyst Alaa al-Nashou told Al-Mashareq.
The IRGC also sponsors campaigns on social media platforms aimed at inciting violence and anarchy.
The union is engaging in "media terrorism", said al-Nashou. In Iraq, Iran-backed militias use their media to justify their terrorist attacks on Iraqis, threaten civil peace and attack political opponents.
They pursue a "strategy of subversion" of norms that fuels sectarian strife and divisions within communities to tear them apart and weaken them, he said, adding that "this is at the heart of the Iranian agenda".