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Iraq Pulls 10 Broadcasters' Licenses Over Sectarian Violence

Iraqi officials have suspended the right of 10 satellite TV channels to operate in the country, as media regulators say the stations' coverage of sectarian conflicts incites more violence.

"Most of the channels, including local stations such as 'Baghdad' and 'al-Sharqiya,' are pro-Sunni and often critical of the Shi'ite-led government," Reuters reports. "Al Jazeera is based in Qatar, a Sunni-ruled kingdom."

Sectarian violence has resulted in at least 170 deaths in Iraq this week, sparked by a government forces' clash with Sunni protesters at a demonstration camp in Hawija, near Kirkuk.

The action by Iraq's Communication and Media Commission will not take the channels off of Iraqis' televisions, but it could hamper their employees' ability to report on events.

"It means stopping their work in Iraq and their activities, so they cannot cover events in Iraq or move around," said the CMC's Mujahid Abu al-Hail, according to Al Jazeera.

In a statement, Al Jazeera responded that it is "astonished by this development. We cover all sides of the stories in Iraq, and have done for many years. The fact that so many channels have been hit all at once though suggests this is an indiscriminate decision.... We urge the authorities to uphold freedom for the media to report the important stories taking place in Iraq."

Calls for peace this week from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have gone unheeded. As we reported Saturday, Sunni tribes said they would form their own military force.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.