Baghdad: Iraq has suspended the licences of 10 satellite TV channels for promoting "sectarianism", the country's media regulator said on Sunday, after five days of violence killed more than 215 people.
       
The bloody unrest, which began on Tuesday with deadly clashes between security forces and Sunni Arab anti-government protesters in north Iraq, has raised fears of a return to all-out sectarian conflict that plagued the country in the past and killed tens of thousands.
       
A protest leader and a provincial official, meanwhile, said the names of three people who allegedly killed five Iraqi soldiers were given to police, but they have not been handed over as demanded by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the Sahwa anti-al-Qaeda militia.
    
"We took a decision to suspend the licence of some satellite channels that adopted language encouraging violence and sectarianism," Mujahid Abu al-Hail, a top official in the Communications and Media Commission said.
       
"It means stopping their work in Iraq and their activities, so they cannot cover events in Iraq or move around," Hail said.
       
The suspensions include Al-Jazeera, the main broadcaster in the Arab world, and Sharqiya, a leading channel in Iraq.
       
Maliki said on Saturday that sectarian strife "came back to Iraq, because it began in another place in this region," in an apparent reference to Syria.
       
The civil war in neighbouring Syria pitting mainly Sunni Muslim rebels against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, a member of the Alawite offshoot of Shiite Islam, has killed more than 70,000 people.
       
Maliki called in a statement for anti-government protesters to "expel the criminals who targeted Iraqi army and police forces," after five soldiers were killed near a protest site close to Ramadi, west of Baghdad.
       
And Iraqiya state television quoted Sahwa chief Sheikh Wissam al-Hardan as saying that if those who have killed soldiers are not handed over, "the Sahwa will take the requested procedures and do what it did in 2006."
    
Sahwa militiamen fought pitched battles against Sunni militants from 2006, helping to turn the tide of the Iraq war.
       
Hardan set a 24-hour deadline for the demand to be met, but on Sunday those who killed the five soldiers had still not been turned in.

(Agencies)

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