BAGHDAD - Iraqi authorities suspended the operating licenses of pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera and nine Iraqi TV channels on Sunday after accusing them of escalating sectarian tension.
The move signaled the Shiite-led government's mounting worries over deteriorating security amid Sunni unrest and clashes that have left more than 180 people dead in less than a week.
The suspensions, which took effect immediately, appeared to target mainly Sunni channels known for criticizing Prime Minister Nouri al-Malik's government. Apart from Al-Jazeera, the decision affected eight Sunni and one Shiite channels.
The government's action comes as Baghdad tries to quell rising unrest in the country that erupted last week after Iraqi security forces launched a deadly crackdown on a Sunni protest site in the central city of Hawija, killing 23 people, including three soldiers.
Since then, more than 180 people have been killed in gunbattles with security forces and other attacks. The recent wave of violence follows more than four months of largely peaceful protests by Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government.
Iraqi viewers will still be able to watch the channels, but the suspensions issued by Iraq's Communications and Media Commission state that if the 10 stations try to work on Iraqi territory, they will face legal action from security forces. The decree essentially prevents news crews from the stations from reporting on activities in Iraq.
Al-Jazeera, based in the small, energy-rich Gulf nation of Qatar, said it was "astonished" by the move.
Newspapers and media outlets sprang up across Baghdad after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003.