BAGHDAD — Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Thursday ordered the withdrawal of all lawsuits filed by previous governments against journalists and media outlets, marking a departure from his predecessor Nouri al-Maliki, who was widely accused of using state institutions to target his political enemies.
The move reflects al-Abadi's "keenness to ensure freedom of expression...and his desire that the media have a big role in building the country," a government statement said.
It went on to urge all media organizations to practice responsible journalism. It did not provide any details on ongoing cases against journalists in Iraqi courts.
The Head of the Iraqi Journalists' Union, Mouyyad al-Lami, hailed the decree, saying it would help create a "safe environment for journalism in Iraq."
Al-Abadi, who assumed office in September, has promised reforms following the eight-year rule of al-Maliki, who was widely seen as monopolizing power. Al-Abadi recently retired a number of military officers and has taken steps to root out corruption in the security forces following their collapse in the face of the Islamic State group's onslaught.
Under al-Maliki, several journalists who had been critical of the government faced arrest warrants and lawsuits. Al-Maliki's policies, which alienated the country's Sunni and Kurdish minorities, have been widely blamed for stoking the grievances that fueled the Islamic State's rapid advance last summer. The Sunni extremist group captured much of northern and western Iraq after routing security forces loyal to al-Maliki's Shiite-led government.
Meanwhile on Thursday, a bomb went off near an outdoor market in Youssifiyah, just south of Baghdad, killing four people and wounding 11, a police officer said. Later, a bomb blast near car repair shops in the northern suburbs of Baghdad killed three people and wounded 10, another officer said.
Two medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.
Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.