Arrest warrants for Iraq journalists over false report

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A Baghdad court has issued arrest warrants for two correspondents with a Saudi newspaper over a false news report accusing Iranian pilgrims of sexually harassing Iraqi women.

A senior source in Iraq's judiciary told AFP Wednesday that the warrants, based on the penal code's article 372 on religious hate crimes, were issued against the Asharq al-Awsat daily's two Baghdad-based Iraqi journalists.

The article, published on Sunday in the London-based pan-Arab newspaper, caused an uproar in Iraq, where the prime minister and several other prominent figures issued public condemnations.

One of the two correspondents, Hamza Mustafa, denied any responsibility for the article and announced he was resigning in protest.

Another journalist working for the newspaper in Baghdad, Maad Fayyad, in a statement obtained by AFP, said he had nothing to do with the controversial article.

Ziad Ajili, from the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, issued a statement condemning the warrants as an "incitement to murder".

The pair's whereabouts were unclear Wednesday.

The article was published as Arbaeen, a Shiite Muslim pilgrimage that commemorates the 680 AD death of Imam Hussein and is one of the world's largest religious events, was peaking in the Iraqi shrine city of Karbala.

It quoted a purported World Health Organization spokesman as saying that after last year's pilgrimage more than 169 Iraqi women became pregnant out of wedlock.

The UN health agency vehemently denied making any such assertion.

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