Opposition fights for police academy near Aleppo

Updated 24 February 2013
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Opposition fights for police academy near Aleppo

BEIRUT: Syrian rebels used captured tanks to launch a fresh offensive on a government complex housing a police academy near Aleppo and clashed with government troops protecting the strategic installation yesterday.
The military responded with airstrikes to defend the complex, which also includes several smaller army outposts in charge of protecting the police academy.
Rebels have logged a string of strategic victories over the past few weeks, especially in the northeast where Aleppo is located.
Capturing the complex near Aleppo would be another blow to the regime that has in recent weeks lost control key infrastructure in the northeast including a hydroelectric dam, a major oil field and two army bases along the road linking Aleppo with the airport to its east.
Rebels have also been attacking deeper into the heart of Damascus, posing a stiff challenge to President Bashar Assad regime in its seat of power.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, the director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said rebels have been trying for months to storm the complex west of Aleppo in the suburb of Khan Al-Asal.
Rebels have also been trying for weeks to capture Aleppo’s International Airport.
There were no reports of fighting for the facility yesterday. But there have been battles around a section of the highway the army has been using to transport troops and supplies to a military base within the airport complex.
Assad’s forces have been locked in a stalemate with rebels in Aleppo since July, when the city became a major front in the civil war.
Months of heavy street fighting have left whole neighborhoods in the city in ruins, carving it up into areas controlled by the regime and others held by rebels with both sides shelling each other’s positions.
On Friday, regime forces fired three missiles into a rebel-held area in eastern Aleppo, hitting several buildings and killing 37 people, according to the Observatory. It said the strike apparently involved ground-to-ground missiles.
A similar attack on Tuesday in another impoverished Aleppo neighborhood killed at least 33 people, almost half of them children.
A senior Syrian opposition leader said yesterday that his umbrella group has suspended participation in meetings with its Western backers and their Arab allies because of their indifference over the regime’s attacks on the Syrian people in Aleppo and in other cities.
“Assad has reached the stage of real genocide amid Arab silence and we renounce that,” said George Sabra, vice president of the Syrian National Coalition. He spoke to reporters in Cairo after meeting the Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby.
The United Nations says at least 70,000 people have been killed since Syria’s uprising against Assad’s authoritarian rule began nearly two years ago.
On Friday, a statement posted on the Facebook page of Sabra’s opposition group said its leaders would not travel to Washington or Moscow for any talks to protest the international community’s “silence over crimes committed by the regime.” The statement also said that the opposition leaders would boycott a meeting next month in Rome of the Friends of Syria, which includes the United States and its European allies.
In Washington, the State Department condemned rocket attacks on Aleppo, saying in a statement late Saturday the strikes are the “latest demonstrations of the Syrian regime’s ruthlessness and its lack of compassion for the Syrian people it claims to represent.” Efforts to stop the bloodshed in Syria so far have failed, leaving the international community at a loss of how to end the civil war.
Border fighting
Meanwhile, fierce fighting erupted during the night on the Syria-Lebanon border between Syrian troops and unknown gunmen, leaving a Lebanese man dead and four wounded, a Lebanese security source said yesterday.
Lebanese President Michel Sleiman demanded yesterday that Syria “refrain from firing toward Lebanese territory.” He also stressed, in a statement, the need to “respect the neutral position of (Lebanon) which means not interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, notably Syria.” The violence was triggered by the death hours earlier of another Lebanese man, who was killed on Saturday in gunfire coming from the Syria side of the border near a river separating the two countries, the security source said.
Members of his clan took part in the clashes against Syrian troops during the night in the Bukayaa region of northern Lebanon, a Lebanese official said.
The Syrian army used artillery, mortars and automatic weapons fired from the Syrian village of Mcherfe as they clashed with the gunmen, according to the security source, who said a Lebanese man was killed and at least four others wounded in the fighting.
He was unable to say whether the gunmen were Lebanese or Syrians opposed to the regime of President Bashar Assad.
Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday vowed his country will not remain silent over Assad’s “crimes.”
“Every day a large number of innocent children and women fall dead in Syria,” Erdogan, a key backer of Syria’s opposition, said in a speech in the United Arab Emirates.
“We will not remain silent on those committing crimes against their people... We will not remain silent on the brutal dictator in Syria,” Erdogan added.


Trio of favorites to vie for Iraq’s premiership

Updated 22 April 2018
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Trio of favorites to vie for Iraq’s premiership

  • Haddad said: “Abadi remains the single strongest contender but not strong enough to win anything close to a majority.”
  • The paramilitary chief ditched his civilian clothes in favor of military fatigues in 2014, to rally efforts against an ascendant Daesh.
BAGHDAD: An incumbent prime minister, his ousted predecessor and a paramilitary chief instrumental in defeating the Daesh group are the three favorites vying for Iraq’s premiership.
Since Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled in the US-led invasion of 2003, the constitution has vested key powers in the prime minister, a post reserved for the majority Shiite population.
Under a system of checks and balances designed to avoid a return to dictatorship, the winner of the May 12 parliamentary elections will have to form alliances with other Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish lists to secure a majority. Two of the favorites topping the lists were among the architects of victory against Daesh, which in 2014 seized a third of Iraq’s territory in a lightning offensive.
Security crisis
The incumbent prime minister, 66 year-old Haider Abadi, took over the reins from Nuri Al-Maliki in September 2014 at the high watermark of the security crisis.
The fightback which allowed Abadi to declare Iraq’s victory over the jihadists in December, has silenced critics of his lack of military experience.
An engineering graduate and holder of a doctorate from the University of Manchester in Britain, Abadi is from the same Dawa party as his predecessor Maliki.
He owes his position to the support of the Marjaiya, the supreme council of Iraq’s Shiite clerics, and to an international consensus.
“He is acceptable to all foreign stakeholders, from the Iranians, to the Americans (and) the Saudis,” said Fanar Haddad, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute.
As the official head of Iraq’s military, Abadi has bolstered morale by drafting in foreign trainers, who have helped professionalize tens of thousands of soldiers.
Under his watch and backed by a US-led international coalition, the army has banished Daesh from all its urban strongholds in Iraq, leaving jihadists largely confined to areas close to the Syrian border.
The Iraqi military has also pushed back the Kurds in the north’s oil-rich Kirkuk province, bolstering Abadi’s status as frontrunner going into the election.
“He has a popular base which transcends confessional and ethnic lines. He offers a narrative as a statesman and he is not tarnished by corruption,” said Iraqi political scientist Essam Al-Fili.
Haddad said: “Abadi remains the single strongest contender but not strong enough to win anything close to a majority.”
His main contender is Hadi Al-Ameri — a leader of Hashed Al-Shaabi, a paramilitary network that played a pivotal role in defeating IS.
Ameri comes from Diyala province and is a statistics graduate from Baghdad University. He fled to Iran in 1980 after Saddam executed top Shiite cleric Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr Al-Sadr.
The 64-year old is widely viewed as Tehran’s favored candidate.
He fought alongside Iranian forces in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980 to 1988 as part of the Badr organization, and he only returned from exile after Saddam’s ouster. During Maliki’s 2010-2014 term as premier, Ameri was a lawmaker and then transport minister, but he was blocked in a bid to head the Interior Ministry by an American veto.
The paramilitary chief ditched his civilian clothes in favor of military fatigues in 2014, to rally efforts against an ascendant Daesh. At the battlefront, he operated alongside his old friend Qassem Soleimani, who runs the foreign operations wing of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.
“I think Ameri will have a strong hand in the post-ballot negotiations but that government formation is likely to remain with Dawa and in all likelihood with Abadi,” said Haddad.
Rebuilding Basra
Beyond Ameri’s military credentials, his appeal has been bolstered by Hashed putting its bulldozers to work in rebuilding Basra and the capital’s Sadr City district, exposing the state’s deficiencies.
“With Dawa divided, I think Ameri sees himself as the joker in the pack, as a prime minister who can rebuild the civil state with the same success that he led the military,” said Fili.
The third candidate, 68-year-old Maliki, has been chomping at the bit since he was forced out in 2014, after serving eight years as prime minister.
While still a prominent Dawa leader, he was accused of marginalizing Sunnis and promoting corruption during his tenure.
“He is trying to focus his efforts on areas where the Dawa party is strong and is attempting to get closer to Shiite armed groups to stay in the spotlight,” said Fili.
For Haddad, the former premier’s chances are modest.
“Maliki’s fortunes have taken an irreversible hit. His second term is not remembered well by Iraqis in general.”
“The upper limit of his prospects might be to play second fiddle to Ameri,” Haddad said.