Syria rejects UN monitors for ‘de-escalation’ deal

Syrian families of opposition fighters gather at a staging point in the Barzeh neighborhood of Damascus as they wait to be evacuated Monday. (AFP)
Updated 09 May 2017
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Syria rejects UN monitors for ‘de-escalation’ deal

JEDDAH: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moallem said on Monday his country would reject any UN role in monitoring the implementation of four “de-escalation” zones.
“We do not accept a role for the UN or international forces to monitor the agreement,” Al-Moallem told reporters in Damascus.
Regime backers Russia and Iran and opposition supporter Turkey reached a deal on Thursday on four “de-escalation zones” in Syria where the regime and the opposition will halt hostilities.
The deal says those areas would be bordered by “security zones” with checkpoints and observation posts “ensured by the forces of the guarantors by consensus,” but that “third-party” monitors could also be deployed.
Al-Moallem said there could be a role “as the Russian guarantor has said, for military police,” but it was unclear if he was referring to Syrian or foreign units.
Al-Moallem said Syrian regime forces would respond “decisively” to any violation or attack by the opposition.
“There are still logistical details that will be discussed in Damascus, and we will see the extent of commitment to this agreement,” he added.
The Russia-Iran-Turkey deal became effective over the weekend and brought a general reduction in violence across the country, but clashes continued, particularly in central Syria. There are still questions about how it will be enforced.
Al-Moallem said the regime hopes the agreement will, as a start, separate armed opposition groups from extremist groups such as the Nusra Front.
“It is the duty of these armed groups to force the Nusra Front and others to leave their areas in order for this area to become an area of de-escalation,” he said.
Al-Moallem warned neighboring Jordan not to send troops to Syria. He said Damascus does not want confrontation, but “if Jordanian forces enter our land without coordination with Syria, we will consider them hostile forces.”
Jordan said it had no intention of sending any Jordanian forces into Syria. However, it said it will take all measures to counter any threat to its security and stability coming from Syria.
Jordan’s former minister of state for media affairs and communication, Nabil Al-Sharif, told Arab News on Monday: “Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, Jordan has been maintaining a steady political stance, calling for the unity of the Syrian territories and for a political solution to the six-year-long war in that country.”
As Al-Sharif said during his meeting with media representatives in late April, King Abdallah clearly emphasized that no Jordanian soldier would be deployed beyond the border on any combat mission, refuting claims that Jordan was planning a military intervention in Syria in cooperation with regional and international parties.
In April, Syrian President Bashar Assad told Russia’s Sputnik news agency that his government was aware of Jordan’s plans to deploy troops in Syria in coordination with the US.
Jordan’s minister of state for media affairs, Mohammad Momani, said Assad’s claim was “far from reality.”
Momani added: “Jordan has been a target of terrorist attacks. Terrorist groups active in Syria — such as Daesh, Al-Qaeda and Jabhat Al-Nusrah — committed these attacks. Jordan has every right to ensure the safety of its lands and its citizens. The kingdom does not have to send any troops into Syria to ensure that that objective is secured. Rather, the government has been coordinating with active tribal groups inside Syria in that regard.”
He continued: “The Syrian regime’s repeated accusation of Jordan reflects its isolation from the rest of the world. There are several international and regional actors on the ground in Syria, including the Russians, the Iranians and the Lebanese Hezbollah, let alone the thousands of terrorists affiliated with terrorist groups. Instead of making this illogical statement, it (the Syrian regime) should work with the international community to reach a reasonable solution to end the war that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.”
— With input from AP


Kurds split on next Iraqi president and throw government formation into further turmoil

Updated 26 September 2018
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Kurds split on next Iraqi president and throw government formation into further turmoil

  • The failure of the Kurds to agree on a single candidate will threaten the stability of the Kurdish region
  • A close ally of KDP leader Massoud Barzani has been backed as a presidential nomination

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s main Kurdish political forces have failed to agree on a candidate for the post of president, highlighting the depth of the rift  between them and redrawing their map of influence in Baghdad, negotiators told Arab News.

Electing the president is the second step in the process of forming a government. According to the political power sharing agreement adopted by Iraqi political parties since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, the post is allocated to the Kurds.

By the end of Monday, the last day for nominations, more than 30 candidates, including a woman, had declared their nominations for the post but the absence of consensus between the Kurdish parties on a single candidate, meant the vote was delayed until Thursday.

The president in the Iraqi constitution does not have wide executive powers, but could play a pivotal role in resolving disputes between Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region, and between the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish powers in Baghdad. 

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the largest Kurdish parties in Iraq control more than 50 seats in parliament. The two parties have shared the federal posts allocated to the Kurds for the last 15 years. Voting for the PUK’s presidential candidate had become a tradition, but the insistence of the KDP to compete for the post this time has confused Iraq’s parties and forced them to renegotiate.

“It is time to get this position back to the larger Kurdish bloc,” Irdlan Noor Al-Deen, a KDP leader and MP said. “We are insisting to compete for the post ... and we will not discuss the option of stepping down.”

The failure of the Kurds to agree on a single candidate will threaten the stability of the Kurdish region and deepen the disagreement between the two Kurdish parties that arose in October last year when Kurdish forces associated with the PUK refused to fight Iraqi security forces after they launched a campaign to regain central government control over the disputed areas between Baghdad and Erbil. The offensive was in response to the independence  referendum held a month earlier.

The two parties are squaring up in elections scheduled for next week for the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Azad Warti, a PUK leader, said that if the political “fire” from the KDP continued after the elections “we will review our relationship with them.”

“There are a lot of joints areas between us ... and continuing with this approach means that we may not continue with them in the same front,” he said.

Last week, the PUK’s leadership nominated the Kurdish veteran politician Barham Salih, while the KDP nominated Fuad Hussein, the head of the Kurdistan Regional Presidency Office and personal secretary of Massoud Barzani, the most prominent Kurdish leader and former president of the Kurdish region.

It is not clear why Barzani, who headed the KDP, suddenly insisted on the presidential candidacy. Some observers see this step as an attempt to seek revenge against the Kurdish and Shiite forces that rejected the independence referendum and supported Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi when he imposed a series of financial and administrative sanctions on Kurdistan.

“Barzani is looking to get revenge from the leaders of the PUK because he believes that they let him down in his battle with Baghdad when he held the referendum,” Abdulwahid Tuama, a political analyst told Arab News.

“Also, getting the post for the KDP candidate will reinforce the divisions between the PUK and its Kurdish allies in Baghdad, and this will provide the KDP with a great opportunity to be the touchstone in the ongoing negotiations to form a government in Baghdad.”

The major Shiite blocs, which initially declared their support for Barham Salih, have now said they do not mind if the KDP takes over the president, but stipulated the replacement of the party's official candidate.

“Fouad Hussein was rejected by all Shiite political forces. We told Barzani that we have no objection to voting for his candidate, but he has to nominate someone else,” A key Shiite negotiator told Arab News.

“Hussein is the private secretary of Barzani and if he is elected as president of Iraq, it means that the president will be Barzani’s secretary.

“This is an insult to the country and to all, and we will never accept it.”

Iran and the United States have been the most prominent international players in Iraq since 2003. Both are deeply involved in the ongoing negotiations between Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni parties. 

Brett McGurk, the US envoy to Iraq and Syria, has played a key role in naming Barham Salih as a candidate for the PUK, while Gen. Qassim Sulaimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, flew to Erbil on Sunday evening to meet Barzani and “persuade him to abandon his stubbornness and accept a compromise that excludes both candidates (Salih and Hussein),” two Shiite negotiators told Arab News. 

“Sulaimani went last night to Erbil to smooth the tension and try to find a solution that would be accepted by all the related parties,” a key Shiite negotiator told Arab News.

“He will suggest to provide a new candidate who should be accepted by all Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni parties. 

The negotiator said parliament may vote to reelect Fuad Massum, the outgoing Iraqi president, as he is accepted by all.