PM Hariri urges Lebanese to put country first

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Updated 23 November 2017
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PM Hariri urges Lebanese to put country first

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri said on Thursday that the political crisis in Lebanon this month was “a wake up call” for Lebanese with different loyalties to put their country ahead of regional issues.
Hariri was referring to the crisis ignited by his decision to resign earlier this month. He announced the shock resignation from Saudi Arabia, a Sunni monarchy and regional powerhouse, which is locked in a tussle with Shiite Islamist Iran.
After returning to Lebanon this week, he shelved the decision on Wednesday at the request of President Michel Aoun.
“The period that passed was perhaps like a wake up call for all of us to look for Lebanon’s interests rather than looking at problems around us,” Hariri said at the Annual Arab Banking Conference in Beirut on Thursday. “The problems around us are important, but Lebanon is more important.”
Hariri also reaffirmed the need for Lebanon to stick by its policy of staying out of regional conflict — “not just with words but with action as well.”
His comments refer to the Iran-backed Hezbollah political and military movement, whose regional military role has greatly alarmed Saudi Arabia, Hariri’s long-time ally.
“I want to stress that ... our main concern is stability, and this is what we’ll be working on,” he said.
Hariri said on Wednesday his decision to postpone resigning would lead to “a responsible dialogue ... that deals with divisive issues and their repercussions on Lebanon’s relations with Arab brothers.”
Top Lebanese officials have said Riyadh forced him to quit and held him in the kingdom. Riyadh and Hariri deny this.
Hariri returned to Lebanon after an intervention by France.
A leader in Hariri’s Future Movement said on Thursday that Hariri’s decision to wait instead of officially resigning from his post was a “wise step” that will allow for more dialogue.


In Iraq’s Anbar, election offers chance to settle scores

Updated 26 April 2018
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In Iraq’s Anbar, election offers chance to settle scores

  • In January 2014, Daesh militants captured the city of Fallujah just west of the capital, and after a year of heavy fighting they took the city of Ramadi too
  • Three years of brutal militant rule may have helped ease sectarian tensions between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites

RAMADI, Iraq: In the vast desert province of Anbar where Daesh group militants first emerged in Iraq, parliamentary elections next month are an opportunity for the predominantly Sunni residents to settle scores.
Many of the new candidates are eager to push out lawmakers they believe minimized the danger of — or even sympathized with — the Sunni extremists that stormed across the country in the summer of 2014.
“The political class that existed before IS is no longer suitable. They have lost their credibility with the residents of Anbar,” said Rafea Al-Fahdawi, who heads the candidate list in the province for the Victory Alliance led by Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi.
“They were involved in bringing terrorism and made people believe that terrorists were just rebels belonging to our tribes. The people of Iraq will punish them at the ballot box,” said Fahdawi, leader of the Tribes Against Terrorism coalition that battled militants in the western province.
In the lush garden surrounding his home in the city of Ramadi, tents were set up to host crowds that came to listen to Abadi, part of the premier’s campaign tour in the area.
“We fought against terrorism, and today, thanks to our campaign, we want to continue the fight against sectarianism. We have great hope for change,” said Fahdawi, 62, dressed in a traditional white robe.
In late 2013, Sunni tribes in Anbar rose up against the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.
In January 2014, Daesh militants captured the city of Fallujah just west of the capital, and after a year of heavy fighting they took the city of Ramadi too.
It was not until 2016 that the Iraqi army and the paramilitary forces of the Hashed Al-Shaabi managed to retake the two cities, recovering full control of Anbar province in late 2017.
The people of Anbar are eager for change, their feelings fueled by burning disappointment with the political class.
In the largely agricultural province, where tribes carry considerable weight, 352 candidates are competing on 18 lists for 15 seats.
A quarter of the contenders are running for office for the first time, according to the electoral commission, who say the province’s electoral lists include women and young people.
“The Iraqi people, in general, want to see radical and complete change. We will not accept the same faces under different (party) names and slogans,” said Sheikh Mohammed Al-Nimrawi, a leader of the Khalidiya tribes in Ramadi.
In a sign of the times, election fever has taken over the province.
It is a stark difference from previous polls and campaigns, which were bleak and almost secretive affairs as militants increased attacks on polling stations.
Despite Daesh threats against this year’s elections, campaign posters are everywhere in Anbar — hanging on the city’s destroyed homes and on the walls of newly rented candidate offices.
Even more surprising is the presence of a list from the Conquest Alliance led by Hadi Al-Ameri, the most well-known leader of the largely Shiite Hashed Al-Shaabi.
Ameri fought for Tehran in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war and has been accused of forming death squads in Iraq at the height of sectarian tensions nearly 10 years ago.
“The time for change has come. Anbar will witness social and political revolution and choose men who can steer the ship to safety,” said Khalaf Al-Jeblawi, a candidate on the Conquest Alliance list.
“The province has emerged from a fierce war and the Hashed fighters played a big role in the battle,” he said.
The Hashed Al-Shaabi paramilitary force was formed in 2014 at the urging of Shiite spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Sistani to counter the Daesh blitz.
But three years of brutal militant rule may have helped ease sectarian tensions between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites.
“While sectarian identities do retain a (somewhat diminished) political relevance, when it comes to violence, today ‘sectarianism’ is yesterday’s conflict,” said Fanar Haddad, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute.
“I think that, for now, sectarian division is no longer the defining feature of Iraqi political mobilization.”