Trump and the Middle East: A new course

US President Donald Trump, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence, delivers remarks recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at the White House in Washington, on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Updated 07 December 2017
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Trump and the Middle East: A new course

• Trump has instituted a policy of unwavering support for Israel after a period of strained relations between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The last days of the Obama administration included an extraordinary US refusal at the UN to block a Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction.
Netanyahu welcomed Trump’s November 2016 election saying he was a “true friend of the State of Israel.” Since then, Trump has appointed a US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, known for his support for settlement activity, and ordered the withdrawal of US support for UNESCO, citing anti-Israel bias. Trump has tasked his son-in-law Jared Kushner, a senior adviser, with relaunching moribund peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. But he has been lukewarm about a Palestinian state and angered Palestinian leaders earlier this year with a threat — since withdrawn — to close the Palestine Liberation Organization mission in Washington.
• Trump considers Iran to be the principal threat to US interests in the Middle East and has frequently condemned the Islamic Republic for what he sees as its “destabilizing” influence in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.
Trump has been a relentless critic of the Iran nuclear deal signed in 2015 and has repeatedly threatened to scrap the agreement intended to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.
• Trump has strengthened ties with Saudi Arabia. Relations with another Middle East powerhouse — Egypt — have also entered a new era under Trump. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi was persona non grata under Obama and the US cut off some military aid because of the bloody crackdown on supporters of the former president. But Trump welcomed El-Sisi to the White House in April and proclaimed his “strong backing” for the Egyptian leader.
• Trump frequently accused Obama of failing to stand up to Bashar Assad and in April he ordered the first US military strike on Syrian troops since the civil war began in that country. Dozens of US missiles were fired at a Syrian air base in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack on a rebel town which left 87 people dead. The US has deployed some 2,000 troops in Syria and the Pentagon said Tuesday that they will stay “as long as we need” to prevent a return of the Daesh group.
Trump also reinforced the US military contingent in Afghanistan, a move at odds with Obama’s efforts to withdraw US troops from conflict zones abroad.


Iraq plans manual election recount only for suspect ballots

Updated 24 June 2018
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Iraq plans manual election recount only for suspect ballots

  • The parliamentary election has been marred by historically low turnout and fraud allegations

BAGHDAD: Iraq will conduct a manual recount of votes from a May election only for ballots mentioned in official reports on fraud or in formal complaints, a move likely to speed up the ratification of final results and the formation of a new government.
The parliamentary election has been marred by historically low turnout and fraud allegations.
The outgoing parliament this month passed a law mandating a nationwide manual recount of votes, but the panel of judges now in charge of the recount said it would only be conducted for problematic ballots.
Interpreting a ruling from the Supreme Federal Court, a panel of judges who are now in charge of the elections commission said on Sunday they would only manually recount problematic ballots “out of respect for the will of voters and their rights ... and to preserve their vote which came without any violation.”
The law passed by parliament had also suspended the Independent High Election Commission’s nine-member board of commissioners and replaced them with judges.
Ballot boxes from areas where there were fraud allegations will be moved to the capital Baghdad, where the recount will be held in the presence of United Nations representatives at a time and place to be determined later, the panel said in a statement.
The historically slow and complex process of forming an Iraqi government after an election has been further complicated this time round because of the fraud allegations and subsequent recount. Now that only specific ballots will be recounted, a new government could be formed faster.
The full recount was voted for by an outgoing parliament in which a majority of lawmakers, including the speaker, failed to retain their seats in the May poll. The vote came after a government report said there were serious electoral violations, but the report only recommended a partial recount.
Parliament met on Sunday to discuss another law that would allow it to remain in session until final results are ratified, even though its term constitutionally ends next week on June 30.
Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, who’s electoral list came third in the poll, and the winner, cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, entered into a political alliance on Saturday night, less than two weeks after Sadr announced a similar alliance with second-placed Iran ally Hadi Al-Amiri’s bloc, thus bringing the top three blocs together.
Sadr’s bloc has been boycotting parliament’s sessions. He and Amiri were against a full recount. Both Sadr and Abadi oppose the idea of the current parliament extending its mandate.