Iraqi Kurds take to the streets for lack of funds

Kurdish protesters run away from tear gaz during a rally against the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq. (Reuters)
Updated 19 December 2017
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Iraqi Kurds take to the streets for lack of funds

BAGHDAD: Thousands of Iraqi Kurds took to the streets in the Kurdish region on Monday to protest the lack of funds and basic services. The demonstrators also demanded the resignation of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), eye witnesses and officials told Arab News.

Riots broke out when protesters set fire to a number of government buildings and party headquarters in Sulaimaniyah, including the offices of the two ruling parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Police opened fire, using tear gas to disperse demonstrators. Scores were injured in multiple demonstrations in Irbil and Sulaimaniyah, local officials told Arab News.

TV footage, circulated by several Kurdish channels, showed demonstrators carrying small white banners with one word written in red "Go"; others carried red cards. Other footage showed dozens of jubilant protesters gathered in front of a KDP headquarters engulfed in flames.

Kurdish security services are on high alert as the demonstrations are expected to spread to other areas within the region, officials said.

"People are protesting delays in payment of their salaries which have not been paid for months; protesters are also angry about the absence of basic services in the region," Ghayath Al-Suraji, a senior PUK leader in Kurdistan, told Arab News.

"The (Kurdish) region has been facing a serious financial crisis due to the disagreement between Baghdad and Kurdistan," Al-Suraji said.

Regional sources told Arab News that government officials had only received 25 percent of their salaries for the past two years. In addition, basic daily services, specifically electricity and fuel supplies, have been reduced. These punitive measures were imposed by Baghdad in response to the controversial referendum on independence by the KRG in late September and have worsened the situation, officials said.

Baghdad has banned international flights to and from regional airports and has coordinated with Iran and Turkey to close border crossings into and out of Kurdistan. The revenues from the internal airports and the smuggling of oil seized by the KRG after 2014 were the backbone of the region's economy.

"The KRG has not paid even a penny to government employees in the region for three months," a senior Kurdish official told Arab News.

"The punitive measures (taken by Baghdad) have divided the oil exports of the region in half and the shutdown of the border crossings has deprived the region of the fuel which is vital for life in this mountainous area," the official said. "We were exporting crude oil to Turkey and Iran via the main pipeline network, but now we are exporting it through tankers which means decreased quantities and increased expenses."
 


First Russia air strikes hit south Syria as assault looms

Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad began ramping up their air strikes and artillery fire on the zone. (AP)
Updated 24 June 2018
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First Russia air strikes hit south Syria as assault looms

  • Russia, the United States, and Jordan agreed in July of last year on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there
  • Intense Russian air strikes are hitting towns in Daraa’s eastern countryside for the first time since the cease-fire was agreed in southern Syria last year

BEIRUT: Russia bombed rebel-held parts of southern Syria late Saturday for the first time since brokering a cease-fire there nearly a year ago, a monitor group said, as allied regime troops prepare a ground assault.
Southern Syria is a strategic prize for local and global players involved in the country’s convoluted seven-year war.
After securing the capital Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Assad appears keen to recapture the southern provinces of Daraa and Sweida, still mostly held by rebels.
He has sent military reinforcements there for weeks, dropped flyers demanding rebels surrender, and escalated bombardment in recent days.
Late Saturday night, his Russian allies bombed rebel-held towns in Daraa for the first time since the summer of 2017, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Intense Russian air strikes are hitting towns in Daraa’s eastern countryside for the first time since the cease-fire was agreed in southern Syria last year,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
The Observatory said the warplanes used Saturday — based on type, location, munitions and flight patterns — had come from the Russian-operated Hmeimim base in coastal Syria.
The Britain-based monitor said at least 25 Russian strikes hit the rebel zones but did not have any casualty figures.

Russia, the United States, and Jordan agreed in July of last year on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there.
Since then, Moscow’s warplanes — active in Syria since 2015 — had refrained from bombing rebel positions in the south.
But violence has been ratcheting up this week as Syrian government forces look to retake the south militarily.
Forces loyal to Assad began ramping up their air strikes and artillery fire on the zone on Tuesday.
At least 19 civilians in rebel-held zones have died since then, according to the Observatory.
Several civilians have also been killed in opposition fire on government zones, with state news agency SANA reporting Saturday that two civilians were killed in Daraa city in rebel shelling.
Some 12,000 people have been displaced from Daraa province in recent days, the Observatory said, with many seeking refuge in poorly-equipped displacement camps further west.
The United Nations has warned that growing violence is putting the lives of 750,000 people in rebel parts of the south in danger.
On Saturday, regime forces took two villages in Daraa province, their first ground gains after days of bombardment, the Observatory said.

“The Russian strikes started around 10:30pm local time (1930 GMT) and stopped after midnight,” said Ibrahim Mohammad, a media activist in the battered rebel town of Busr Al-Harir in Daraa.
He said he and other residents had taken to their basements and bomb shelters as soon as they heard the planes, describing a steady thud of bombardment for nearly two hours.
In an effort to avoid a deadly offensive, international powers are holding talks aimed at reaching a negotiated settlement for Syria’s south.
“All sides should seize the opportunity to negotiate a deal for the conditional return of the Syrian state to the south west and avert a military conclusion that, for all sides and the local population, would be a worse outcome,” wrote the International Crisis Group think tank last week.
“The US, Russia and Jordan, which brokered a south-western cease-fire in 2017, should urgently extend that truce in preparation for a broader settlement,” the report added.
Earlier this month, Assad said contacts were ongoing between Russia, the United States and Israel over the southern front.
“We are giving the political talks a chance, but if they fail, there will be no choice but liberation by force,” he said.
The regime has retaken large parts of Syria from the opposition since Russia intervened militarily on its side in 2015.