Syrian forces reach opposition-held air base in Idlib province

Pro-government forces can be seen in this file photo from 2014. Pro-government forces reached the Idlib-based base earlier this month but pulled back 10 days ago to fight off a counter-offensive. (File photo: Reuters)
Updated 20 January 2018
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Syrian forces reach opposition-held air base in Idlib province

ANKARA, Turkey: Syrian state TV says government forces have reached the perimeter of a rebel-held air base deep inside what was once opposition territory in northwest Syria.
The station said on Saturday the government is attacking Abu Dhuhour base in Idlib province.
Pro-government forces reached the base earlier this month but pulled back 10 days ago to fight off a counter-offensive by rebels and Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group says pro-government forces have surrounded Abu Dhuhour base from three sides.
Rebels took over the base in 2015 but have not been able to use it as an airfield because they do not have an air force.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s military says it has retaliated against fire into Turkey from across the border in a Kurdish-controlled enclave in northwest Syria.
A brief military statement said Saturday the military responded to two days of “harassment” by attacking refuges and shelters in the enclave of Afrin allegedly belonging to a Syrian Kurdish militia group that Turkey considers to be a “terror” organization. The military did not provide details.
Turkey has vowed to launch a ground operation into Afrin to eradicate the threat from the group it says is an extension of Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey. It has been massing troops and tanks at its border.
Turkey’s defense minister said Thursday the offensive into Afrin had “de facto” started, in reference to sporadic Turkish military shelling of the area.


New Iraqi coalition ‘in three days’

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, left, meets with Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr in Baghdad early Sunday. Al-Sadr, whose coalition won the largest number of seats in Iraq's parliamentary elections, says the next government will be "inclusive." (Iraqi government via AP)
Updated 21 May 2018
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New Iraqi coalition ‘in three days’

  • The Sairoon alliance led by the powerful Shiite leader Muqtada Al-Sadr won the May 12 election with 54 parliamentary seats.
  • While Al-Sadr can not become prime minister, he is playing a key role in the talks.

BAGHDAD: Iraqi political forces have made “remarkable” progress in talks to form the largest parliamentary bloc in preparation for a new government, politicians involved in the negotiations told Arab News.

The Sairoon alliance led by the powerful Shiite leader Muqtada Al-Sadr won the May 12 election with 54 parliamentary seats.

Talks aimed at forming a new government started immediately after the official results were announced late on Friday.

The parliamentary alliance is expected to be announced in the next few days, and while Al-Sadr can not become prime minister, he is playing a key role in the talks.

Dhiyaa Al-Assadi, the head of Sadrist Parliamentary bloc, told Arab News they have initial agreements with several key political players including the current prime minister Haider Al-Abadi and his Al-Nassir coalition and the prominent Shiite cleric Ammar Al-Hakim and his list Al-Hikma.

He added they also have basic agreements with Vice President Ayad Allawi and his Al-Wattiniya alliance along with several Kurdish parties.

“The post of prime minister is not our main goal,” Al-Assadi said. “Our goal is to make the required reforms and correct the mistakes that dominated the political process since 2003.”

Shiite politicians involved in the talks said the nucleus of the alliance is Sairoon and Hikma and negotiations are underway with Al-Abadi and the pro-Iranian Al-Fattah list to join.

“The details are supposed to be settled soon and the coalition supposed to be announced within 72 hours,” Hikma spokesman Mohammed Al-Maiyahi told Arab News. 

The talks have focussed on deciding the form of the next government, its principles and program, sources involved said. 

Abandoning the power sharing government, which has been adopted by political parties since 2003, is the most prominent issue agreed by the negotiators.

“We have agreed to form a national majority government. A government that represents all of Iraq's contents (Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds) but does not include all the winning parliamentary blocs,” a senior Shiite politician told Arab News.

Rejecting foreign intervention in Iraqi affairs, writing a clear government program and pledging to implement it according to certain time limits, are also principles agreed between negotiators.

They decided not to nominate anyone for a ministerial position considered to have failed in previous posts or who has been involved in corruption. 

“The government program is initial and the nominated prime minister has to be committed to its details and its time limits,” the politician said. 

“He (the nominated PM) would be fired after a year, if he fails to meet the items of the government program and its time limits.”

The victory by Sairoon, an alliance of candidates from various affiliations, came amid low voter turnout with many Iraqis jaded by corruption and the lack of progress under recent governments.

Al-Fattah, which is headed by Hadi Al-Amiri, the commander of Badr Organization, one of the most prominent paramilitary groups, won 47 seats and came second. Al-Nassir came third with 44 seats, but its leader, Prime Minister Al-Abadi is still in a strong position to keep his job.

The negotiations need to form an alliance that consists of no less than 166 seats - half of the total in parliament plus one.