Eight dead as US-led strike hits Iraq forces

Iraqi forces backed by tribal militias during a battle to retake a village from Daesh on the eastern bank of the river Tigris. A US airstrike killed eight Iraqi security personnel on Saturday. (Reuters)
Updated 27 January 2018

Eight dead as US-led strike hits Iraq forces

BAGHDAD: An airstrike by the US-led coalition battling Daesh hit Iraqi security personnel on Saturday, officials said, in an apparent mistake that killed eight people.
The friendly fire incident drew swift criticism of the US military presence in Iraq from pro-Iranian figures in Baghdad.
“Eight people — a senior intelligence official, five policemen and a woman — were killed by a US strike on the center of Al-Baghdadi,” a town in western Iraq, a provincial official said, asking not to be identified.
“It seems the strike was a mistake,” the official said of the incident in the Euphrates Valley town, adjacent to the Ain Al-Asad air base 250 km west of the capital.
Those killed were traveling in a convoy which had been deployed to support a dawn raid on suspected Daesh militants in the area.
Despite the government’s declaration of victory over Daesh last month, the terrorists remain active underground in several regions of Iraq, particularly along the Euphrates Valley and in the vast desert to its west.
The US-led strike destroyed most of the vehicles in the convoy and also wounded 20 people, including the town’s police chief, who was in a serious condition, the provincial official said.
Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, which coordinates the country’s campaign against Daesh, said it had ordered a special forces raid in the town after receiving intelligence of a “meeting to be attended by terrorist commander Karim Al-Samarmad.”
It said it had requested “air support from the international coalition.”
“Once the terrorist was arrested and while troops were carrying out searches, a grenade was thrown from an adjacent building.”
As the special forces troops withdrew to base, they ran into a convoy of police and paramilitaries of the Hashd A-Shaabi auxiliary force that had been sent to support them.
The convoy was composed of pickup trucks and the returning forces mistook them for terrorists and called in a coalition air strike, the JOC said, lamenting the lack of coordination.
“An inquiry has been opened,” it added.
Coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon said the strike had been carried out at the request of Iraqi forces, who would take the lead in investigating any failings.
“Anything we do in Iraq is in support of the Iraqi security forces. We were asked for support and we provided it,” Dillon said.
“Iraqi forces have announced an investigation, they are on the lead for the investigation.
“For any allegation, especially of civilian losses, we conduct an investigation.”
But leaders of the pro-Iran militias that form the backbone of the Hashd auxiliary force, which played a major role in the campaign against Daesh independently of the coalition, were unswayed by the explanation.
Militia leader Moqtada Sadr, who led repeated uprisings against coalition troops during the US-led occupation that followed the 2003 invasion, demanded immediate action against those responsible for the strike.
“Once again the American occupation forces have shown their tyranny and arrogance by flagrantly violating the independence and sovereignty of the Iraqi government,” he said on Twitter.
Senior Hashd commander Qais Al-Khazali, who heads the Asaib Ahl Al-Haq militia, said the strike “raises serious and dangerous questions.”
Those questions concern “the American military presence in Iraq, the role it intends to play and the justification for its presence after the military defeat of IS (Daesh),” he said on Twitter.


Tel Aviv beaches fall foul in Israel’s passion for plastic

Updated 56 min 23 sec ago

Tel Aviv beaches fall foul in Israel’s passion for plastic

  • Despite the activities of environmental groups, Israel remains hooked on plastic

TEL AVIV: In the early morning, when the only sound on Tel Aviv beach is the waves, Yosef Salman and his team pick up plastic debris left by bathers or cast up by the sea.
Working in heat and humidity with large rakes, they scoop plastic cups, cigarette ends, empty sunscreen tubes and soiled babies’ nappies.
Also present, but impossible to separate from the sand, are microplastics, tiny particles of plastic debris that have been broken down by sun and salt.
“When it rains... you can see tons of plastic in the sand,” says Ariel Shay, of the Plastic Free Israel movement, which organizes volunteer beach cleanups.
Despite the activities of environmental groups, Israel remains hooked on plastic.
A June report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) ranked Tel Aviv’s coastline as the third most polluted by plastic waste in the Mediterranean, behind Barcelona and southern Turkey.
Valencia, Alexandria, Algiers and Marseille were listed in fourth to seventh places.
With around four million inhabitants, Tel Aviv is Israel’s most populous metropolitan area.
“Every time I go to the beach now, I spend my time cleaning — it’s horrible!” complains Shani Zylbersztejn, with an eye on her nine-month-old daughter, who plays with a plastic fork freshly dug from the sand.
In the upper-crust town of Herzliya, just north of Tel Aviv, Limor Gorelik, of the environmental protection NGO Zalul, patrols the sands, offering beachgoers bamboo cups and reusable bags in a bid to wean them from single-use plastics.
Gorelik blames Israel’s passion for plastic on a lack of education and on deeply ingrained habits, such as using disposable tableware for family picnics.
Observant Jews who want a beachfront lunch on Saturdays are forbidden from washing the dishes afterwards, because their faith bans them from working on the Sabbath.
“They’re not permitted to wash dishes so they use disposable plastic,” Gorelik says.
Even plastic waste dumped in the bins that dot the beaches can end up in the sea, carried by the wind or by birds which rip open garbage bags in search of food.
Independent researcher Galia Pasternak has analyzed coastal plastic pollution in Israel.
According to her data, 60 percent of the waste on the beach comes from the bathers themselves.
Some is also borne by currents from Gaza and Egypt in the south or from Lebanon further north.
In 2005, Israel’s environmental protection ministry launched a program offering local councils incentives for proven results in cleaning their beaches.
Subject to regular inspection, councils that meet requirements get funding, while failing authorities face cuts or even court, says Ran Amir, head of the environment ministry’s marine division.

Amir cites the case of the popular Palmahim beach, south of Tel Aviv.
Palmahim municipal council was taken to court and fined over the state of the beach — which has since become “one of the cleanest beaches in Israel today,” he says.
The ministry’s strategy in recent years has also included public service messages on radio and online, along with fines, recycling facilities and education, according to Amir.
“It think it has partially worked,” says Pasternak, who helped set up some of those programs.
Zalul’s Gorelik, however, says Israel is still trailing behind other countries.
She says charges introduced in supermarkets in 2017 for plastic bags — previously given away free — are too low, at just 0.10 Israeli shekels (0.02 euros/ $0.03) each.
“It’s not enough,” Gorelik says, adding that even this modest measure does not apply to small grocery stores.
She points to new European Union restrictions on single-use plastics.
“Europeans are the leaders on the subject,” she says.
“Here, we are very far away.”