Iran-backed groups urge full US withdrawal from Iraq

US soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division fire artillery in support of Iraqi forces fighting Daesh militants from their base east of Mosul. (AP/File photo)
Updated 06 February 2018
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Iran-backed groups urge full US withdrawal from Iraq

BAGHDAD: Two major Iraqi Shiite groups backed by Iran are demanding all US forces leave Iraq, opposing plans by Baghdad and Washington to keep some there for training and advisory purposes.
An Iraqi government spokesman said on Monday US forces — who number more than 5,000 — had begun reducing their numbers but some would remain.
The Badr Organization, a Shiite group that has a minister in Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi’s government, in charge of the interior, said any remaining US, troops would be cause for instability.
“The two governments should coordinate to ensure a full withdrawal. US presence will be cause for internal polarization and a magnet for terrorists,” Badr spokesman Kareem Nuri said.
Kataib Hezbollah, a more militant, secretive and anti-American group, repeated threats to attack US forces.
“We are serious about getting the Americans out, using the force of arms because the Americans don’t understand any other language,” its spokesman, Jaafar Al-Husseini, told Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen TV on Monday evening.
Kataib Hezbollah has strong links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and has threatened to attack US forces several times in the past, describing their presence as an occupation.
A US official in Baghdad said: “We take anything that sounds like a threat from anyone against Americans seriously.”
“There’s not that many of us here and we are all operating within Iraqi military bases. A lot of this is frankly just political posturing and trying to take advantage of stories in the press to make broader political points,” he added.
The US-led international military coalition helped Iraqi forces recapture territory taken by Daesh in 2014 and 2015, providing air and artillery support in the battle to for Mosul, and trained tens of thousands of elite Iraqi soldiers.
“The coalition will tailor our forces in consultation with our Iraqi partners in order to ensure the lasting defeat of Daesh,” the coalition’s director of operations, Brig. Gen. Jonathan Braga, said in a statement on Monday.
Braga said that even if the composition of the force changes, the coalition would maintain the capabilities and presence to continue to train, advise and equip Iraqi forces to ensure that Daesh does not re-emerge.
US officials said that while Daesh has lost most of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria, there is concern about surviving fighters returning to insurgency tactics.


Sudan protests rumble on as Bashir remains defiant

Updated 17 January 2019
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Sudan protests rumble on as Bashir remains defiant

  • Rights group Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 40, including children and medical staff
  • Bashir has remained steadfast in rejecting calls for him to resign

KHARTOUM: One month after protests erupted across Sudan against rising bread prices, anti-government demonstrations have turned into daily rallies against a defiant President Omar al-Bashir who has rejected calls to resign.
Protest organisers have called for a march on the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum on Thursday, along with simultaneous demonstrations in several other cities.
Authorities say at least 24 people have died since the protests first broke out on December 19 after a government decision to triple the price of bread.
Rights group Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 40, including children and medical staff.
The protests have escalated into nationwide anti-government demonstrations that experts say pose the biggest challenge to Bashir since he took power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.
"I have been demonstrating and will continue to demonstrate until this regime is overthrown," vowed Adel Ibrahim, 28, who has participated in demonstrations in Khartoum.
"We are protesting to save our future and the future of our homeland."
Protests initially broke out in the eastern town of Atbara, which has a history of anti-government sentiment, and within days spread to other provinces and then to Khartoum.
Cities like Port Sudan, Gadaref, Kassala and agricultural regions that previously backed Bashir saw protests calling for him to step down, while the western region of Darfur too witnessed rallies against the 75-year-old veteran leader.
Using social media networks to mobilise crowds, most protesters have marched chanting "Peace, freedom, justice", while some have even adopted the 2011 Arab Spring slogan -- "the people want the fall of the regime".
Crowds of demonstrators, whistling and clapping, have braved volleys of tear gas whenever they have taken to the streets, witnesses said.
"There's a momentum now and people are coming out daily," said prominent Sudanese columnist Faisal Mohamed Salih.
"Even the authorities are astonished."
Although the unrest was triggered by the cut in a vital bread subsidy, Sudan has faced a mounting economic crisis in the past year, including an acute shortage of foreign currency.
Repeated shortages of food and fuel have been reported across cities, including in Khartoum, while the cost of food and medicine has more than doubled.
Officials have blamed Washington for Sudan's economic woes.
The US imposed a trade embargo on Khartoum in 1997 that was lifted only in October 2017. It restricted Sudan from conducting international business and financial transactions.
But critics of Bashir say his government's mismanagement of key sectors and its huge spending on fighting ethnic minority rebellions in Darfur and in areas near the South Sudan border has been stoking economic trouble for years.
"If this regime continues like this, we will soon lose our country, which is why we have to fight," said Ibrahim, who has been looking for a job for years.
An umbrella group of unions of doctors, teachers and engineers calling itself the Sudanese Professionals' Association has spearheaded the campaign, calling this week the "Week of Uprising".
"Protesters don't even know the organisers by names, but they still trust them," said Salih.
Sudanese authorities led by the feared National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) have cracked down on protesters, drawing international criticism.
More than 1,000 people, including protesters, activists, opposition leaders and journalists have been arrested so far, rights groups say.
Bashir has remained steadfast in rejecting calls for him to resign.
"Demonstrations will not change the government," he told a rally in Darfur on Monday as supporters chanted "Stay, stay".
"There's only one road to power and that is through the ballot box. The Sudanese people will decide in 2020 who will govern them," said Bashir, who is planning to run for the presidency for the third time in elections to be held next year.
Two uprisings in Sudan in 1964 and 1985 saw regimes change within days, but experts say this time protesters have a long road ahead.
"At the moment, Bashir appears to have the majority of the security services on his side," said Willow Berridge, a lecturer at Britain's Newcastle University.
Bashir's ruling National Congress Party has dismissed the demonstrations.
"There are some gatherings, but they are isolated and not big," party spokesman Ibrahim al-Siddiq told AFP.
The International Crisis Group think-tank said Bashir might well weather the unrest.
"But if he does, it will almost certainly be at the cost of further economic decline, greater popular anger, more protests and even tougher crackdowns," it said in a report.
Salih said protesters appeared to be determined.
"But the one who tires first will lose," he said.