Rebuild Iraq or risk return of Daesh, warns US

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives to attend the Kuwait International Conference for Reconstruction of Iraq, in Kuwait City on February 13, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 13 February 2018
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Rebuild Iraq or risk return of Daesh, warns US

KUWAIT CITY: Nations fighting Daesh must help rebuild Iraq after three years of war or risk the country sliding back into chaos, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday.

He urged a meeting of major donors in Kuwait to unite and stay focused on defeating Daesh, which remains “a serious threat to the stability of the region, our homelands and other parts of the globe.”

His warning came amid escalating US-Turkish tensions over northern Syria, and a diplomatic standoff that has pitted Qatar against Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.

The war against Daesh must remain the priority even though major combat operations are over, Tillerson said.

Having helped with the fighting, countries across the region have a duty to help Iraq rebuild its shattered infrastructure, he added.

“We must continue to clear unexploded remnants of war left behind by Daesh, enable hospitals to reopen, restore water and electricity services, and get boys and girls back in school,” he said.

Representatives of at least 2,300 companies from 70 countries are attending the Kuwait International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq, which is due to end on Wednesday. It has been organized by Kuwait, Iraq and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The task faced is enormous, with large parts of Iraq left in ruins by almost 15 years of war, dating back to the 2003 US-led invasion and subsequent occupation of the country.

In January 2014, an early incarnation of Daesh captured the city of Fallujah — the first major urban center in Iraq to fall into its hands.

Then in June that year it seized Mosul, followed by Ramadi in May 2015. At the same time, it governed large parts of Syria.

Last December, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi declared victory over Daesh in his country.

Speaking at the conference in Kuwait, he urged delegates to capitalize on this progress by helping Iraq get back on its feet.

“The return of those who were displaced requires our help to rebuild their homes,” he said. “Today, Iraq stands in rubble.”

But with violence escalating in neighboring Syria, donors have their work cut out. Tillerson said the US will spend $200 million on development projects in Syria, bringing its total contribution to the humanitarian effort there to almost $7.9 billion since the conflict began in 2011.

But with Turkish forces continuing to push into northern Syria to confront US-backed Kurdish militias, Damascus recently shooting down an Israeli warplane over Syrian territory, and Russia and Iran heavily involved in the war, the wider region remains highly volatile.

Tillerson called for an end to the long-running dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in which Riyadh accuses Doha of supporting extremists and being too close to Iran.


Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

The worshippers forced their way into the area ahead of Friday prayer. (Reuters)
Updated 23 February 2019
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Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

  • The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area

AMMAN: For the first time since 2003, Muslim worshippers broke an Israeli ban and offered Friday prayers in the Bab Al-Rahmeh prayer hall, which is part of the Haram Al-Sharif/Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Hundreds of Palestinian worshippers entered the Bab Al-Rahmeh area inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday for the first time since the area was closed to Muslim worship by Israeli authorities.

The worshippers, led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein and other religious leaders, forced their way into the area ahead of the weekly Friday prayer, defying the Israeli ban.

The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area, which has only been open during the past 16 years to Jewish fanatics during provocative visits to the Muslim holy place, the third holiest site in Islam, according to the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa.

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the former mufti and now a member of the newly constituted Islamic Waqf Council in Jerusalem, delivered a short sermon in which he reiterated that “the Haram Al-Sharif is all 144 dunums of land, including the mosques, prayer halls, courtyard musuems and schools within it.” Sabri said that Muslims will not allow anyone to diminish Muslim rights in the entire mosque area.

The Friday prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh went off peacefully in part because of an Israeli decision late on Thursday not to make any further escalations, a reliable source in Jerusalem told Arab News.

Khaleel Assali, a member of the new council who participated in the prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh, told Arab News that the mood was peaceful and upbeat. “It was a beautiful thing to be able to reclaim part of our religious site that we were barred from using for so many years.”

The deputy head of the PLO’s Fatah movement, Mahmoud Alloul, praised the unprecedented action by the popular movement in Jerusalem. 

In a statement published on the Wafa website, Alloul called on Palestinians to stay steadfast in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa and Bab Al-Rahmeh and to “continue to stand up to the occupiers and their repeated incursions in Al-Aqsa courtyards.”

Mohammad Ishtieh, a senior Fatah leader who is expected to be the next Palestinian prime minister, issued a statement saying that what happened in Jerusalem today proves beyond a shadow of doubt that all actions and decisions aimed at Judaization of Jerusalem have failed as a result of the steadfastness of our people in our eternal capital. Ishtieh praised the defenders of Jerusalem who screamed for justice and who again forced the Israeli occupiers to back down.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) and a new member of the Jordanian-appointed Waqf Council, told Arab News that all parties participated and share this success. “Everyone participated and every party should get credit for this success. Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa unite us.”

The popular protests that led to the breakup of the 16-year-old Israeli ban began on Feb. 13 when the newly constituted empowered and expanded 18-member Waqf Council decided to hold a symbolic prayer at the barred Bab Al-Rahmeh site. The Israelis responded by placing heavy chains at the gate and making arrests. 

After four days of arrests, Israel allowed the removal of the chains but would not go as far as allowing Muslim worshippers to enter. On Wednesday the Waqf Council called on worshippers to pray at the Bab Al-Rahmeh site. All five daily prayers were held outside the barred prayer hall. A confrontation was expected Friday, but the insistence of the worshippers on reclaiming their site led to the Israelis backing down, Jerusalem sources told Arab News.