Saudi Arabia to allocate $1.5 billion for Iraq reconstruction, trade

Iraq says it will need more than $88 billion to rebuild the country, after more than three years of devastating conflict with Daesh. (Reuters)
Updated 14 February 2018
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Saudi Arabia to allocate $1.5 billion for Iraq reconstruction, trade

KUWAIT CITY: Saudi Arabia allocated $1.5 billion for the reconstruction of Iraq as foreign donors pledged billions of dollars at a conference in Kuwait on Wednesday. 
The pledge from Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir included a $1 billion loan through the Saudi Fund for Development and $500 million in export credit. 
Kuwait said it would provide $1 billion in loans from the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development and $1 billion in direct investments. 
Turkey said it would give Iraq $5 billion in credit lines and Qatar announced $1 billion in loans and investments. 
The United Arab Emirates pledged $500 million for rebuilding, Germany said it would provide $350 million in assistance and Britain pledged up to $1 billion annually in export credit over 10 years.
Iraq said it needs $88 billion to rebuild areas of the country decimated by the Daesh occupation and the battle to defeat the extremists.
“Our meeting today is a continuation to our pursuits to counter and combat terrorism and counter the dangers and challengers it brings,” the Emir of Kuwait, Sheik Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, said. 
“The stability and security of Iraq means the stability and security of Kuwait and the whole region.”
The donations on the third day of the conference still fell far short of the overall figure required by Iraq to rebuild.
Iraqi officials estimate that $17 billion needs to go toward rebuilding homes. The United Nations estimates 40,000 homes need to be rebuilt in Mosul alone.
“We look at the future of Iraq with confidence…we are determined to succeed to create the inclusiveness (of the Iraqi people) despite the challenges that we face today and will face in the future,” Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider Al-Abadi, said.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Iraqi people were finally united for a common purpose, which is the defeat of Daesh and the rise of a new Iraq.
“Despite years of conflict, there is still a common identity that binds together the people of Iraq,” she said.
“We have to ensure that the dark days of Iraq are gone for good. Investing in infrastructure is essential, so is investing in human capital.”
Mogherini said the European Union aid would go towards humanitarian development and stabilization.
Millions of Iraqis have returned to their homes to rebuild their lives, but 2.5 million remained displaced, according to the UN.
UN Secretary General, António Guterres, on Wednesday launched a program focussed on revitalizing areas of Iraq most at risk of violence and supporting an inclusive political process.
“Iraqis are building a new Iraq,” Guterres said. “An Iraq that is ready for wide-ranging reforms, including to its public finance and security sectors. The UN system will do its part and stand with you every step of the way.”
Other pledges came from Japan, which said it would contribute $100 million this year through UN agencies and international organisations. Daesh seized large areas of north and west Iraq in 2014. Baghdad finally announced the extremist’s defeat in December.
Cities like Mosul and Ramadi suffered the worst destruction during the group’s violent occupation. Extensive damage was also done to the country’s infrastructure, including the oil and gas sectors.

(With AP and Reuters)


Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

Updated 19 July 2019
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Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

  • Dressed in military uniforms, large numbers of veterans attempted to force their way through barricades set up to stop demonstrators reaching the city’s parliament building where a final vote on a controversial draft austerity budget was taking place
  • The meeting to vote on the 2019 draft budget came after a marathon three days of discussions

BEIRUT: Retired Lebanese soldiers on Friday came close to clashing with the country’s army when weeks of protests over planned benefit cuts reached boiling point in the capital Beirut.
Dressed in military uniforms, large numbers of veterans attempted to force their way through barricades set up to stop demonstrators reaching the city’s parliament building where a final vote on a controversial draft austerity budget was taking place.
A military source told Arab News that the Lebanese army leadership had decided to block access to Najma Square, in Beirut’s Central District, where Parliament members were sitting.
But former soldiers, joined by the parents of army martyrs and activists from the Sabaa and Communist parties, surrounded the building in nearby streets before attempting to push through barbed wire, concrete and metal barriers erected by the Lebanese army and the Internal Security Forces.
The protesters, waving Lebanese and army flags, got as far as the entrance to Maarad Street, on which Parliament is located, putting them in direct confrontation with the Lebanese troops.
Ten brigades of reinforcements were drafted in to help push back the veterans before protest leaders eased tensions by calling for a retreat to a nearby square to avoid any further clashes.
The meeting to vote on the 2019 draft budget came after a marathon three days of discussions. Before entering the parliamentary session, Lebanese Minister of Defense Elias Bou Saab said that “misleading the retired soldiers” would be “harmful to the image and demands of the protesters” and called on them to carry out “peaceful demonstrations.” He added that there had been mixed and confused messages regarding benefit cuts.
However, retired Brig. Gen. Georges Nader had vowed that protesters would not back off until the vote on their benefits was dropped.
Discussing the protests in Parliament, Samy Gemayel, president of the Phalange party, objected to the reduction in the army budget, to which Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said: “This has been concluded on the bases of an understanding with the army and the military establishment.”
MP Paula Yacoubian said that “retired soldiers are trying to storm Parliament,” to which Berri said: “Those who want to storm Parliament have not yet been born.”
The row had centered on a controversial article concerning amendments to the country’s income tax act, and Lebanese Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil insisted on defending it. He said: “It does not cost the retired soldiers, for instance, more than 3,000 Lebanese pounds ($2) per month. This amount rises to 400,000 pounds for brigadiers.” He added: “Which country in the world gives a retiree 85 percent of his salary?”
After a meeting between the minister and Nader in Parliament, the retired brigadier general went out to reassure the veterans that cuts from their salaries in respect of medicine and income tax would be reduced. Less intense protests continued for more than three hours before Parliament approved the relevant article in the budget.
Meanwhile, Berri had started the Parliament session by reading a resignation submitted by Hezbollah MP Nawaf Musawi.