Iraqi PM reopens Kurdish airports to international flights

A Kurdish flag hangs in Irbil International Airport. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said that he is reopening airports in Iraq’s Kurdish region to international flights after federal authority was restored at the hubs. (AP Photo)
Updated 13 March 2018
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Iraqi PM reopens Kurdish airports to international flights

BAGHDAD: Iraq is reopening airports in the country’s Kurdish region to international flights after federal authority was restored at the hubs, according to a statement from Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi on Tuesday.
The announcement comes some six months after the airports were initially shut to international flights following a controversial referendum vote in northern Iraq’s self-ruled Kurdish region that overwhelmingly backed independence from Baghdad.
The airports are due to open “within a few days” government spokesman Saad Al-Hadithi told The Associated Press.
Al-Abadi described the move as “a gift to the people of Kurdistan,” during a meeting aired on Iraqi state television and added that the central government would also release salaries for government employees in the Kurdish region ahead of the celebration of the Kurdish new year later this month.
During the same meeting Tuesday, the interior minister added that 500 people suspected of having ties to the Daesh group were handed over to the central government from the Kurdish region.
At a news conference in Irbil, the prime minister of Iraq’s Kurdish region, Nechirvan Barzani, described Al-Abadi’s decision as “a step in the right direction,” and said he would continue to work to resolve issues between the region and the central government.
The Kurdish independence vote last September, though non-binding, was held across the autonomous region’s three provinces as well as in some disputed territories controlled by Iraqi Kurdish security forces but claimed by Baghdad.
The referendum was vehemently rejected by Baghdad and Iraq’s other neighbors, ratcheting up tensions in the region on the heels of military victories against the Daesh group.
The decision to lift the flight ban comes as Iraq is preparing for national elections slated to be held in May. Initially, Al-Aabdi’s tough line on Iraq’s Kurds translated into widespread public support among his base in Iraq’s Shiite-heartland.
However, Iraqi parliament remains deeply divided, raising fears of a protracted government formation process following national elections. Kurdish lawmakers boycotted a recent vote in parliament approving the country’s 2018 budget.
Iraq’s small landlocked Kurdish region has been increasingly isolated following the September referendum, straining relations with key allies such as the United States and neighboring Turkey.


Egyptian sentenced to death for murder of Christian doctor

Updated 10 min 31 sec ago
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Egyptian sentenced to death for murder of Christian doctor

CAIRO: An Egyptian man affiliated with Daesh was sentenced to death Saturday in the fatal stabbing of an 82-year-old Christian doctor in Cairo in Sept. 2017.
The assailant, identified as 40-year-old Hassan G., pretended to be a patient to gain access to the doctor, identified as Dr. Tharwat. Once admitted to the clinic’s examination room he began stabbing the elderly doctor. When the doctor’s assistant, Susan K., attempted to intervene, she was also stabbed.
During the trial, prosecutors said the defendant had embraced the extremist ideology of Daesh.
At the time of the incident, the Ministry of Interior reported that the defendant’s motivation was believed to be financial. He was unemployed and facing financial difficulties and intended to rob the doctor, it was believed.
Saturday’s verdict will be sent to the Grand Mufti, Egypt’s top Muslim cleric, for ratification. While the Grand Mufti’s opinions are not binding, he is customarily asked to review death sentences and his recommendation is often followed.
Also on Saturday, another Egyptian court sentenced one Egyptian to death and six others to 10 years in prison. The defendants had appealed a similar Dec. 2016 sentence over an attack on policemen and soldiers north of Cairo; most attacks on police, military and civilians in Egypt over the last few years have been claimed by the Daesh.
Daesh, which has gained a foothold in the remote areas of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, has vowed to target Egypt’s Christian minority in retaliation for their support of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
In early November, Daesh claimed credit for an attack on a bus carrying Christian pilgrims outside the Monastery of St. Samuel that left seven dead and wounded 19 – in nearly the same location that another attack killed 28 pilgrims in May 2017. In response, the Ministry of Interior announced two days later that 19 “militants” linked to the attack had been killed.
Elected in 2014, El-Sisi has cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic groups since coming to power after Muslim Brotherhood ex-President Muhammad Mursi was removed from power in the summer of 2013. Mursi’s ouster came after mass protests calling for the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood. Daesh blames El-Sisi for the ensuing crackdown on Mursi’s followers.
The Coptic Orthodox leadership and many other Christians supported El-Sisi in the wake of Mursi’s ouster, hoping he could protect them against violent attacks by Islamists.
Groups affiliated with Daesh have claimed responsibility for numerous attacks against Christians in the four years since El-Sisi’s election. In 2015, the group posted a video of the beheading of a dozen Christian Egyptians in Libya.
In December 2016, a suicide bomber killed 29 in an attack on St. Mark’s Cathedral compound in Cairo. Daesh took credit for killing nearly 80 Egyptian Christians and wounding over 150 in 2017 in two Palm Sunday bombings and attacks on buses carrying Christians. Last month, an Egyptian military court sentenced 17 to death for the fatal attacks.