US, France, Britain launch strikes on Syria

1 / 8
The US, Britain and France ordered overnight on April 14, 2018 a major military operation by deciding to conduct joint strikes against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad in response to alleged chemical weapons attacks. (AFP)
2 / 8
This image made from video shows a fighter jet landing at Akrotiri military British Royal Air Force Base, Cyprus, Saturday, April 14, 2018. (AP)
3 / 8
Damascus sky lights up with service to air missile fire as the US launches an attack on Syria targeting different parts of the Syrian capital Damascus, Syria, early Saturday, April 14, 2018. (AP)
4 / 8
Damascus skies erupt with anti-aircraft fire as the US launches an attack on Syria targeting different parts of the Syrian capital Damascus, Syria, early Saturday, April 14, 2018. (AP)
5 / 8
US President Donald Trump makes a statement about Syria at the White House in Washington, U.S., on Friday. (REUTERS)
6 / 8
Damascus is seen as the US launches an attack on Syria targeting different parts of the capital early Saturday, April 14, 2018. (AP)
7 / 8
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford brief members of the media on Syria at the Pentagon April 13, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. (AFP)
8 / 8
This image made from video shows a fighter jet taking off from Akrotiri military British Royal Air Force Base, Cyprus, Saturday, April 14, 2018. (AP)
Updated 14 April 2018
0

US, France, Britain launch strikes on Syria

  • US strikes come after a Syrian regime chemical attack in Douma
  • Russia vows to shoot down US missiles and target launch sites

BEIRUT: Loud explosions rocked Syria’s capital and filled the sky with heavy smoke early Saturday after US President Donald Trump announced airstrikes in retaliation for the country’s alleged use of chemical weapons. Syrian television reported that air defenses responded to the attack.
Associated Press reporters saw smoke rising from east Damascus and the sky turned orange. A huge fire could be seen from a distance to the east. Syrian television reported that a scientific research center had been hit.

"More than 100 cruise missiles and air-to-land missiles were fired by the US, Britain and France from the sea and air at Syrian military and civilian targets," the Russian ministry said in a statement quoted by RIA Novosti news agency, adding that "a significant number" were shot down by Syrian air defenses.
It said that 12 cruise missiles were fired at an airfield close to Damascus and all were intercepted by Syria's air defenses.
"Russian air defense systems located on Syrian territory have not been used to counter the missile strikes", it said.
It said earlier that none of the Western strikes in Syria had hit areas covered by Russia's air defenses around its Hmeimim air base and naval facility in Tartus.
The Russian military said the missiles were fired from US ships in the Red Sea as well as from tactical aircraft over the Mediterranean and by US strategic bombers from the Al-Tanf base in southeastern Syria.
“Good souls will not be humiliated,” Syria’s presidency tweeted after airstrikes began.
Trump announced Friday night that the three allies had launched military strikes to punish President Bashar Assad for the alleged chemical weapons use and to prevent him from doing it again.
The US president said the US is prepared to “sustain” pressure on Assad until he ends what the president called a criminal pattern of killing his own people with internationally banned chemical weapons. It was not immediately clear whether Trump meant the allied military operation would extend beyond an initial nighttime round of missile strikes.


Trump said the joint attack was expected to include barrages of cruise missiles launched from outside Syrian airspace. He described the main aim as establishing “a strong deterrent” against chemical weapons use.
The Syrian government has repeatedly denied any use of banned weapons.
The decision to strike, after days of deliberations, marked Trump’s second order to attack Syria; he authorized a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit a single Syrian airfield in April 2017 in retaliation for Assad’s use of sarin gas against civilians.
Trump chastised Syria’s two main allies, Russia and Iran, for their roles in supporting “murderous dictators,” and noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin had guaranteed a 2013 international agreement for Assad to get rid of all of his chemical weapons. He called on Moscow to change course and join the West in seeking a more responsible regime in Damascus.
The allied operation comes a year after the US missile strike that Trump said was meant to deter Assad from further use of chemical weapons. Since that did not work, a more intense attack would aim to degrade his ability to carry out further such attacks, and would try to do this by hitting Syrian aircraft, military depots and chemical facilities, among other things.
The one-off missile strike in April 2017 targeted the airfield from which the Syrian aircraft had launched their gas attack. But the damage was limited, and a defiant Assad returned to episodic use of chlorine and perhaps other chemicals.
Friday’s strikes appear to signal Trump’s willingness to draw the United States more deeply into the Syrian conflict. The participation of British and French forces enables Trump to assert a wider international commitment against the use of chemical weapons, but the multi-pronged attack carries the risk of Russian retaliation.
In his nationwide address, Trump stressed that he has no interest in a longtime fight with Syria.
“America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria under no circumstances,” he said. “As other nations step up their contributions, we look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home.”
The US has about 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria as advisers to a makeshift group of anti-Daesh fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces. They are in eastern Syria, far from Damascus. A US-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes in Syria since September 2014 as part of a largely successful effort to break the Daesh grip on both Syria and Iraq.

 

 


Kurds split on next Iraqi president and throw government formation into further turmoil

Updated 26 September 2018
0

Kurds split on next Iraqi president and throw government formation into further turmoil

  • The failure of the Kurds to agree on a single candidate will threaten the stability of the Kurdish region
  • A close ally of KDP leader Massoud Barzani has been backed as a presidential nomination

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s main Kurdish political forces have failed to agree on a candidate for the post of president, highlighting the depth of the rift  between them and redrawing their map of influence in Baghdad, negotiators told Arab News.

Electing the president is the second step in the process of forming a government. According to the political power sharing agreement adopted by Iraqi political parties since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, the post is allocated to the Kurds.

By the end of Monday, the last day for nominations, more than 30 candidates, including a woman, had declared their nominations for the post but the absence of consensus between the Kurdish parties on a single candidate, meant the vote was delayed until Thursday.

The president in the Iraqi constitution does not have wide executive powers, but could play a pivotal role in resolving disputes between Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region, and between the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish powers in Baghdad. 

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the largest Kurdish parties in Iraq control more than 50 seats in parliament. The two parties have shared the federal posts allocated to the Kurds for the last 15 years. Voting for the PUK’s presidential candidate had become a tradition, but the insistence of the KDP to compete for the post this time has confused Iraq’s parties and forced them to renegotiate.

“It is time to get this position back to the larger Kurdish bloc,” Irdlan Noor Al-Deen, a KDP leader and MP said. “We are insisting to compete for the post ... and we will not discuss the option of stepping down.”

The failure of the Kurds to agree on a single candidate will threaten the stability of the Kurdish region and deepen the disagreement between the two Kurdish parties that arose in October last year when Kurdish forces associated with the PUK refused to fight Iraqi security forces after they launched a campaign to regain central government control over the disputed areas between Baghdad and Erbil. The offensive was in response to the independence  referendum held a month earlier.

The two parties are squaring up in elections scheduled for next week for the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Azad Warti, a PUK leader, said that if the political “fire” from the KDP continued after the elections “we will review our relationship with them.”

“There are a lot of joints areas between us ... and continuing with this approach means that we may not continue with them in the same front,” he said.

Last week, the PUK’s leadership nominated the Kurdish veteran politician Barham Salih, while the KDP nominated Fuad Hussein, the head of the Kurdistan Regional Presidency Office and personal secretary of Massoud Barzani, the most prominent Kurdish leader and former president of the Kurdish region.

It is not clear why Barzani, who headed the KDP, suddenly insisted on the presidential candidacy. Some observers see this step as an attempt to seek revenge against the Kurdish and Shiite forces that rejected the independence referendum and supported Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi when he imposed a series of financial and administrative sanctions on Kurdistan.

“Barzani is looking to get revenge from the leaders of the PUK because he believes that they let him down in his battle with Baghdad when he held the referendum,” Abdulwahid Tuama, a political analyst told Arab News.

“Also, getting the post for the KDP candidate will reinforce the divisions between the PUK and its Kurdish allies in Baghdad, and this will provide the KDP with a great opportunity to be the touchstone in the ongoing negotiations to form a government in Baghdad.”

The major Shiite blocs, which initially declared their support for Barham Salih, have now said they do not mind if the KDP takes over the president, but stipulated the replacement of the party's official candidate.

“Fouad Hussein was rejected by all Shiite political forces. We told Barzani that we have no objection to voting for his candidate, but he has to nominate someone else,” A key Shiite negotiator told Arab News.

“Hussein is the private secretary of Barzani and if he is elected as president of Iraq, it means that the president will be Barzani’s secretary.

“This is an insult to the country and to all, and we will never accept it.”

Iran and the United States have been the most prominent international players in Iraq since 2003. Both are deeply involved in the ongoing negotiations between Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni parties. 

Brett McGurk, the US envoy to Iraq and Syria, has played a key role in naming Barham Salih as a candidate for the PUK, while Gen. Qassim Sulaimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, flew to Erbil on Sunday evening to meet Barzani and “persuade him to abandon his stubbornness and accept a compromise that excludes both candidates (Salih and Hussein),” two Shiite negotiators told Arab News. 

“Sulaimani went last night to Erbil to smooth the tension and try to find a solution that would be accepted by all the related parties,” a key Shiite negotiator told Arab News.

“He will suggest to provide a new candidate who should be accepted by all Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni parties. 

The negotiator said parliament may vote to reelect Fuad Massum, the outgoing Iraqi president, as he is accepted by all.