After Ghouta, Assad ‘will turn his guns on Deraa’

In this file photo taken on August 8, 2017, smoke billows following a reported air strike on a rebel-held area in the southern Syrian city of Deraa. (AFP / Mohamad Abazeed)
Updated 16 April 2018
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After Ghouta, Assad ‘will turn his guns on Deraa’

  • Syrian opposition leaders warns that Assad might use chemical weapons again to drive civilians out of Deraa
  • Deraa is known as the cradle of the Syrian uprising

JEDDAH:  With Eastern Ghouta captured, the Assad regime is setting its sights on one of the country’s last opposition strongholds — Deraa, the cradle of the Syrian uprising.

And despite Saturday’s devastating US-led missile attack to degrading the regime’s chemical arsenal and deterring the Syrian leader from using such weapons again, leading opposition figures said they now feared the people of Deraa faced the same fate as the victims of Douma. 

“I am sure that Assad still has a chemical weapons stockpile and will use it when he needs it in the process of displacement,” Hisham Marwah, a representative of Syria’s High Negotiations Committee, told Arab News.

“In Douma …  when civilians refused to leave, he used chemical gas to drive them out, and this process will be repeated.”

Idlib province in the north is the biggest opposition bastion and contains hard-line militant groups. But a de-escalation deal between Turkey and Russia and the challenge posed by the complex opposition network there means Bashar Assad is expected to delay any attempt to recapture the area. 

“After Ghouta, it’s likely the Syrian government will head south — the current situation in Deraa must be finished off,” said Bassam Abou Abdallah, who heads the Damascus Centre for Strategic Studies.


Daesh threatens Iraq polling stations ahead of parliamentary vote

Updated 24 April 2018
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Daesh threatens Iraq polling stations ahead of parliamentary vote

BAGHDAD: Daesh has threatened to attack Iraqi polling stations and voters during parliamentary elections next month.

In a message posted to the Telegram messaging app on Sunday, Daesh spokesman Abu Hassan Al-MuHajjir called on Sunni Iraqis to boycott the May 12 polls, the first since Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi declared victory over Daesh in December.

Extremist groups in Iraq have targeted every election since the 2003 US-led invasion that deposed Saddam Hussein and paved the way for Shiites to dominate every government since.

Under a system of checks and balances designed to avoid a return to dictatorship, the winner of the May 12 elections will have to form alliances with other Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish lists to secure a majority.

An incumbent prime minister, his ousted predecessor and a paramilitary chief instrumental in defeating Daesh are the three favorites vying for Iraq’s premiership.

Two of the favorites topping the lists were among the architects of victory against Daesh, which in 2014 seized a third of Iraq’s territory in a lightning offensive.

The incumbent prime minister, 66 year-old Abadi, took over the reins from Nuri Al-Maliki in September 2014 at the high watermark of the security crisis.

The fightback which allowed Abadi to declare Iraq’s victory over Daesh in December, has silenced critics of his lack of military experience.

An engineering graduate and holder of a doctorate from the University of Manchester in Britain, Abadi is from the same Dawa party as his predecessor Maliki.

As the official head of Iraq’s military, Abadi has bolstered morale by drafting in foreign trainers, who have helped professionalize tens of thousands of soldiers.

Under his watch and backed by a US-led international coalition, the army has banished Daesh from all its urban strongholds in Iraq. 

The Iraqi military has also pushed back the Kurds in the north’s oil-rich Kirkuk province, bolstering Abadi’s status as frontrunner going into the election.

“He has a popular base which transcends confessional and ethnic lines. He offers a narrative as a statesman and he is not tarnished by corruption,” said Iraqi political scientist Essam Al-Fili.

Haddad said: “Abadi remains the single strongest contender but not strong enough to win anything close to a majority.”

His main contender is Hadi Al-Ameri — a leader of Hashed Al-Shaabi, a paramilitary network that played a pivotal role in defeating Daesh.

During Maliki’s 2010-2014 term as premier, Ameri was a lawmaker and then transport minister, but he was blocked in a bid to head the Interior Ministry by an American veto.