Iraqi cleric Al-Sadr announces disarmament initiative

Iraqi security forces and civilians inspect the site of a car bomb attack in Sadr City district of Baghdad, on Wednesday. Reuters
Updated 09 June 2018
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Iraqi cleric Al-Sadr announces disarmament initiative

  • At least 18 people were killed and over 90 wounded as a result of the detonation of an ammunitions cache in Sadr City
  • Parliament passed a law on Wednesday ordering a nationwide manual recount of votes in the election, after Abadi cited serious violations

BAGHDAD: Iraqi cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr called on Friday for a nationwide disarmament campaign and announced his Baghdad stronghold would be first to disarm just two days after an ammunitions cache exploded there and killed 18 people.
Al-Sadr, whose political bloc won Iraq’s parliamentary election in May, called on all armed groups to hand in their weapons to the government and declared Baghdad’s Sadr City district would be a weapons-free area later this month.
“Everyone must obey the orders and not stand in the way of this initiative. Everyone should hand over their weapons without any discussion because the blood of Iraqis is more valuable to us than anything else,” he told his supporters in a statement.
The move appeared to be aimed at easing tensions between Al-Sadr and the government.
At least 18 people were killed and over 90 wounded as a result of the detonation of an ammunitions cache in Sadr City just hours after parliament mandated a nationwide recount of votes for the May election, a measure rejected by Al-Sadr’s bloc.
Al-Sadr had urged his followers to remain calm after the explosion and ordered his office to investigate the incident.
Prime Minister Haider Abadi, whose bloc came in third, said storing ammunition in a residential area was a crime and ordered the Interior Ministry to investigate the incident and take legal action against those who had done so.
Some of Al-Sadr’s political opponents had suggested the ammunitions cache belonged to his Saraya Al-Salam (Peace Companies) militia.
The Interior Ministry released a statement on Friday thanking Al-Sadr for his announcement.
Al-Sadr, a nationalist who opposes the involvement of both the US and Iran, scored a surprise victory in the May 12 vote by promising to fight corruption and improve services.
Parliament passed a law on Wednesday ordering a nationwide manual recount of votes in the election, after Abadi cited serious violations.
The move could undermine Al-Sadr, who has in the past mobilized tens of thousands of followers to protest against government policies. One of his top aides expressed concerns that some parties were trying to sabotage the cleric’s victory.
Al-Sadr has always been seen as a wildcard in Iraq’s turbulent politics, which is often driven by sectarian interests.
His militia, previously known as the Mehdi Army, staged two violent uprisings against US occupation forces after the invasion. Iraqi and US officials described him at the time as the biggest security threat in Iraq.
He stressed on Friday that the disarmament campaign should be directed at all armed groups and warned that his followers must not be its sole target.
“The Sadrist bloc must not be targeted using this initiative or else there will be negative consequences,” Al-Sadr said.
“It must also be enacted upon official security forces that use weapons without permission or mercy; these forces are still young and need rehabilitation,” he said, referring to the mostly Iran-backed Shiite militias collectively known as Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).
Iraq’s military and police dislodged Daesh militants who took over a third of the country with the help of both a US-led coalition and the militias, many of which are linked to political groups.
The PMF was later formally integrated into Iraq’s official security structure, and militias officially severed ties with their political wings although informal links remain.


South Sudan government ‘had enough’ of rebel leader - spokesman

Updated 22 June 2018
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South Sudan government ‘had enough’ of rebel leader - spokesman

  • Hopes of a breakthrough toward ending South Sudan’s civil war had been raised this week by Ethiopia’s brokering of the first face-to-face meeting between Machar and President Salva Kiir

ADDIS ABABA: South Sudan’s information minister said Friday the country’s rebel leader could not rejoin government, dealing a blow to hopes that the latest talks in Ethiopia might bring peace.
“We have had enough of Riek Machar,” said Michael Makuei, referring to the rebel chief.
“As the people of South Sudan, not the president alone, but as the people of South Sudan, we are saying enough is enough.”
Hopes of a breakthrough toward ending South Sudan’s civil war had been raised this week by Ethiopia’s brokering of the first face-to-face meeting between Machar and President Salva Kiir on Wednesday.
It was followed by a gathering of regional heads of state on Thursday.
But the South Sudan government’s position shows the personal enmity between the two men that lies at the heart of the four-year-old conflict is as strong as ever, despite the handshakes and smiles of recent days.
Makuei accused Machar of being a serial coup plotter who had no place in any transitional government.
“We don’t want him politically,” he said, adding that if Machar sought the presidency he should do so via the ballot.
“If he wants to be the president he should await elections,” Makuei said.
Machar’s SPLM-IO rebel group had also taken a hard position as the summit got underway Thursday, dismissing current peace efforts as “unrealistic.”
Despite the fighting talk Kiir and Machar are expected to meet again on Monday in Sudan where President Omar Al-Bashir has offered to host further talks.
A landlocked state with a large ethnic mix, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after a long and brutal war.
The event was hailed around the world and by celebrity supporters such as George Clooney.
But in 2013, Kiir accused Machar, his vice president, of plotting a coup against him, and violence erupted between the two factions, feeding on brooding ethnic tensions.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed and nearly a third of the 12 million population have been driven out of their homes, and many to the brink of starvation.