UN envoy due in Yemen as strains escalate with Houthi missile launch

UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths is escorted by bodyguards as he arrives at Sanaa airport in Sanaa, Yemen. (Reuters)
Updated 25 June 2018
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UN envoy due in Yemen as strains escalate with Houthi missile launch

  • UN envoy Martin Griffiths is due in the southern city of Aden on Wednesday for talks with President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi
  • The UN fears that an assault on the Red Sea port, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis, could trigger a famine imperilling millions of lives

RIYADH/ADEN: The Iran-aligned Houthi movement fired missiles at the Saudi capital Riyadh late on Sunday, escalating tensions ahead of a visit by the UN envoy to Yemen this week to try to avert a military assault on the country’s main port city.
A Houthi spokesman has threatened more attacks in response to the offensive launched by a Saudi-led coalition on June 12 to seize control of Hodeidah port, long a key target, in an attempt to weaken the Houthis by cutting their main supply line.
The United Nations fears that an assault on the Red Sea port, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis, could trigger a famine imperilling millions of lives.
UN envoy Martin Griffiths is due in the southern city of Aden on Wednesday for talks with President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in the legitimate government’s temporary capital, government officials said.
One official said Griffiths would be there only for a few hours for talks focused on averting an assault on the port.
“There is a proposal on the table,” the foreign minister of Hadi’s government, Khaled Al-Yamani, told reporters in Riyadh.
“We would accept a peace initiative on the condition that militias leave the western coast,” he said at a joint press conference to announce a $40 million project launched by Saudi Arabia for de-mining operations in Yemen.
The Houthis have indicated they would be willing to hand over management of the port to the United Nations, sources told Reuters. A US official said Washington was urging the Saudis and Emiratis to accept the deal.
The coalition said on Monday that eight members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group had been killed in battles in the mountainous Saada region in Yemen’s northwest, which is held by the Houthis along with the capital Sanaa.
Hezbollah officials could not be immediately reached for comment, but the group has previously denied Saudi accusations that it is helping Houthi rebels.
MISSILES OVER RIYADH
Saudi air defense forces intercepted two rockets over Riyadh late on Sunday, sending debris measuring up to several meters hurtling toward residential areas.
Pieces fell near the US mission in the Saudi capital and at a school in the diplomatic quarter. Debris sparked a fire at a construction site 10 km (six miles) further south and fell on the roof of a private residence, but Saudi officials said there were no casualties.
“Our rockets will reach places that the enemy will not expect,” Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam said. “The longer the aggression and war continue, the greater our ballistic missile capabilities.”
Coalition spokesman Turki Al-Malki said the alliance’s advances on Hodeidah and other fronts were pushing the Houthis to try to project strength through such attacks.
Coalition-backed forces seized Hodeidah airport last week and have been consolidating their hold in the area as more Houthi fighters, many armed with Ak-47 assault rifles, were deployed in the city and around the port.
The United Nations fears heavy fighting will worsen what is already the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis, with 22 million Yemenis dependent on aid and an estimated 8.4 million believed to be on the verge of starvation.
The Arab states say they must recapture Hodeidah to deprive the Houthis of their main source of income and prevent them from smuggling in Iranian-made missiles, accusations denied by the group and Tehran.
The coalition has pledged a swift military operation to take over the airport and seaport without entering the city center, to minimize civilian casualties and maintain the flow of goods.


In Iraq, bloody tribal custom now classed as ‘terrorism’

A member of an Iraqi clan enters a straw tent in the town of Mishkhab, south of Najaf on November 15, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 39 min 23 sec ago
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In Iraq, bloody tribal custom now classed as ‘terrorism’

  • In Iraq, a country of 39 million people, clan origin and family name can carry weight in securing a job, finding romance, and gathering political support

BAGHDAD: A bloody, age-old custom used by Iraq’s powerful tribes to mete out justice has come under fire, with authorities classifying it as a “terrorist act” punishable by death.
For centuries, Iraqi clans have used their own system to resolve disputes, with tribal dignitaries bringing together opposing sides to mediate in de facto “hearings.”
If one side failed to attend such a meeting, the rival clan would fire on the absentee’s home or that of fellow tribesmen, a practice known as the “degga ashairiya” or “tribal warning.”
But in an age when Iraq’s vast rural areas and built-up cities alike are flooded with weapons outside state control, the “degga” may be deadlier than ever.
A recent dispute between two young men in a teashop in the capital’s eastern district of Sadr City escalated to near-fatal proportions, leaving a 40-year-old policeman with a broken hip and severely damaged abdomen.
His cousin Abu Tayba said the policeman was “wounded in a stray bullet during a ‘degga’ on a nearby home.”
“Weeks after the incident, he’s still in the hospital, hovering between life and death,” Tayba told AFP.
Even in Baghdad, disputes often involve machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, the city’s military command warned a top Iraqi court recently.
That body, the country’s Superior Magistrate Council, issued a decision last week classifying “deggas” as “terrorist acts” — and therefore warranting the death penalty — because of their impact on public safety.
A few days later, it announced it would take legal action against three people accused of targeting a home in Al-Adhamiyah, north of Baghdad, with the deadly custom.

In Iraq, a country of 39 million people, clan origin and family name can carry weight in securing a job, finding romance, and gathering political support.
They can also interfere in the work of the state, as tribal structures in some areas can be more powerful than government institutions.
Last year, Iraq’s tribes and the ministries of interior and justice pledged to work closer together to impose the law, but “deggas” seem to have hindered such cooperation.
Raed Al-Fraiji, the head of a tribal council in the southern province of Basra, told AFP the warnings have become commonplace.
“This happens every day. Yesterday it happened twice. The day before, three times,” he said.
“Two months ago, a domestic dispute between a husband and wife turned into an armed attack on the husband’s home. The exchange of fire killed one person and wounded three.”
Fraiji said tribal influence and practices were growing because the state was seen as unreliable.
“For an Iraqi citizen, the law has become weak. Meanwhile, tribes impose themselves by force.”
“Iraq is like a jungle — so a citizen will turn to a tribe to find solutions to their problems.”
The country has been ravaged by years of conflict since the US-led invasion in 2003 that removed strongman Saddam Hussein and led to the rise of militias.
A decade later, the Daesh group overran much of Iraq and was only ousted from its urban strongholds across the country late last year.

Years of instability have left many of Iraq’s communities flush with weapons and largely out of the state’s reach, contributing to a preference for tribal mediation methods.
“The government is responsible for the increase in tribal conflict and of ‘degga’ cases,” said Adnan Al-Khazaali, a tribal leader in Baghdad’s Sadr City.
“Most of the young men today are armed and even the security forces cannot stand in their way.”
Tribal leaders and government officials alike are clinging to the hope that the new ruling could change things.
“These incidents are continually happening, and are often causing casualties,” interior ministry spokesman Saad Maan told AFP.
“Court rulings and their implementation,” Maan said, could be the only way to secure peace.
Back in Basra, the head of the local human rights commission estimated around a dozen people were wounded or killed in “deggas” last year.
“These incidents threatens social peace,” said Mahdi Al-Tamimi.
“It’s sad and worrying, and cannot be eliminated without a solid and effective law.”
But Fraiji, known in Basra for his relatively progressive views, feared the court’s ruling would not be enough to take on Iraq’s powerful clans.
“The decision will only remain ink on paper if the security forces do not enforce it on the tribes,” he said.