Iranian Consulate in Basra set on fire

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Iraqi protesters set fire to the Iranian Consulate in Basra on Friday. (AP)
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Iraqi protesters set fire to the Iranian Consulate in Basra on Friday. (AFP)
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Iraqi protesters set fire to the Iranian Consulate in Basra on Friday. (AFP)
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Iraqi protesters set fire to the Iranian Consulate in Basra on Friday. (AP)
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Iraqi protesters set fire to the Iranian Consulate in Basra on Friday. (AP)
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Iraqi protesters are seen near the burnt Iranian Consulate in Basra, Iraq September 7, 2018. (Reuters)
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Iraqi protesters are seen near the burnt Iranian Consulate in Basra, Iraq September 7, 2018. (Reuters)
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Iraqi protesters are seen near the burnt Iranian Consulate in Basra, Iraq September 7, 2018. (Reuters)
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Iraqi protesters are seen near the burnt Iranian Consulate in Basra, Iraq September 7, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 08 September 2018

Iranian Consulate in Basra set on fire

  • Thousands of demonstrators rallied outside the building while hundreds went inside the consulate and set it ablaze
  • Basra has seen a surge in protests since Tuesday

BASRA: Protesters set fire to the Iranian Consulate in Basra on Friday, after a week of violent protests during which at least nine people were killed.

The building was the latest to be attacked during demonstrations in Iraq’s main oil hub after a summer of unrest fueled by anger at substandard basic services, corruption and a lack of jobs.

The demonstrations escalated this week, stoked by politicians attempting to influence a political standoff in Baghdad between the pro and anti-Iranian blocs in Parliament.

Friday had been mostly calm until evening approached, when protesters again went on the rampage. The Iranian Consulate in the south-east of the city was targeted and the outer walls set on fire. It not immediately clear how badly it was damaged or whether protesters had made it inside, although some reports said the building had been stormed.

The previous night, protesters set fire to the offices of dozens of political factions and their associated television stations. The demonstrators threatened to burn more if the leaders of the parties tried to intervene in the protests or hijack them for their own ends, local advocates and officials said.

The protests, which began in June, initially were prompted by anger over inadequate electricity supplies but this week they have been focused on the lack of clean water.

They turned violent when security forces fired live bullets and tear gas to disperse protesters who were attempting to break into a local government building in central Basra, attacking troops outside with Molotov cocktails. Two demonstrators were seriously wounded, and one of them died hours later.

On Tuesday evening, the demonstrations were even more violent, as one of the protesters attacked a group of Iraqi security forces with a hand grenade, killing one officer and wounding others. A separate group of demonstrators attacked troops with Molotov cocktails. In both attacks, the troops responded by firing live bullets and tear gas.

By the end of the night, several government buildings were on fire, and at least nine protesters had been shot dead. In addition, 93 people were wounded, including dozens of members of the security services, medics and police, sources said. 

There was less violence during Thursday evening’s protests after the federal authorities in Baghdad issued orders to all forces in Basra not to clash with the demonstrators as long as they were nowhere close to oil installations, according to local security officials.

The demonstrators changed their targets from local-government buildings to the headquarters of political parties and their media wings. More than 20 offices and local TV stations were attacked, including the headquarters of some of the most prominent Shiite armed factions, including Badr organization and Assaib Ahl Al-Haq.

“We burned these headquarters to tell them that we can do it. Burning their headquarters is just the beginning,” said one of the organizers of the demonstrations.

“By burning their offices, we just sent them a message saying that the security forces and the governmental buildings are not our target — you (the political parties) are our target.”

Basra contains Iraq’s biggest oil fields and the revenues from its crude exports represent the backbone of the Iraqi economy. Destabilizing the security of the city is in the interest of many regional and local parties. The events there this week coincide with a conflict in Baghdad as Iraqi political forces loyal to Iran and those loyal to the United States compete to gain more influence in the negotiations to form the next government.

Clerics in Najaf, envoys and international organizations in Iraq have called for calm and for the security forces to avoid using excessive force against demonstrators.

Muqtada Al-Sadr, one of the most influential Shiite clerics, on Thursday called on outgoing Prime Minister Haider Abadi to accelerate the disbursement of funds required to finance water and electricity projects in Basra, and address the demands of the people of the province.

Also on Friday, demonstrators returned to stage a sit-in protest in Abdul Karim Qasim square in central Basra. Groups of them also began to clear nearby streets of the debris from the previous days’ protests. Videos circulated by activists on Friday showed hundreds of young people collecting waste from the streets in large, yellow containers, while others played music or held small banners with the words: “This is the ethics of the people of Basra.”

“We have decided to stop for a while to give the local and central governments a chance to respond to our demands,” said Kadhim Al-Sahlani, a local activist in Basra.

“For now, we will continue our sit-in until further notice, but if the troops attack us again or something happens, we will deal with the developments one by one.”

Ankara-backed groups launch offensive against criminal gang in Afrin

A Syrian girl looks on in Afrin. In January, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to clear the region of the YPG militants, which it sees as a terror group. (AFP)
Updated 20 November 2018

Ankara-backed groups launch offensive against criminal gang in Afrin

  • “Many of the Syrian groups in Afrin are not capable of stopping the YPG-led insurgency there, and are divided among themselves

ANKARA: Turkey announced a curfew in Syria’s northern city of Afrin as part of a wide-ranging operation against a rebel faction, the Al-Sharqiyyah Martyrs Gathering, and its allies who have been accused of crimes including kidnapping civilians, robbery, extrajudicial executions and looting.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the UK-based monitoring group, announced: “Turkish forces and the factions closed the roads leading to Afrin city and surrounded several neighborhoods of the city, while the heaviest clashes are concentrated in the middle of Afrin city in Al-Villat Street.”
The Observatory said at least 25 men were killed in clashes.
The operation was reportedly conducted under the supervision of the Turkish army, which provided logistic support.
The Observatory also told of a sweeping search campaign by the Turkish special task forces in Afrin, along with information about “preparations for raiding the headquarters of Al-Sharqiyyah Gathering, most of whose fighters are descended from Deir Ezzor province, which handed over its weapons days ago after its objection to the Turkish orders.”
Al Sharqiyyah headquarters are in the Al-Filat and Al-Mahmoudiya areas, and the Al-Nayrouz crossroads in Afrin.
Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch in January this year and concluded it in April with the support of the Free Syrian Army to clear the region of Syrian Kurdish YPG militants, which it sees as a terror group.
In the wake of Operation Olive Branch, thousands of people are thought to be returning to the city, while trade and economic activities, as well as educational and health services, have begun to return to normal under the supervision of a 1,700-strong police force which has been trained in Turkey to patrol the streets.
Therefore, maintaining order and security by rooting out lawlessness in a city whose population has reached 200,000 from 50,000 is crucially important for Ankara to prove its success.
Nicholas Heras, Middle East security fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, said Turkey may be a victim of its own success in Afrin.
“Turkey’s rapid conquest of Afrin was the result of the Turkish military’s competence, not because Turkey’s Syrian partner forces were effective on their own,” he told Arab News.
According to Heras, the Syrian partner force that Turkey mobilized to run Afrin is divided among different groups, and many of these groups act with a mercenary mentality because they stay in Afrin for the money that Turkey gives them.
“Many of the Syrian groups in Afrin are not capable of stopping the YPG-led insurgency there, and are divided among themselves about which group will profit the most from their partnership with Turkey,” he noted.
With partners like this, Heras thinks that the Turkish military will have to take a different approach, which is to have a firmer handle on Afrin.
“This in many ways defeats the purpose of having Syrian partner forces on the ground, because they are supposed to do most of the work, not create problems that makes it more painful for Turkey to control Afrin,” he said.
The Observatory claims that Turkey’s ongoing operation against the groups in Afrin has been supported by the Hamza Division, the Sultan Murad Division, the Al-Sham Corps and the 3rd Corps.
For some people the operation is against the irregularities and the corruption of Al-Sharqiyyah Martyrs Gathering, composed of more than 800 members. Some local reports claim that the real motivation behind the Turkish operation is linked to the fact that this group is disobeying Ankara’s orders not to fight against the regime forces.
For this narrative, this operation was launched for keeping Turkish proxies on the ground under control.
Last July, Al-Sharqiyyah Martyrs Gathering, led by its commander named “Abu Khula,” incurred Turkey’s anger for launching an unauthorized attack on the Syrian Arab Army in the village of Tadef in the northern Aleppo countryside and just south of the Turkish-held city of Al-Bab. The attack was a violation of the Russian-Turkish-Iranian de-escalation agreement in northern Syria.
Mete Sohtaoglu, an independent researcher on the Middle East, said his local sources confirmed around 40 deaths after an intense offensive on Sunday.
“The remaining fighters of Al-Sharqiyyah will lay down arms and will return to Idlib with their families,” he told Arab News. “Turkey is making sure the peace in Afrin is not compromised.
“Such operations have been conducted occasionally in the past, but this time the final goal was to dissolve this group. I assume that all rebel groups in Afrin will be liquefied soon and brought under the auspices of the new Syrian National Army umbrella group,” Sohtaoglu said.
Although Al-Sharqiyyah announced in late October that it was disbanding voluntarily, it has never implemented this decision and has continued to carry out insubordination and crimes.
This operation is considered the first all-out campaign waged by pro-Ankara rebel groups against another faction in the city.
The security operation is not restricted to Afrin, but also covers other areas of the Euphrates Shield in the rebel-held territory of eastern Aleppo that was captured by Turkish-backed groups.