Iraqi cleric linked to Basra protests killed

Protesters wave national flags and chant slogans during a demonstration demanding better public services and jobs in Basra. (AP)
Updated 18 November 2018
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Iraqi cleric linked to Basra protests killed

  • Wissam Al-Ghrawi was a prominent figure in demonstrations in recent months demanding clean water and reliable electricity in Basra
  • Al-Ghrawi was shot and killed in front of his house in the city center by unknown assailants

BASRA, Iraq: Hundreds of Basra residents mourned a Muslim cleric on Sunday who police said was killed outside his home after he suggested that protesters should take up arms over poor public services in the city.
Wissam Al-Ghrawi was a prominent figure in demonstrations demanding clean water and reliable electricity in the southern Iraqi city. Basra province generates more than 90 percent of Iraq’s oil exports but suffers from contaminated drinking water and regular blackouts.
Basra police say Al-Ghrawi was shot and killed in front of his house in the city center by unknown assailants late Saturday.
He was filmed at a protest on Friday saying clerics would issue a fatwa within days on taking up arms. The video was shared widely on Iraqi social media.
Associates and relatives of Al-Ghrawi paraded his coffin around parts of the city on Sunday, demanding the police identify the killers and bring them to justice.
“Why was Sheikh Wissam Al-Ghrawi killed? Because he asked for clean water? Because he asked for jobs for the unemployed? Is this the price he paid for defending his country?” said civic activist Mohanad Al-Ghrawi, a distant relative of the deceased cleric.
Al-Ghrawi is at least the second activist to be killed in what appeared to be a targeted assassination since protests swept Basra last summer. One of the organizers, Soad Al-Ali, was killed by a gunman in September, after protesters began directing their ire toward Iran, which they saw as exerting undue influence over national politics.
Demonstrators set fire to the Iranian consulate and attacked the headquarters of the various Iran-backed militias and parties that operate with impunity in the city. Most of the city’s official government buildings were torched, as well.
Police said Al-Ali’s killing was over a personal matter.
Suspicions again turned toward the militias, collectively known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, on Sunday.
“We say here, once again, to the Basra security and police — have you done your job to stop these militias that kill the youth and intellectuals?” said Mohanad Al-Ghrawi.
“Anyone who speaks up is threatened with exile, arrest, or killing,” said activist Naqeeb Al-Louaibi, who moved to Baghdad from Basra in October after receiving threats to his life.
The PMF were integral to Iraq’s war against Daesh earlier this decade and paid salaries to hundreds of thousands of fighters, many of whom were drawn from Iraq’s impoverished southern provinces.
But with the war declared won late last year, attention has turned to Iraq’s high unemployment and decaying infrastructure. Demonstrations erupted in the south last summer after regular blackouts appeared to grow worse and, in Basra, murky water began flowing out of taps. Health authorities said tens of thousands of residents were hospitalized in the summer months for stomach illnesses.


Turkey sends weapons to opposition fighters in Syria

Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters get a major boost as Ankara backs them with fresh supplies of weaponry to help them hold their ground. (Reuters)
Updated 4 min 2 sec ago
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Turkey sends weapons to opposition fighters in Syria

  • Ankara signals readiness to preserve its influence in Syria’s Idlib province in northwestern region

AMMAN: Turkey has equipped an array of mainstream Syrian opposition fighters it backs with fresh supplies of weaponry to help them try to repel a major Russian-backed assault, senior opposition officials and opposition sources said on Saturday.
Russia is backing the Syrian army’s large aerial and ground assault as it seeks to gain control of the last big stretch of opposition-held territory in the northwest of the country.
Syria’s Bashar Assad launched the assault last month, saying fighters had breached an existing cease-fire, triggering a civilian exodus by bombarding Idlib and adjacent areas. It has been the biggest escalation since last summer between Assad and the opposition fighters in Idlib province and a belt of territory around it.
Ankara stepped up supplies in recent days after failing to persuade Russia in recent meetings of a joint working group that it should end its escalation to avert a major influx of refugees pouring into Turkey, two senior opposition figures said.

FASTFACT

Ankara stepped up supplies in recent days after failing to persuade Russia in recent meetings of a joint working group that it should end its escalation to avert a major influx of refugees pouring into Turkey.

In doing so Turkey signaled its readiness to preserve its influence in northwestern Syria, where it has beefed up its troop presence in a dozen military bases that were set up under a de-escalation deal with Russia, a senior opposition commander said. Turkish officials were not immediately available for comment.
Overnight, a Turkish military convoy arrived in a base in northern Hama near opposition-held Jabal Al-Zawiya, where Russian and Syrian jets have been pounding for weeks, a fighter and a witness said.
The delivery of dozens of armored vehicles, Grad rocket launchers, anti-tank guided missiles helped roll back some army gains and retake the strategically located town of Kfar Nabouda.