Iraq marks anniversary of ‘victory’ over Daesh

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The sign in Arabic reads: “Our neighbors are our friends but not our masters. Our decision is an Iraqi decision” Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr ordered followers in prayer today in the mosques of Iraq in order to “speed up the formation of the Iraqi government away from the intervention of neighboring countries.” (AFP)
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Members of the Iraqi paramilitary Popular Mobilisation units celebrate with a flag of the Islamic State (IS) group after retaking the village of Albu Ajil, near the city of Tikrit. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 December 2018
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Iraq marks anniversary of ‘victory’ over Daesh

  • Five months after Baghdad declared its win, the country held legislative elections that did not produce a clear governing coalition
  • The ongoing power struggle among various parties has stymied efforts by new premier Adel Abdel Mahdi, widely seen as a weak consensus candidate, to form a government

BAGHDAD: Iraq on Monday celebrated the anniversary of its costly victory over Daesh, which has lost virtually all the territory it once held but still carries out sporadic attacks to hang on to its last enclave in Syria near the Iraqi border.
The government declared victory last December after a grueling three-year war in which tens of thousands of people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. Entire towns and neighborhoods were reduced to rubble in the fighting.
The government declared Monday a national holiday, and a moment of silence is planned for later in the day. Checkpoints in the capital were decorated with Iraqi flags and balloons, as security forces patrolled the streets playing patriotic music.
As part of the celebrations, authorities plan to reopen parts of Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone — home to key government offices and embassies — to the public. The move is billed as an act of transparency following protests against corruption and poor public services.
The celebrations come as political infighting has hindered the formation of the government and setting next year’s budget amid an acute economic situation.

Addressing a group of Iraqi military officers, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said it was a “proud day for all of us when our brave country defeated the enemies of life, dignity, freedom and peace.”
He commended the security forces as well as Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who issued a fatwa, or religious edict, mobilizing volunteers after the armed forces collapsed in the face of the Daesh onslaught in 2014. Tens of thousands of volunteers joined an array of state-sanctioned militias, many of them backed by Iran.
“That fatwa will be a bright spot in the history of this country and the people, from whom the decisive response started, laying the foundations of the victory,” Abdul-Mahdi said.
He called on Iraqis to renounce their differences and to come together for a better future. “The time has come to leave behind all the past mistakes and conspiracies to open the doors of hope for our children for a better future,” he said, vowing to rebuilt the demolished areas and help displaced people return to their homes.
“This war has restored Iraq’s dignity,” said Baghdad resident Qassim Al-Fatlawi. “All Iraqis took part in this fight, those who couldn’t take up arms fought with words and donations,” added Al-Fatlawi, 29, who organized fundraising initiatives for the paramilitaries.
Popular songs praising the paramilitaries, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, blared out from his small accessories shop cosmetic in a narrow alley in Baghdad’s Shiite-dominated Karrada area, which today is adorned with rows of Iraqi flags. He said he planned to put out a large tray of free sweets for customers later in the day.
“That victory and the relative stability in security is a golden opportunity for the government to rebuild the country and to meet the needs of its people,” said Sameer Al-Obaidi, who led an initiative in the capital’s Sunni-dominated northern Azamiyah neighborhood to distribute flowers to security forces at checkpoints. “It is important to treat all Iraqis equally so that they feel that their sacrifices are appreciated,” Al-Obaidi added.
Daesh, which traces its roots back to the insurgency that followed the 2003 US-led invasion, swept into Iraq from neighboring Syria in the summer of 2014. It carved out a self-styled caliphate across a third of both countries, imposing a brutal form of Islamic rule and massacring its opponents. The group abducted thousands of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority and forced them into sexual slavery.
Iraqi forces aided by a US-led coalition eventually drove the group from all the territory it once held in Iraq, including in the climactic battle for Mosul, the country’s second-largest city. These days, Daesh is still fighting to hold onto a small pocket of territory in Syria, near the Iraqi border.
Iraq is still grappling with the legacy of the extremist group’s brutal rule.
More than 1.8 million Iraqis remain displaced across the country, and a staggering 8 million require some form of humanitarian aid, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council. Those with suspected links to Daesh have been rejected by their communities, while thousands of children fathered by Daesh militants — including those born to enslaved Yazidi women — are still unrecognized by the state.
Nearly two-thirds of displaced people say they are unwilling or unable to return home in the next year, with more than half saying their homes were damaged or destroyed, said the aid group.
“If this is what ‘victory’ looks like, then there is little to celebrate for millions of Iraqis still haunted by the crimes of the Daesh and the long war to eliminate it,” said Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary General Jan Egeland. “They have largely been forgotten by their own government and the international community.”​


UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

The UN Relief and Works Agency provides food assistance to 1 million people in Gaza every three months, which is half of the area’s population. (AFP)
Updated 19 March 2019
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UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

  • ‘Exceptional’ contributions enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion
  • ‘Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution’

UNITED NATIONS: The head of the UN agency that helps 5.3 million Palestinian refugees on Monday urged donors who filled a $446 million hole in its budget last year after the Trump administration drastically cut the US contribution to be equally generous this year.
“Last year we had an extraordinary crisis and an out of the ordinary response,” Pierre Krahenbuhl said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Our humble request to all the donors is: Please keep your funding levels at the same level as 2018.”
He said he has been thanking donors for their “exceptional” contributions that enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion.
Krahenbuhl said the agency, known as UNRWA, also adopted a $1.2 billion budget for 2019, and this year it is getting nothing from the United States. Last year, the Trump administration gave $60 million, a dramatic reduction from the $360 million it provided in 2017, when the United States was the agency’s largest donor.
US President Donald Trump said in January 2018 that the Palestinians must return to peace talks to receive US aid money — a comment that raised alarm from leaders of 21 international humanitarian groups, who protested that the administration’s link between aid and political objectives was “dangerous.”
Krahenbuhl said the campaign that UNRWA launched immediately after the US slashed its contribution succeeded as a result of “very important donations,” starting with the European Union, which became the agency’s biggest donor. He said 40 countries and institutions increased funding to UNRWA, including Germany, United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan, Canada and Australia. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait each gave $50 million, he said.
“Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution,” Krahenbuhl said.
Last year, he said, the number of multi-year funding agreements with donors rose to 19.
So UNRWA right now is in “a somewhat better position” than it was last year, with a shortfall of just over $200 million, Krahenbuhl said.
So far this year, the agency has received $245 million and is expecting $100 million more, he said, which means it should be financially OK until about May.
“But from then on we’ll start to ... reach some crisis points,” Krahenbuhl said.
He said UNRWA is thinking about holding some events in the next two or three months “to collectively mobilize the donor community.” In June, he said, there will be a pledging conference at which the UN and donors will take stock of the agency’s financial situation.
Krahenbuhl said he is committed to making up for the $60 million that UNRWA is losing from the United States this year through internal cost saving measures to reduce the agency’s expenditures.
“That’s going to hurt, but that’s where we feel our financial responsibility, so that we preserve the trust that was generated by the level of donors,” he said, noting that UNRWA last year saved $92 million.
Krahenbuhl said donors recognize the agency does important work. He pointed to the 280,000 boys and girls in UNRWA schools in Gaza and the food assistance the agency provides to 1 million people there every three months. “That’s half of Gaza’s population,” he said.
The UNRWA chief also said that continuing the agency’s services to Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and elsewhere in the Mideast “is in everybody’s interest” and important for stability in the region.
“If you take Gaza right now ... it’s continuously at the razor’s edge,” Krahenbuhl said, stressing that any shift in humanitarian assistance or conditions that people live in “can trigger the need for justification, or the excuse ... to go back to war.”
Noting his own experience in the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza, Krahenbuhl said, “this is absolutely devastating and needs to be avoided.”