US still committed to fighting Daesh in Iraq and other areas, says Pompeo

Abdul Mahdi and Pompeo discussed the withdrawal and Washington’s decision to grant Iraq a 90-day extension on a waiver from sanctions against Iran. (File/AFP)
Updated 22 December 2018
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US still committed to fighting Daesh in Iraq and other areas, says Pompeo

CAIRO, TEHRAN: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi that the US is still committed to fighting Daesh in Iraq and other areas despite its planned troop withdrawal from Syria, Abdul Mahdi’s office said on Saturday.

President Donald Trump has begun what will be a total withdrawal of US troops from Syria, declaring on Wednesday they had succeeded in their mission to defeat Daesh and were no longer needed. 

The plan has drawn criticism from allies such as Britain and France who say the militants are not fully beaten.

“Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi received a phone call from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who explained the details of the upcoming withdrawal from Syria and affirmed the US is still committed to fighting Daesh and terrorism in Iraq and other areas,” Abdul Mahdi’s office said in a statement.

Abdul Mahdi and Pompeo also discussed Washington’s decision to extend for 90 days a waiver granted to Iraq from sanctions against Iran that would allow Baghdad to keep importing Iranian gas that is critical for Iraqi power production.

The Trump administration reimposed sanctions on Iran’s energy exports in November, citing its nuclear program and meddling in the Middle East, but has granted waivers to several buyers to meet consumer energy needs.

Washington gave Iraq a 45-day waiver for imports of gas from Iran when it reimposed sanctions on Iran’s oil sector on Nov. 5. Iraqi officials have said they need around two years to find an alternative source.

Iraq relies heavily on Iranian gas to feed its power stations, importing roughly 1.5 billion standard cubic feet per day via pipelines in the south and east.

Iran reaction

Iran’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday that the US military presence in Syria had been “illogical and a source of tension,” Iranian state news agency IRNA reported.

“From the start, the entry and presence of American forces in the region has been a mistake, illogical and a source of tension, and a main cause of instability,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted by IRNA as saying.

In its first official reaction to Trump’s decision to withdraw troops, it said that the US presence in Syria had been “wrong and illogical” from the start.

“The presence of American forces was from the very start, in principle, a wrong and illogical move and a primary cause of instability and insecurity in the region,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi on his Telegram channel.

Trump vowed Thursday that the US would no longer be the “policeman of the Middle East” as he ordered troops back from Syria.

Iran has been a key supporter of the Syrian government. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have a contingent of commanders and advisers deployed in Syria in support of Bashar Assad, and have ferried weapons and thousands of militia fighters to the frontlines from various countries.

The US currently has around 2,000 forces deployed in Syria in two areas along the Iraqi border that was partly aimed at keeping Iranian forces in check.

A senior Kurdish politician on Friday called on France to play a larger role in Syria following the US withdrawal.


Mardini — refugee from Syria rising fast after fleeing war

Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini, the Olypmpia swimmer, escaped conflict in her homeland. A year later she famously competed at the Rio Olympics. (Photo/UNHCR)
Updated 22 July 2019
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Mardini — refugee from Syria rising fast after fleeing war

  • The 21-year-old girl almost drowned at sea fleeing her war-torn country four years ago

GWANGJU/SOUTH KOREA: Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini, who almost drowned at sea fleeing her war-torn country four years ago, heaved a deep sigh after failing to set a personal best at the world swimming championships on Sunday.

Representing FINA’s independent athletes team, the 21-year-old looked up at the giant scoreboard and winced at her time of 1 minute 8.79 seconds in the 100-meter butterfly heats in South Korea.
“I’m not very happy actually,” Mardini told AFP.
“I had some problems with my shoulder but I’m back in training. I still have the 100m freestyle and I’m looking forward to that.”
Mardini’s time was more than 12 seconds slower than that of reigning champion Sarah Sjostrom and 47th overall, but she has come a long way since risking her life crossing from Izmir in Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos in the summer of 2015.
Refugee swimmer Mardini knows what she is talking about when it comes to family separation for asylum seekers.
In 2015, she and her sister Sarah had escaped conflict in their homeland when the boat they were aboard with other refugees began sinking. They jumped out and swam part of the journey from Turkey to Greece.
They then embarked on an overland trip from Greece to Germany, evading local authorities in countries with immigration policies that barred them from legal entry. Along the way the sisters slept in train stations or wherever they could find shelter.
Mardini empathizes with families currently separated along the US southern border.
“This is the most terrible thing anyone can have — to live without a mom or to live without a family,” she said on Sunday at the world swimming championships where she’s competing as an independent athlete.
“I arrived in Greece in only jeans and a T-shirt,” said Mardini, who also swims in the 100m freestyle later this week. “Even my shoes were gone.”
“In the beginning I refused to be in a refugee team because I was afraid people would think I got the chance because of my story,” said Mardini, who now lives with her family in Berlin.
“I wanted to earn it. But then I realized I had a big opportunity to represent those people — so I took the chance and I never regretted it,” she added.
Mardini was 17 at the time. She is now a goodwill ambassador for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. She famously competed at the Rio Olympics a year later under the refugee flag.

FASTFACT

• In 2015, she and her sister had escaped conflict in their homeland when the boat they were aboard with other refugees began sinking. They jumped out and swam part of the journey from Turkey to Greece.

• Mardini was 17 at the time. She is now a goodwill ambassador for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Rio was amazing. It was really exciting to see the reaction of people to the team. Now I’m representing millions of displaced people around the world and it really makes me proud.”
It is a far cry from life back in Syria, where rocket strikes would often shake the pool she trained at in Damascus.
“There were bomb attacks sometimes that would crack the windows around the pool,” said Mardini, who has addressed the UN General Assembly and whose story is set to be told in a Hollywood movie.
“I know people who lost their moms on the way or in the water — that got drowned — and I feel this is terrible,” she said.
Mardini said that from the time she left Syria she lived without her mother for six months. Eventually, they were reunited in Germany, where they now live in Berlin. “I felt so alone,” she said. “So lonely.”
The experience has prompted her to stand up for fellow asylum seekers in similar situations.
“Someone has to do something about it,” Mardini said. “The least we can do is talk about it, not just ignore it like everything else happening in the world.”
Mardini finished 47th out of 52 swimmers in the 100-meter butterfly heats on Sunday. Her other event in Gwangju is the 100 freestyle on Thursday.
She is attempting to again qualify for the Olympics as a member of the Refugee Olympic Team.
“My goal now is just to swim a new personal best,” she said. “And my next goal will be Tokyo 2020.”
Fellow Syrian Ayman Kelzieh was also forced to flee the country before competing at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon.
Returning to Korea five years later, the 26-year-old now owns a fistful of national swim records, including the 50m, 100m and 200m butterfly.
“When the war started I had just moved to Damascus and I couldn’t get back home to Aleppo,” said Kelzieh, who now lives on the Thai island of Phuket.
“But even in Damascus bombs sometimes even went off at the swimming pool we trained at,” he added after taking a poolside selfie with his idol, South African star Chad le Clos.
“There were even attacks at the hotel I stayed in — I was lucky.”