Pompeo in reassurance mission to Iraq over US Syria pullout plans

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan are greeted after arriving at Baghdad International Airport in Baghdad, Iraq, January 9, 2019. (Reuters)
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (AP)
Updated 09 January 2019

Pompeo in reassurance mission to Iraq over US Syria pullout plans

  • Pompeo’s unannounced visit comes less than two weeks after Trump drew criticism for failing to meet a single Iraqi official during his visit to a US airbase in Iraq

BAGHDAD: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to reassure Iraqi officials on Wednesday that Washington remained committed to fighting the Daesh group, as he tours regional allies troubled by US plans to withdraw from Syria.
Pompeo’s unannounced visit comes less than two weeks after President Donald Trump drew criticism for failing to meet a single Iraqi official during a surprise Christmas trip to US troops at an air base in western Iraq.
The US top diplomat is in the Middle East to urge allies to continue to confront the “significant threats” posed by Iran and militants despite Trump’s shock decision last month to pull all US troops from Syria.
In Baghdad, Pompeo met a raft of senior officials including Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi and President Barham Saleh.
He underlined “US support for the new Iraqi government’s efforts to deliver stability, security and prosperity to all Iraqis,” a US official said.
Pompeo also “discussed the recent territorial defeat of Daesh in Syria and the continuation of our cooperation with Iraqi Security Forces to ensure Daesh’s lasting defeat throughout the region.”
He ducked reporters’ shouted questions about US pullout plans, but Saleh replied that Baghdad wanted Washington to remain engaged.
“We will need the support of the US,” he said, expressing “gratitude to the US for support over the years.”
“Daesh is defeated militarily, but (the) mission is not accomplished,” Saleh added.
Pompeo flew in from Amman and was also due to visit Cairo, Manama, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Riyadh, Muscat and Kuwait City on his longest trip since taking office last year.
Trump used his lightning December 26 visit — his first to US troops in a conflict zone since being elected — to defend his Syria withdrawal plans and declare an end to America’s role as the global “policeman.”
He caused a political storm when he announced the pullout, claiming Daesh had been defeated despite continued deadly fighting between US-backed forces and the jihadists in eastern Syria.
Trump has since rowed back, vowing the withdrawal will be done in a “prudent” way.
Members of his administration have gone further, saying that the timeline of any pullout remains dependent on events on the ground.
There are many in Iraq, particularly in pro-Iran factions, who would like an accelerated timetable for a US withdrawal from Iraq too.
But Trump has stressed that he expects US troops to remain in Iraq, from where they can carry out operations in neighboring Syria if necessary.
Any failure to root out Daesh from border districts of Syria where they retain a presence poses a security concern for Iraq.
The 600-kilometer (375-mile) long frontier is porous and districts on the Iraqi side were the last from which Baghdad’s forces ousted the militants.
Iraq declared victory over Daesh in December 2017, but the militants retain a network of sleeper cells in major cities and continue to conduct hit-and-run attacks from mountain or desert hideouts.
On Tuesday, a car bomb killed two people in the city of Tikrit, north of the capital, police said.
The Trump administration’s insistence on treating Tehran as a threat as big or even bigger than Daesh also poses major difficulties for Iraq.
Since the US-led invasion of 2003, Tehran has become a political force in Iraq with influence rivalling that of Washington.
Iran too provided support for Iraq’s fightback against the militants after they advanced to within striking distance of the capital in 2014.
And Iraq has developed a dependency on imports from its eastern neighbor that is difficult to break.
Iraq suffers from a chronic shortage of power that leads to routine outages lasting much of the day in many areas that have prompted angry protests.
It depends on imports from Iran of both electricity and gas to generate it, to maintain even existing supply.
Washington has granted Baghdad waivers from the crippling unilateral sanctions it reimposed on Tehran last year after Trump pulled out of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal agreed by his predecessor Barack Obama.
But members of his administration have put increasing pressure on the Iraqi government to stop seeking waivers and call in US firms to provide an alternative.
Pompeo and the Iraqi prime minister discussed on Wednesday “US support for Iraq’s energy independence,” the US official said.

Jumblatt expresses concern over torture of Syrian refugees

Syrian children are pictured at a refugee camp in the village of Mhammara in the northern Lebanese Akkar region on March 9, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 18 March 2019

Jumblatt expresses concern over torture of Syrian refugees

  • Walid Jumblatt has expressed concern about Syrian refugees returning to their country from Lebanon
  • Jan Kubis: “The UN and the humanitarian community will continue to facilitate these returns as much as possible

BEIRUT: Lebanese Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt has expressed concern about reports that Syrian refugees returning to their country from Lebanon face torture and murder.

This coincides with a debate in Lebanon about whether Syrian refugees should return without waiting for a political solution to the conflict in their country. 

UN Special Coordinator Jan Kubis stressed after meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Monday the “urgent need to ensure the safe, voluntary and dignified return of Syrian refugees home, according to international humanitarian norms.” 

Kubis added: “The UN and the humanitarian community will continue to facilitate these returns as much as possible. Another very important message was also to support the host communities here in Lebanon.”

Mireille Girard, representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), on Monday said: “The reconstruction process in Syria may not be enough to attract refugees to return. We are working to identify the reasons that will help them to return.”

She added: “The arrival of aid to the refugees is an element of trust that helps them to return. Their dignity and peaceful living must be ensured.”

Social Affairs Minister Richard Kouyoumdjian said the Lebanese General Security “issued lists containing the names of refugees wishing to return to their homes, but the Syrian regime accepted only about 20 percent of them.”

He added: “The solution is to call on the international community to put pressure on Russia, so that Moscow can exert pressure on (Syrian President) Bashar Assad’s regime to show goodwill and invite Syrian refugees to return to their land without conditions, procedures, obstacles and laws that steal property and land from them.”

Lebanese Education Minister Akram Chehayeb said: “The problem is not reconstruction and infrastructure, nor the economic and social situation. The main obstacle is the climate of fear and injustice in Syria.”

He added: “There are 215,000 Syrian students enrolled in public education in Lebanon, 60,000 in private education, and there are informal education programs for those who have not yet attended school to accommodate all children under the age of 18.” 

Chehayeb said: “As long as the displacement crisis continues, and as long as the (Assad) regime’s decision to prevent the (refugees’) return stands … work must continue to absorb the children of displaced Syrians who are outside education to protect Lebanon today and Syria in the future.”