Chemical weapons probe team to start in ‘weeks’

The building of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is pictured in The Hague, Netherlands, October 4, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 14 March 2019
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Chemical weapons probe team to start in ‘weeks’

  • Members of the OPCW agreed in June to allow the body to identify the perpetrators of chemical attacks

THE HAGUE: A new chemical weapons investigation team with the power to assign blame for attacks such as those in Syria will start work in weeks, the head of the world’s toxic arms organization said.
Member countries of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons agreed in June to allow the body to identify the perpetrators of chemical attacks, but the new powers are strongly opposed by Moscow and Damascus.
“The recruitment process of the members of the team is under way and is currently being finalized,” OPCW chief Fernando Arias said in a statement to The Hague-based body on Tuesday.
Arias said the so-called Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) “will become fully operational in the coming weeks.”
Western states immediately called for the team to start work on identifying the culprits behind a deadly attack in the Syrian town of Douma in April 2018.
The OPCW said in a report on March 2 that chlorine was likely used in the attack, which it said killed more than 40 people.
The report however did not apportion blame as it was not in the watchdog’s mandate at the time.
Syria and Russia rejected the report, saying the Douma incident — which sparked western airstrikes against the regime of President Bashar Assad — was faked.
Canada’s delegation to the watchdog tweeted that it “expects Douma case to be referred to OPCW Investigation/Identification Team. Those responsible must be held accountable.”
Britain said that it “look(s) forward to further investigation by IIT to identify those responsible.”
The West pushed through the new blaming powers after a string of chemical incidents in Syria, as well as a nerve agent attack on Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal in the British city of Salisbury in March 2018.
Russia tried last year to block the budget for the OPCW if it included funding for the investigations team.
China and Iran have also opposed the new powers.
OPCW chief Arias said the investigations team so far had 400,000 euros of funding but needed a further 1.13 million euros for the rest of 2019.
He added that the watchdog had discussed the investigations team with Syria during talks in February on destroying Damascus’s chemical weapons stocks, and would now “seek to secure the cooperation of the Syrian Government” for probes.


Iraq PM wants governor sacked after boat capsize

Iraq's Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi visits the people injured after a ferry sank in the Tigris river, at Salam hospital in Mosul, Iraq March 21, 2019. Picture taken March 21, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 13 min 19 sec ago
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Iraq PM wants governor sacked after boat capsize

  • Iraqi law gives the federal Parliament the right to sack provincial governors based on the suggestion of the prime minister

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has formally requested that Parliament sack Nineveh Governor Nawfal Hammadi Al-Sultan after a river ferry accident that killed at least 100 people in the provincial capital, Mosul.
The capsize of the boat, which was carrying families to a recreational spot on an island in the Tigris River on Thursday, was the most deadly incident in the northern city since it was recaptured from Daesh in a bloody and destructive conflict in 2017.
Since the militants were driven from Mosul nearly two years ago, relief has given way to impatience over alleged corruption as the reconstruction of the destroyed city has stalled.
“Due to the obvious negligence and dereliction in performing duties and responsibility, and the presence of evidence proving misuse of public funds and abuse of power ... we suggest that you dismiss the governor and his deputies,” Abdul Mahdi wrote in a letter addressed to the speaker of Parliament that was published by his office late on Friday.
Iraqi law gives the federal Parliament the right to sack provincial governors based on the suggestion of the prime minister.
Scores of angry protesters swarmed Iraq’s president and the governor on Friday, forcing them to leave the site of the accident. The crowd threw stones and shoes at Sultan’s car, which sped off hitting two people, one of whom was taken to hospital.
Protesters blamed negligence by the local government for the accident. The boat was loaded to five times its capacity, according to a local official.
Iraq’s Justice Ministry said it had ordered the arrest of nine ferry company officials and banned the owners of the vessel and the picnic site from leaving the country.