Iraqi premier’s US-Iran mediation credited for averting ‘hell’ of war

US President Donald Trump, left, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. (AP)
Updated 20 May 2019

Iraqi premier’s US-Iran mediation credited for averting ‘hell’ of war

  • Iraqi leaders fear that if war broke out, Iraq would be ‘the first point of confrontation’ between US and Iran

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s mediation between the US and Iran amid current military tensions was on Friday credited for averting the “hell” of war.
During the past few weeks the premier has been acting as a “postman” for Washington and Tehran, two of Abdul-Mahdi’s advisers told Arab News.
However, Shiite leaders and the commanders of two armed factions linked to Iran have told Arab News that short-range rockets have been handed to two Iraqi groups over the past fortnight “to be ready to strike US targets inside Iraq if the United States were to strike Iran.”
Tensions between the Americans and Iranians have been rising since the US withdrew from a nuclear agreement and imposed tough economic sanctions on Iran, moves which prompted veiled Iranian threats to chokepoint shipping lanes in the region.
The dispute reached a peak over recent days following attacks on four tanker ships and two Saudi oil installations, all blamed on Iranian-backed militia groups.
Iraq has been a major US-Iran battleground since 2003. Iran has significant influence in Iraq and controls dozens of Shiite, Sunni, Christian and Kurdish armed factions it has helped form, fund, train and equip. These fighting forces have been operating as Iran’s proxies in Iraq and Syria, and most of the US’s interests in both countries are located within the range of their rockets.

Mediation role
“(US Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo asked Adel Abdul-Mahdi to be a back channel of communication between them (the US) and the Iranians to convey some messages, and the Iranians agreed to that,” one of the Iraqi premier’s advisers said.

Playing the role of mediation, is a decision taken by the Iraqi leadership to avoid the outbreak of war between the two sides.

Iraqi premier’s adviser

“We will not wait until the gates of Hell open. Transferring messages between the two parties and playing the role of mediation, is a decision taken by the Iraqi leadership to avoid the outbreak of war between the two sides. Iran has agreed also to allow Iraqis to intermediate between the two sides,” the adviser added.
Pompeo made a brief visit to Baghdad two weeks ago, during which he passed on the first US message to the Iranians.
The second of Abdul-Mahdi’s advisers said: “Pompeo asked Abdul-Mahdi to take back the rockets of the armed factions and to tell the Iranians to leave US bases and camps in Iraq out of their calculations and to distance them from what is happening in the Gulf. Pompeo said that targeting any of the American interests inside Iraq would be answered (by hitting targets) deep inside Iran.”
Iran relies mainly on its proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen to hit the interests of its rivals in the region. Intelligence reports have proved that the targeting of four ships in the port of Fujairah early this week by drones, were carried out by Yemeni militias with Iranian encouragement.

Point of confrontation
Iraqi leaders fear that if war broke out, Iraq would be “the first point of confrontation” between the US and Iran. More than 5,000 US troops are deployed in joint camps and military bases with Iraqi forces across the country, which has the largest US Embassy in the world, two consulates in Irbil and Basra, as well as dozens of US oil companies and hundreds of workers in various sectors.
At least three prominent Shiite leaders and the commanders of two armed factions linked to Iran told Arab News that short-range rockets had been handed over to two Iraqi groups over the past two weeks “to be ready to strike US targets inside Iraq if the United States were to strike Iran.”
They added that “a list of US strategic targets in Iraq and the region has been prepared to be within the range of rockets of these factions when needed.”

FASTFACT

 

• Tensions between the Americans and Iranians have been rising since the US withdrew from a nuclear agreement and imposed tough economic sanctions on Iran, moves which prompted veiled Iranian threats to chokepoint shipping lanes in the region.

• Iran relies mainly on its proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen to hit the interests of its rivals in the region.

• More than 5,000 US troops are deployed in joint camps and military bases with Iraqi forces across the country.

A commander of an armed faction linked to Iran, told Arab News: “The message carried by Abdul-Mahdi to the Iranian side has temporarily changed the direction of the battle.” He said fighters had been ordered to remain calm, show restraint, and not to hit any foreign targets inside Iraq “until further notice.”
The commanders revealed that Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, met with a number of leaders of the Shiite factions in Baghdad two days before the start of the month of Ramadan, and discussions focused on the latest developments in the region and the available options for dealing with US pressure on Iran.
“We will rely on short-range missiles to strike US interests in Iraq if the United States began the war, these are the directives,” another commander said. “The factions have not received any long-range missiles from Iran.”
Kata’ib Hezbollah-Iraq, one of the most anti-US Shiite armed groups, which carried out deadly attacks on American troops in Iraq in 2007-2011, and Harakat Hezbollah Al-Nujaba (HHN), an offshoot of Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq (AAH), would “spearhead” any attacks launched by Iran on US interests in Iraq and Syria in the event of war, commanders said.
Rockets were handed to both groups, but AAH and other paramilitaries linked to Iran would only be used as backup during any confrontation, the commanders added.


Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

Updated 24 August 2019

Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

  • Egyptian social startups are taking alternative approaches to fostering awareness and reducing waste

CAIRO: Global plastics production reached 348 million tons in 2017, rising from 335 million tons in 2016, according to Plastics Europe. 

Critically, most plastic waste is not properly managed: Around 55 percent of it was landfilled or discarded in 2015. These numbers are extremely concerning because plastic products take anything from 450 to 1,000 years to decompose, and the effects on the environment, especially on marine and human life, are catastrophic.

While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively.

“We’re the first website in the Middle East and North Africa that trades waste,” said Alaa Afifi, founder and CEO of Bekia. “People can get rid of any waste at their disposal — plastic, paper and cooking oil — and exchange it for over 65 products on our website.”

Products for trading include rice, tea, pasta, cooking oil, subway tickets and school supplies.

Bekia was launched in Cairo in 2017. Initially, the business model did not prove successful.

“We used to rent a car and go to certain locations every 40 days to collect waste from people,” Afifi, 26, explained. “We then created a website and started encouraging people to use it.”

After the website was launched, people could wait at home for someone to collect the waste. “Instead of 40 days, we now could visit people within a week.”

To use Bekia’s services, people need to log onto the website and specify what they want to discard. They are assigned points based on the waste they are offering, and these points can be used in one of three ways: Donated to people in need, saved for later, or exchanged for products. As for the collected waste, it is given to specialized recycling companies for processing.

“We want to have 50,000 customers over the next two years who regularly use our service to get rid of their waste,” Afifi said.  

Trying to spread environmental awareness has not been easy. “We had a lot of trouble with initial investment at first, and we got through with an investment that was far from enough. The second problem we faced was spreading this culture among people — in the first couple of months, we received no orders,” Afifi said.

The team soldiered on and slowly built a client base, currently serving 7,000 customers. In terms of what lies ahead for Bekia, he said: “We’re expanding from 22 to 30 areas in Cairo this year. We’re launching an app very soon and a new website with better features.”

Go Clean, another Egyptian recycling startup dedicated to raising environmental awareness, works under the patronage of the Ministry of Environment. “We started in 2017 by recycling waste from factories, and then by February 2019 we started expanding,” said founder and CEO Mohammed Hamdy, 30.

The Cairo-based company collects recyclables from virtually all places, including households, schools, universities, restaurants, cafes, companies and embassies. The customers separate the items into categories and then fill out a registration form. Alternatively, they can make contact through WhatsApp or Facebook. A driver is then dispatched to collect the waste, carrying a scale to weigh it. 

“The client can be paid in cash for the weight of their recyclables, or they can make a donation to a special needs school in Cairo,” Hamdy explained. There is also the option of trading the waste for dishwashing soap, with more household products to be added in the future.

Trying to cover a country with 100 million people was never going to be easy, and Go Clean faced some logistical problems. It overcame them by hiring more drivers and getting more trucks. There was another challenge along the way: “We had to figure out a way to train the drivers, from showing them how to use GPS and deal with clients,” said Hamdy.

“We want to spread awareness about the environment everywhere. We go to schools, universities, companies and even factories to give sessions about the importance of recycling and how dangerous plastic is. We’re currently covering 20 locations across Cairo and all of Alexandria. We want to cover all of Egypt in the future,” he added.

With a new app on the way, Hamdy said things are looking positive for the social startup, and people are becoming invested in the initiative. “We started out with seven orders per day, and now we get over 100.”