US forces prepare to evacuate contractors from Iraqi base

Nearly 400 contractors will be pulled back. (File/AFP)
Updated 24 June 2019
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US forces prepare to evacuate contractors from Iraqi base

TIKRIT, Iraq: US forces are preparing to evacuate hundreds of staff working for Lockheed Martin Corp. and Sallyport Global from an Iraqi military base where they work as contractors, three Iraqi military sources said on Friday.
Nearly 400 contractors from the two firms were getting ready to leave Balad military base, which hosts US forces some 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad, over “potential security threats.” Their departure was imminent, the sources said.
The sources did not give any details about the security threats.
The sprawling Balad base was hit by three mortar shells last week. No one claimed responsibility for the attack.
The US military informed Iraqi officials that they would begin evacuating about half of the 800 employees who work for both companies at Balad, said a military official with knowledge of the base’s daily operations.
The official said the evacuation would take about 10 days.
Two other military sources said the evacuation would take place in two stages and would be carried out by military aircraft.
“Americans informed us that they will only keep limited, necessary staff who work closely on the maintenance of Iraqi F-16 war planes.” Lockheed Martin began delivering the first F-16s to Iraq in 2014.
The sources said the evacuation could start at any moment.
Two other Iraqi bases hosting US forces have been hit by rockets in the past week in unclaimed attacks. On Wednesday, a rocket attack hit near a site used by US energy company Exxon Mobil near the southern city of Basra.
Local officials blamed Iran-backed Shiite militias for the Basra incident. Iran has not commented on the Iraq incidents but has strongly rejected accusations by Washington that it was behind several attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf in recent weeks.
The uptick in violence comes amid rising regional tension between the United States and Iran.
Washington has ramped up sanctions pressure on Tehran since last year and several violent incidents in the Gulf have been blamed on the rising tension.
President Donald Trump on Friday said he had called off a US strike on Iran at the last minute.
In Iraq, Iran backs several Shiite Muslim militias which have positions close to US military installations.
Those militias have not publicly commented on the recent incidents.
Sunni extremist group Islamic State is also trying to stage a comeback in Iraq and has mostly used hit-and-run insurgency tactics against Iraqi forces in recent months. 


Dead body business attracts medics, drug dealers in Egypt

Egyptian Christians stand outside St. Markos Church in Minya, south of Cairo, Egypt, in this Jan. 6, 2015 file photo. (AP)
Updated 23 July 2019
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Dead body business attracts medics, drug dealers in Egypt

  • Some of the gravediggers remove tissues and grease from the bones by boiling them to remove their odor before selling them to students

CAIRO: The Egyptian Orthodox Church has issued a statement condemning the theft of the body of the Patriarch Gerges, son of priest Ibrahim Al-Basit, from his family’s burial place in the Minya governorate.
Last Saturday, the cemetery was opened and Al-Basit’s body was stolen. The crime of stealing the bodies of the dead has recently spread across Egypt, especially while the sanctity of the body remains preserved. It is also common for the remains to be collected two years after the burial.
Last October, a gang was arrested after stealing bodies from their graves. An investigation has revealed that the main defendant sold the bodies to medical students for practical learning.
Some of the gravediggers remove tissues and grease from the bones by boiling them to remove their odor before selling them to students.
The investigation found that the defendant had put a price on various limbs. The leg and the arm were priced at 3,000 Egyptian pounds ($180), the skull cost 5,000 pounds and the whole body was worth 20,000 pounds.
Ashraf Farahat, a legal expert and lawyer, said that Egyptian law demands up to five years of imprisonment and a fine of 100-500 pounds for criminals who violate the sanctity of graves.
Yasser Sayed Ahmed, a legal expert and lawyer, said he knew of many cases where cemetery guards and assistants help people access graves for superstitious reasons in exchange for large sums of money.
The majority of these cases are happening with the help of the guards of the tombs. They exhume graves at night to extract the bodies and separate the organs to sell bones and skulls. They often sell them to drug dealers by grinding and mixing some materials for sale at high prices.