Iraq mounts offensive against Al-Qaeda

Updated 20 January 2014

Iraq mounts offensive against Al-Qaeda

BAGHDAD: Iraqi government forces and allied tribal militias launched an all-out offensive Sunday to push Al-Qaeda-linked militants from a city west of Baghdad, a military official said.
Since late December, members of an Al-Qaeda offshoot — known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — have taken over parts of Ramadi, the provincial capital of the largely Sunni western province of Anbar. They also control the center of the nearby city of Fallujah, along with other non-Al-Qaeda groups that also oppose the Shiite-led government.
The officer said fierce clashes were taking place, but gave no details.
Hours after the offensive was announced, Iraq’s Prime Minister vowed to continue fighting “terrorism,” but left the door open for any political solution.
“Our battle is firstly to beat and eliminate terrorism,” Nouri Al-Maliki said in a speech in the southern city of Nasiriyah. “Though we welcome any solution, any proposal and any political meeting that should realize the priority of destroying terrorism, Al-Qaeda, its formations and its allies,” Al-Maliki added.
To the east of Baghdad, gunmen opened fire Sunday on a checkpoint run by an anti-Al-Qaeda, pro-government Sunni tribal militia outside the city of Baqouba, killing the local leader and four assistants, a police and medical officials said. The former Al-Qaeda stronghold Baqouba is located about 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of the capital.
The Sunni militia, known as the Awakening Council, was formed by US forces during the height of the insurgency. They are seen as traitors by Al-Qaeda’s local branch and other militant groups.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.
Violence has escalated in Iraq over the past year, particularly since late last month after authorities dismantled an anti-government Sunni protest camp and arrested a Sunni lawmaker on terrorism charges. To alleviate the tension, the army pulled back from the two cities, but that allowed Al-Qaeda militants to seize control.
Last year, the country saw its highest annual death toll since the worst of the country’s sectarian bloodletting began to subside in 2007, according to United Nations figures. The UN said violence killed 8,868 in 2013. Sunday’s attack on the Awakening Council members brought the death toll so far this month to 364, according to an Associated Press tally.


Lebanese block roads as protests enter fourth month

Updated 17 January 2020

Lebanese block roads as protests enter fourth month

  • The protest movement rocking Lebanon since October 17
  • The protest movement is in part fueled by the worst economic crisis

BEIRUT: Protesters blocked several main roads across Lebanon on Friday as unprecedented demonstrations against a political elite accused of corruption and incompetence entered their fourth month.
The protest movement rocking Lebanon since October 17 has resurged this week, over delays in forming a new cabinet to address the country’s growing economic crisis.
No progress seemed to have been made on a final lineup, which protesters demand be made up solely of independent experts and empty of traditional political parties.
In central Beirut, dozens of protesters Friday stood between parked cars blocking a key thoroughfare linking the city’s east and west.
“We blocked the road with cars because it’s something they can’t move,” Marwan Karam said.
The protester condemned what he regarded as efforts to form yet another government representing the usual carve-up of power between the traditional parties.
“We don’t want a government of masked political figures,” the 30-year-old told AFP. “Any such government will fall. We won’t give it any chance in the street.”
Forming a new cabinet is often a drawn-out process in Lebanon, where a complex system seeks to maintain balance between the various political parties and a multitude of religious confessions.
Nearby, Carlos Yammine, 32, said he did not want yet another “cake-sharing government.”
“What we have asked for from the start of the movement is a reduced, transitional, emergency government of independents,” he said, leaning against his car.


Elsewhere, demonstrators closed roads including in Lebanon’s second city of Tripoli, though some were later reopened, the National News Agency said.
The protest movement is in part fueled by the worst economic crisis that Lebanon has witnessed since its 1975-1990 civil war.
The protests this week saw angry demonstrators attack banks following the imposition of sharp curbs on cash withdrawals to stem a liquidity crisis.
On Thursday night, protesters vandalized three more banks in the capital’s Hamra district, smashing their glass fronts and graffitiing ATMs, an AFP photographer said.
Earlier, Lebanon’s security services released most of the 100-plus protesters detained over the previous 48 hours, lawyers said.
Human Rights Watch on Friday condemned the arrests and the response of security forces to protests outside a police station on Wednesday night demanding detainees be released.
“The unacceptable level of violence against overwhelmingly peaceful protesters on January 15 calls for a swift independent and transparent investigation,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at the rights watchdog.
Over the past few months, the Lebanese pound — long pegged to the US dollar at 1,507 — has fallen in value on the unofficial market to around 2,500.
The World Bank has warned that the poverty rate in Lebanon could rise from a third to a half if the political crisis is not remedied fast.