Haftar orders navy to confront ships entering Libyan waters

1 / 2
Italy's Parliament has approved a plan to send naval boats to Libya as part of efforts to stop migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea. (AFP)
2 / 2
Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter. (AFP)
Updated 04 August 2017

Haftar orders navy to confront ships entering Libyan waters

BENGHAZI: Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar has ordered forces under his command to bar foreign vessels from entering the country’s waters, a spokesman said Thursday, after Italy gave the go-ahead to a Libya naval mission to stem the growing tide of illegal immigration.
“Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar gave his instructions to the navy’s chief of staff to prevent any foreign vessel from entering Libyan territorial waters without permission,” Khalifa Al-Obeidi said.
He said foreign vessels needed a special permit from Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) which controls a stretch of Libya’s 1,300-km coastline.
Al-Obeidi said Haftar’s orders were in reaction to Italy’s decision to deploy a naval mission to Libya, a main point of departure for migrants seeking a better life in Europe.
On Wednesday, Italy dispatched a navy patrol boat to Libya after Parliament in Rome approved the mission aimed at ending the migrant crisis that has engulfed Europe.
Under the mission, approved by Tripoli-based authorities, the navy patrol boat Comandante Borsini entered the North African state’s territorial waters on Wednesday afternoon headed for the capital, Italy’s navy said.
Italy’s Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni last week announced the plan to deploy vessels in Libyan waters, saying Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord had asked for Rome’s assistance.
The GNA is headed by Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj, whose authority is contested by Haftar and a rival administration based in Libya’s east that he supports.
But Sarraj last week denied he had struck any deal with Italy.
Al-Obeidi said Haftar’s orders were handed out to naval bases in the eastern cities of Tobruk, Benghazi and Ras Lanuf.
People traffickers have exploited the political and security chaos reigning in Libya to do a brisk business.
Some 600,000 mostly African migrants have arrived in Italy from Libya since the start of 2014.
Thousands have died attempting the perilous journey usually in rickety and overcrowded boats.
In a related development, Interior Minister Marco Minniti warned non-governmental orgainizations (NGOs) operating migrant rescue boats in the Mediterranean that they will not be allowed to continue if they do not sign up to new rules governing their operations.
“If NGOs do not sign up (to a new code of conduct), it is difficult to see how they can continue operating,” Minniti said in an interview with Turin daily La Stampa.
Minniti’s warning came a day after Italian authorities impounded a boat operated by German aid organization Jugend Rettet on suspicion its crew effectively collaborated with people traffickers in a way that facilitated illegal immigration.
The aid organization, which has only been operational for a year, said it would seek to overturn the seizure.
“Our Italian lawyer is appealing the confiscation of our boat. Our first priority is to free it and resume our rescue missions,” a spokeswoman said.
Italian authorities had been monitoring Jugend Rettet’s boat, the Iuventa, since October.
Its crew is suspected to taking on board dinghy loads of migrants delivered directly to them by people traffickers and allowing the smugglers to make off with the vessels to be used again.
Minniti also revealed plans for further talks this month with Libyan mayors on economic development initiatives and with Chad, Niger and Mali on measures to reduce the number of migrants leaving those countries in the hope of reaching Europe.


Iraqi grand ayatollah: I support the people, and they want change

As strikes resume in Iraq, anti-government protesters stand on a concrete wall set up by security forces in Al-Rashid district in Baghdad on Sunday. (AP)
Updated 18 November 2019

Iraqi grand ayatollah: I support the people, and they want change

  • Iran’s blatant interference in Iraqi affairs and its involvement in crackdown on protesters angers Ali Sistani

BAGHDAD: A senior adviser to Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani has told Arab News that he does not support the continuation of the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and that the existing political forces did not press for early parliamentary elections with a new election law and an electoral commission. Baghdad and nine southern Shiite-dominated provinces have endured mass demonstrations against the government since Oct. 1. More than 300 demonstrators have been killed and 15,000 others have been injured, mostly in Baghdad, due to bloody crackdowns led by Abdul Mahdi’s government and his Iranian-backed allies.
Al-Sistani is the leader of the world’s Shiite community and the most influential cleric in Iraq and has been the godfather of the political process since 2003. No government or prime minister can survive without Al-Sistani’s support and blessing.
Protesters, initially protesting against corruption, unemployment and lack of daily basic services, were brutally repressed in the first week of October by Abdul Mahdi’s government and his Iran-backed allies, killing more than 147 demonstrators and wounding more than 6,000 others with live ammunition and tear gas canisters, which stopped demonstrations for two weeks.
But demonstrations resumed on Oct. 25 after Al-Sistani announced his support and the Iraqi government vowed not to use live ammunition.
The return of the protests was accompanied by increasing demands to overthrow Abdul Mahdi’s government and the holding of early national parliamentary elections preceded by the change of the election law and the electoral commission.
Abdul Mahdi and his allies from the political forces announced their agreement to meet the demands of the demonstrators except the dismissal or resignation of Abdul Mahdi or early elections.

PM’s survival
The prime minister’s allies insist on his survival, accompanied by a significant increase in killings, kidnappings and arrests of activists and journalists, with the promotion of news that they have an agreement with Al-Sistani that allows the continuation of Abdul Mahdi’s government, new ministerial and constitutional amendments and a set of important laws, without holding early elections.
Al-Sistani’s office denied that they had concluded such an agreement or that they had anything to do with it.
“The real conviction is the conviction of the people. We have no guardianship over the people, but we support it because the constitution says they are the source of powers,” Sistani’s top aid told Arab News.
“We support peaceful demonstration because it is the right of the citizen … If it remains peaceful, it will affect the state’s convictions.
“We have no confidence that those (political forces) will be able to solve the problem. We see that they are part of the problem, not part of the solution and unless there is a real change within the constitutional items, the problem will remain the same.”

FASTFACTS

• Abdul Mahdi and his allies from the political forces announced their agreement to meet the demands of the demonstrators except the dismissal or resignation of the government, or early elections. 

• Ali Sistani’s top aid tells Arab News that the grand ayatollah does not suppport the continuation of the present government in Iraq.

Iraq ranks high on the list of the most corrupt countries. The system of political, sectarian and ethnic quotas adopted by Iraqi politicians since 2004, which includes the three presidencies and ministries and advanced positions in all state institutions, contributed to the spread of financial and administrative corruption and provided the required protection for corrupt politicians.
“There have been no real treatments for corruption over the past years. Corruption is rampant ... because of the weakness of the judiciary and the regulatory authorities, some of which have sought to use corruption cases to blackmail and enrich themselves.
“Officials are getting rich at the expense of the people. Corruption whales became powerful, while the qualified people have left Iraq and the graduates do not find jobs.
“We have no hope in the existing political forces and the chances of continuation of this government are very small. “They should all leave. This political class must leave.”
Al-Sistani has recently intervened in major events, as happened when the Iraqi Army collapsed and Daesh overran one-third of Iraqi territories in the western and northern parts of the country in the summer of 2014 and advanced toward Baghdad, when he issued an edict (fatwa) demanding that people take up arms and volunteer to support Iraqi forces in their fight against Daesh. Sistani’s intervention this time appeared gradually and through Friday sermons.

Strongest sermon
The last Friday sermon was the strongest to date, as Al-Sistani’s told his followers: “If those who have power (now), think they can evade real reform, with procrastination, they are delusional. The aftermath of these protests will not be the same as before. They should be careful.”
This was understood by most politicians and observers as a yellow ultimatum, which could soon be followed by a warning of expulsion or paralysis of civilian life.
“We do not interfere with particles. We have constitutional mechanisms that we do not want to get out of, but when we found that these mechanisms were tailored to the size of the existing political forces, we demanded a new electoral law that would ensure a genuine representation of the people and a new electoral commission that people trust will safeguard their choices,” Al-Sistani’s aid said.
“We will not allow things to descend into chaos. This is not an option. Our biggest concern is that the law will weaken further, which means slipping into infighting.”
Iran’s blatant interference in Iraqi affairs, reflected by the statements of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who was publicly demanding an end to the demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon, and the involvement of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, in the crackdown on protesters, has angered Al-Sistani. This was evident in his three previous speeches.
“We have a real problem: Iraq is negatively affected by the (regional) environment. We will not allow Iraq to be a battleground for any regional or international party ... we will not allow anyone to interfere in the affairs of Iraq, whether it is a friend or an enemy, because all interventions are aimed at serving special ambitions,” Al-Sistani’s aid said.
“He will not leave the people. If the people’s demand is for early elections, then we support early elections, and if they want to change the (political) system, we support it … and if they say that they do not want this government, we support it.
“Our position is clear and unambiguous. We are with the people in what they want ... and Al-Sistani has not used its strongest weapons yet.”