Iraq scouts make comeback in ex-extremist bastion Mosul

Iraqi scout leaders parade with national flags during training at the "Al-Hadbaa" scout camp in the northern city of Mosul on February 25, 2018, with the participation of scout teams from various parts of Iraq. (AFP)
Updated 03 April 2018

Iraq scouts make comeback in ex-extremist bastion Mosul

  • The scouts of Mosul and Iraq are back
  • Iraq was one of the first Arab countries to join the World Organization of the Scout Movement in 1914

MOSUL: Scouts are making a symbolic comeback in Mosul after a three-year absence from the city that used to serve as Daesh’s capital in Iraq.
With white shirts and neckerchiefs, more than 200 male and female scout leaders from across Iraq recently converged on the city that was devastated by three years of extremists rule and nine months of heavy urban warfare.
It was “a message to Iraq and the world: The scouts of Mosul and Iraq are back,” Mohammed Ibrahim, head of scout activities in Mosul, told AFP.
The rally took place at Mosul’s scout camp set in the heart of a wooded area popular with locals for family outings on Fridays, the weekly day of rest in Iraq.
Iraq was one of the first Arab countries to join the World Organization of the Scout Movement in 1914 when it was still part of the Ottoman Empire.
But in 1999, the world scout body evicted the Iraqi chapter because it was allegedly being used by former dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime for military training.
But the Iraqi scouts kept operating.
In 2017, they were readmitted into the international scouting world and have since grown to 25,000 members across the country.
Loudspeakers blasted nationalist songs at full volume as children from local schools paraded in traditional Iraqi dress at the Mosul rally.
For Qassima Mohsen, a 42-year-old scout leader in the southern province of Zi Qar, the 800-kilometer (500-mile) trip to Mosul had both symbolic and personal value.
In the early 2000s, she used to come regularly to Mosul’s scout camp for gatherings.
More than 15 years later — after the US-led invasion, the fall of Saddam, years of sectarian violence, the jihadist occupation of nearly a third of the country and its subsequent recapture by Iraqi forces — she is back.
With the ouster of the extremists from Mosul last July, she has returned to the northern city to help build an activities center for young scouts in the area.
The rally also provided a space for leaders and organizers from across the country to network and discuss future projects.
“We will organize camps in Mosul to lend a hand with its reconstruction,” said Ali Latif, a 34-year-old scout leader from Kirkuk, a multi-ethnic northern province.


‘Jury still out’ on new Lebanon government, says rights chief

Updated 26 min 47 sec ago

‘Jury still out’ on new Lebanon government, says rights chief

  • The executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, said it was too early to say if the new government would be any better than its predecessor
  • Kenneth Roth: We’ve seen in Lebanon a government that can’t even clean up the garbage, they can’t deliver electricity, they can’t provide the most basic services

DAVOS: The “jury is still out” on whether the new government in Lebanon will be any different to the old one, the head of Human Rights Watch told Arab News on Friday.

Lebanon has been convulsed by demonstrations since October, when people took to the streets to protest against corruption, unemployment, a lack of basic services and economic problems. Political veteran Saad Hariri resigned as prime minister so that a new cabinet could be formed, but it took time to assemble a coalition.

The executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, said it was too early to say if the new government would be any better than its predecessor. He warned, however, that the early signs were not promising.

“We’ve seen in Lebanon a government that can’t even clean up the garbage, they can’t deliver electricity, they can’t provide the most basic services,” Roth told Arab News on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos. “It’s not at all clear that the more technocratic government that has been put in place is going to be responsive to the needs of the people and able to deliver. The jury is still out on that. While the government has responded to the protesters’ demand on a political level by changing personnel, the security forces on the ground have often responded violently, and in repeated instances used excessive force rather than respect the rights of the protesters to petition their government to appeal for a government that is more respectful of their needs and accountable to their desires.”

According to Amnesty International, Lebanese security forces’ unlawful use of rubber bullets last weekend left at least 409 protesters injured, some seriously, in the most violent weekend since the protests began on Oct. 17.

“The protesters in Lebanon are upset by what they see as a dysfunctional and unaccountable government, I mean they are the most basic services that are not being provided,” Roth said, adding that the government was getting “increasingly intolerant.”

He also expressed concern about the plight of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The rights’ group says there are around 1.5 million of them in the country and that 74 percent lack legal status. “Authorities heightened calls for the return of refugees in 2018 and municipalities have forcibly evicted thousands of refugees,” the group said in a report.

“Syrian refugees obviously do impose a burden on Lebanon, but nonetheless there are legal obligations and the government really led by President (Michel) Aoun rather than former Prime Minister Hariri has been trying to make life more miserable for the refugees in the hope of forcing them back to Syria despite the fact that Syria remains completely unsafe,” Roth said.

Aoun and his son-in-law, former foreign minister Gebran Bassil, head the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) which has the biggest parliamentary bloc. Aoun and Bassil have repeatedly claimed that Syria is now a safe and peaceful country and that the refugees should go back.

“It is not safe to force anybody back, the Lebanese government knows this in the sense that they are not putting guns to people’s heads and forcing them back, but they’re doing the metaphorical equivalent by making life so miserable that many refugees feel that despite the risks to their lives, they have to go back to Syria because there’s nothing for them in Lebanon,” Roth added.