Daesh threatens Iraq polling stations ahead of parliamentary vote

Campaign posters for candidates in the upcoming Iraqi parliamentary elections are seen in Baghdad on April 19, 2018. (AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE)
Updated 02 May 2018

Daesh threatens Iraq polling stations ahead of parliamentary vote

BAGHDAD: Daesh has threatened to attack Iraqi polling stations and voters during parliamentary elections next month.

In a message posted to the Telegram messaging app on Sunday, Daesh spokesman Abu Hassan Al-MuHajjir called on Sunni Iraqis to boycott the May 12 polls, the first since Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi declared victory over Daesh in December.

Extremist groups in Iraq have targeted every election since the 2003 US-led invasion that deposed Saddam Hussein and paved the way for Shiites to dominate every government since.

Under a system of checks and balances designed to avoid a return to dictatorship, the winner of the May 12 elections will have to form alliances with other Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish lists to secure a majority.

An incumbent prime minister, his ousted predecessor and a paramilitary chief instrumental in defeating Daesh are the three favorites vying for Iraq’s premiership.

Two of the favorites topping the lists were among the architects of victory against Daesh, which in 2014 seized a third of Iraq’s territory in a lightning offensive.

The incumbent prime minister, 66 year-old Abadi, took over the reins from Nuri Al-Maliki in September 2014 at the high watermark of the security crisis.

The fightback which allowed Abadi to declare Iraq’s victory over Daesh in December, has silenced critics of his lack of military experience.

An engineering graduate and holder of a doctorate from the University of Manchester in Britain, Abadi is from the same Dawa party as his predecessor Maliki.

As the official head of Iraq’s military, Abadi has bolstered morale by drafting in foreign trainers, who have helped professionalize tens of thousands of soldiers.

Under his watch and backed by a US-led international coalition, the army has banished Daesh from all its urban strongholds in Iraq. 

The Iraqi military has also pushed back the Kurds in the north’s oil-rich Kirkuk province, bolstering Abadi’s status as frontrunner going into the election.

“He has a popular base which transcends confessional and ethnic lines. He offers a narrative as a statesman and he is not tarnished by corruption,” said Iraqi political scientist Essam Al-Fili.

Haddad said: “Abadi remains the single strongest contender but not strong enough to win anything close to a majority.”

His main contender is Hadi Al-Ameri — a leader of Hashed Al-Shaabi, a paramilitary network that played a pivotal role in defeating Daesh.

During Maliki’s 2010-2014 term as premier, Ameri was a lawmaker and then transport minister, but he was blocked in a bid to head the Interior Ministry by an American veto.


Egypt’s options dwindle as Nile talks break down

Updated 5 min 20 sec ago

Egypt’s options dwindle as Nile talks break down

  • Talks collapsed earlier this month over the construction of the $5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
  • El-Sisi said he would “never” allow Ethiopia to impose a “de facto situation” by filling the dam without an agreement

CAIRO: The latest breakdown in talks with Ethiopia over its construction of a massive upstream Nile dam has left Egypt with dwindling options as it seeks to protect the main source of freshwater for its large and growing population.

Talks collapsed earlier this month over the construction of the $5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is 60 percent complete and promises to provide much-needed electricity to Ethiopia’s 100 million people.

But Egypt, with a population of around the same size, fears that the process of filling the reservoir behind the dam could slice into its share of the river, with catastrophic consequences. Pro-government media have cast it as a national security threat that could warrant military action.

Speaking at the UN last month, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said he would “never” allow Ethiopia to impose a “de facto situation” by filling the dam without an agreement.

“While we acknowledge Ethiopia’s right to development, the water of the Nile is a question of life, a matter of existence to Egypt,” he said.

Egypt has been holding talks for years with Ethiopia and Sudan, upstream countries that have long complained about Cairo’s overwhelming share of the river, which is enshrined in treaties dating back to the British colonial era. Those talks came to an acrimonious halt earlier this month, the third time they have broken down since 2014.

“We are fed up with Ethiopian procrastination. We will not spend our lifetime in useless talks,” an Egyptian official told The Associated Press. “All options are on the table, but we prefer dialogue and political means.”

Egypt has reached out to the United States, Russia, China and Europe, apparently hoping to reach a better deal through international mediation. The White House said earlier this month it supports talks to reach a sustainable agreement while “respecting each other’s Nile water equities.”

Mohamed el-Molla, an Egyptian Foreign Ministry official, said Cairo would take the dispute to the UN Security Council if the Ethiopians refuse international mediation.

That has angered Ethiopia, which wants to resolve the dispute through the tripartite talks.

An Ethiopian official said the packages offered by Cairo so far “were deliberately prepared to be unacceptable for Ethiopia.”

“Now they are saying Ethiopia has rejected the offer, and calling for a third-party intervention,” the official added. Both the Ethiopian and the Egyptian official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the talks with the media.

The main dispute is centered on the filling of the dam’s 74-billion-cubic-meter reservoir. Ethiopia wants to fill it as soon as possible so it can generate over 6,400 Megawatts, a massive boost to the current production of 4,000 Megawatts. Ethiopia said earlier this year that the dam would start generating power by the end of 2020 and would operate at full capacity by 2022.

That has the potential to sharply reduce the flow of the Blue Nile, the main tributary to the river, which is fed by annual monsoon rains in the Ethiopian highlands. If the filling takes place during one of the region’s periodic droughts, its downstream impact could be even more severe.

Egypt has proposed no less than seven years for filling the reservoir, and for Ethiopia to adjust the pace according to rainfall, said an Egyptian Irrigation Ministry official who is a member of its negotiation team. The official also was not authorized to discuss the talks publicly and so spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Nile supplies more than 90 percent of Egypt’s freshwater. Egyptians already have one of the lowest per capita shares of water in the world, at around 570 cubic meters per year, compared to a global average of 1,000. Ethiopians however have an average of 125 cubic meters per year.

Egypt wants to guarantee a minimum annual release of 40 billion cubic meters of water from the Blue Nile. The irrigation official said anything less could affect Egypt’s own massive Aswan High Dam, with dire economic consequences.

“It could put millions of farmers out of work. We might lose more than one million jobs and $1.8 billion annually, as well as $300 million worth of electricity,” he said.

The official said Ethiopia has agreed to guarantee just 31 billion cubic meters.

El-Sisi is set to meet with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, on Wednesday in the Russian city of Sochi, on the sidelines of a Russia-Africa summit. They may be able to revive talks, but the stakes get higher as the dam nears completion.

The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, warned earlier this year that the “risk of future clashes could be severe if the parties do not also reach agreement on a longer-term basin-wide river management framework.”

In recent weeks there have been calls by some commentators in Egypt’s pro-government media to resort to force.
Abdallah el-Senawy, a prominent columnist for the daily newspaper el-Shorouk, said the only alternatives were internationalizing the dispute or taking military action.

“Egypt is not a small county,” he wrote in a Sunday column. “If all diplomatic and legal options fail, a military intervention might be obligatory.”
Anwar el-Hawary, the former editor of the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, compared the dispute to the 1973 war with Israel, in which Egypt launched a surprise attack into the Sinai Peninsula.

“If we fought to liberate Sinai, it is logical to fight to liberate the water,” he wrote on Facebook. “The danger is the same in the two cases. War is the last response.”