Iraq PM Abadi caught in the crossfire as Iran sanctions pressure grows

Al-Abadi has come under fire after last week issuing orders to abide by the sanctions. (Reuters)
Updated 15 August 2018

Iraq PM Abadi caught in the crossfire as Iran sanctions pressure grows

  • Iraqi officials tell Arab News Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi did not cancel a trip to Iran
  • Al-Abadi criticized over decision to abide by new US sanctions on Tehran

BAGHDAD: Iraqi officials denied on Sunday that Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi had canceled a trip to Iran as Tehran’s allies in Iraq ramped up pressure on him over US sanctions.

Al-Abadi has faced a fierce campaign of criticism since last week over his decision to stick to new economic sanctions imposed on Iran by Washington.

Defying the sanctions would put Iraqi banks on a US blacklist and stop the sale of Iraqi oil, while making Baghdad unable to pay its external and domestic financial obligations, including salaries, Iraqi officials said. 

Al-Abadi last week issued instructions to stop the financial transactions of state-owned banks with Iran and halt the import of any materials from Iran that required payment in US dollars, financial officials told Arab News.

But the prime minister’s decision to abide by the US sanctions may cost him his political future and end his ambition to win a second term as prime minister. 

The campaign of criticism led by Iran-backed forces in Iraq started when Al-Abadi said on Tuesday that his government had to abide by US sanctions “to protect the interests of the Iraqi people.”

But it escalated Sunday after an Iraqi government official told AFP that Iran had refused to welcome Al-Abadi on a visit to discuss the common interests of the two countries.

The unnamed official said Al-Abadi was planning to visit Iran on Tuesday, but Iranian officials expressed they were uncomfortable about the visit, so it was canceled.

Both Al-Abadi’s office and the Iranian foreign ministry denied that there was even a visit planned.

“We did not announce a visit to Iran and Turkey, so how can we announce its cancellation?” one of Al-Abadi’s senior staff   told Arab News.

“Until this moment, we have not been

 informed (by Al-Abadi) that there is a visit scheduled for the coming days.”

All Iraqi political forces and Iranian-backed armed factions have expressed their rejection of Al-Abadi’s decision to abide by the sanctions in recent days.

The most aggressive statement came from Sayed Mujtaba Al-Hosseini, a representative of the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in the holy Iraqi city of Najaf.

The critcism, which was circulated on Sunday, could mean Al-Abadi’s loss of any possible Iranian support for his second term.

Husseini described Al-Abadi’s position as “irresponsible” and incompatible with Iran fulfilling its positions in its defense of Iraq against Daesh.

“Before everything, we are sorry for the prime minister’s position, which shows his weakness and expresses his psychological defeat toward America,” he said.

Iraqi political forces that triumphed in May’s parliamentary election have been waiting for ratified results, so they can conclude their negotiations to build the biggest coalition, which could then form the next government. 

Iraq is a battlefield for international powers in the region, particularly America and Iran since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

No stable government could be formed without the approval of the two nations. Al-Abadi openly enjoys the support of the US.

“Everyone knows that Abadi needs the support of both Iran and US to win a second term. One of them is not enough,” Abdulwahid Tuama, an Iraqi analyst told Arab News.

“Abadi did not manage the crisis in a clever way this time, and all signs indicate that he lost any chance to get the Iranian support.”


Amid turmoil, Lebanese Forces ministers quit coalition government

Updated 20 October 2019

Amid turmoil, Lebanese Forces ministers quit coalition government

  • The Lebanese Forces party has four ministers in the Hariri-led ruling coalition
  • Protesters in Beirut, Jounieh, Tripoli and Tyre demand that others remaining in power also quit

BEIRUT: Lebanon's "strong republic" bloc quit the coalition government on Saturday as tens of thousands of people took to the streets for a third day of protests against tax increases and alleged official corruption.
Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese forces party, said his group was resigning from the government ahead of the 72-hour deadline that Prime Minister Saad Hariri gave to partners in power to help make his reform programs work.
Geagea's Christian party has four ministers in the coalition government, namely: Ghassan Hasbani, Kamil Abu Suleiman, Richard Qayomjian and May Chidiac.
"Since people have lost confidence in the political class, and since the people in the street represent all segments of society and because all components of the government does not want serious and actual reform, we were the first party to act with transparency and when discussing the 2020 budget, we demanded a basket of immediate reforms, but we did not feel the seriousness required," Geagea told a late night press conference that extended into the early hours of Sunday.
“We are now convinced that the government is unable to take the necessary steps to save the situation,” said Geagea. “Therefore, the bloc decided to ask its ministers to resign from the government.”
He denied "any talk of an agreement with Prime Minister Hariri regarding the resignation of ministers."
Geagea's announcement was welcomed by the protesters, who are still sit in yards in Beirut, Jounieh, Tripoli and Tyre. They demanded the resignation of the remaining in power.

'Sweeping overhaul needed'
The protesters took to the streets despite calls for calm from politicians and dozens of arrests on Friday. Many waved billowing Lebanese flags and insisted the protests should remain peaceful and non-sectarian.
The demonstrators are demanding a sweeping overhaul of Lebanon’s political system, citing grievances ranging from austerity measures to poor infrastructure.
They have blocked main roads and threatened to topple the country’s fragile coalition government.
Most Lebanese politicians have uncharacteristically admitted the demonstrations are spontaneous, rather than blaming outside influences.
Demonstrators in Beirut celebrated the news of the coalition party’s resignation, calling on other blocs to leave the government. In Tripoli, they let off fireworks.
“I am thinking maybe it’s better all the government resign,” said one protester, 24-year-old Ali. “I am thinking maybe it’s better to go to another election as people already woke up.”
The army on Saturday called on protesters to “express themselves peacefully without harming public and private property.”
Saturday evening, thousands were packed for a third straight night into the Riyadh Al-Solh Square in central Beirut, despite security forces having used tear gas and water cannons to disperse similar crowds a day before.

AI slams 'use of excessive force'
Amnesty International said the security forces’ reaction was excessive, pointing out that the vast majority of protesters were peaceful.
“The intention was clearly to prevent protesters gathering — in a clear violation of the right to peaceful assembly,” it said.
Small groups of protesters have also damaged shop fronts and blocked roads by burning tires and other obstacles.
The Internal Security Forces said 70 arrests were made Friday on accusations of theft and arson.
But all of those held at the main police barracks were released Saturday, the National News Agency (NNA) said.
The demonstrations first erupted on Thursday, sparked by a proposed 20 US-cent tax on calls via messaging apps such as WhatsApp.
Such calls are the main method of communication for many Lebanese and, despite the government’s swift abandonment of the tax, the demonstrations quickly swelled into the largest in years.
Prime Minister Hariri has given his deeply divided coalition until Monday evening to give back a reform package aimed at shoring up the government’s finances and securing desperately needed economic assistance from donors.
He held a series of meetings Saturday regarding the situation, NNA said.
Hariri’s political rival, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, told protesters Saturday their “message was heard loudly.”
But he warned against demanding the resignation of the government — saying it could take a long time to form a new one and solve the crisis.
The current unity government has the backing of most Lebanese political parties, including Hezbollah.

Protesters attacked in Tyre
In the southern port city of Tyre, supporters of Shia politician and speaker of parliament Nabih Berri attacked protesters Saturday, a witness said, a day after demonstrators had accused him of corruption.
His Amal political party condemned the attack and called for an investigation.
More than a quarter of the Lebanese population lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
Many of the country’s senior politicians came to prominence during the country’s 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990.
The promised austerity moves are essential if Lebanon is to unlock $11 billion in economic assistance pledged by international donors last year.
Growth has plummeted in recent years, with political deadlock compounded by the impact of eight years of war in neighboring Syria.
Lebanon’s public debt stands at around $86 billion — more than 150 percent of gross domestic product — according to the finance ministry.

(With AFP)