Fears over Iranian proxies’ Iraq missile factories

Fears over Iranian proxies’ Iraq missile factories
A USS Jason Dunham’s VBSS team recently seized a large cache of over 1,000 AK-47 automatic rifles aboard a stateless skiff while operating in the US 5th Fleet area of operations. Similar vessels intercepted in recent years were shipping weapons to Yemen’s Houthi militia from their backers in Iran. In October 2016, US ships intercepted five Iranian arms shipments bound for Yemen. (Supplied)
Updated 01 September 2018

Fears over Iranian proxies’ Iraq missile factories

Fears over Iranian proxies’ Iraq missile factories
  • Improved missile technology being developed by Iranian proxy forces in another country in the Middle East will be of grave concern to Arab countries and the US
  • Iran has been financing and equipping dozens of Shiite and Sunni insurgent groups operating in Iraq since 2005

BAGHDAD: Iraqi armed factions backed by Iran have been working for months to develop ballistic missiles and are threatening to use them against American forces in the country, Shiite commanders and Iraqi security officials told Arab News.

Improved missile technology being developed by Iranian proxy forces in another country in the Middle East will be of grave concern to Arab countries and the US. 

Iran is already accused of supplying Houthi militias in Yemen with ballistic missiles that are fired at Saudi Arabia, and helping Hezbollah build factories in Lebanon that produce similar weapons.

Iran has been financing and equipping dozens of Shiite and Sunni insurgent groups operating in Iraq since 2005. Some have become the most powerful military groups in Iraq and the region, including Badr Organization, Assaib Ahl Al-Haq, Kattaib Hezbollah-Iraq and Saraya Al-Kharasani.

All of the groups fought against Daesh over the last four years under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization, alongside the regular Iraqi military and which was backed by the US-led coalition in Iraq.

Latest versions

Although most of these groups have been equipped by Iran, many have established factories to manufacture they own weapons across the country.

They succeeded in producing some short-range missiles such as Al-Ashtar, Al-Muntaqim and Al-Qaher, and have moved on to expand the ranges of these missiles.

The most advanced — Al-Fatah — is the result two years work, a senior Shiite commander within the Saraya Al-Kharassani faction told Arab News.

He said the ranges of the latest versions are still unclear as they have not yet had a chance to test them.

“All the (Shiite) armed factions have participated in this by using Iraqi and foreign experts,” he said. “The missiles are ready but have not been used before. We may experiment them in the next few days near the border in Basra.” 

A report by Reuters on Friday said ballistic missiles had been transferred from Iran to Iraq over the past few months to threaten Iran’s enemies in the region. 

The report said the missiles had a range of between 200 and 700 kilometers, putting Riyadh or the Israeli city of Tel Aviv within striking distance if the weapons were deployed in southern or western Iraq.

Shiite commanders and Iraqi security officials, however, told Arab News that these missiles have been built in Iraq and their range has not yet been tested to be classified as medium-range. They said their use for targets outside Iraq has not even discussed.

Ahmed Assadi, the commander of Kattaib Sayed Al-Shuhaddaa and a newly elected Shiite MP, told Arab News that so far the missiles had not yet reached further than 70 kilometers when tested.

“There is a Directorate of Military Manufacturing linked to the popular mobilization that has factories spread outside the cities and in areas known to the government,” he said.

“We have been working on developing the range of missiles along the last four years and we started from the 6 kilometer range but have not succeeded to reach more than 70.” 

Assadi denied that missiles were imported by either the regular security forces or the Shiite armed factions from Iran in the last few years.

The Kharassani commander claimed there was no possibility of using the new missiles against targets outside of Iraq but admitted that the government does not have control over the activities of the Iran-backed factions.

“All discussions until now indicate their use will be against the occupier inside Iraq,” he said, in reference to American forces in the country.

The number of missiles are few as the experts are waiting to test them soon in southern near the Iranian border.

“If the experiment of one (missile) succeeded, we can make ten in very short time,” the commander, said.

A senior Iraqi National Security official told Arab News that the transfer of ballistic missiles across the Iraq-Iran border would be almost impossible.

“The border is monitored by the US-led coalition forces by satellites, which are thermally sensitive to this type of missiles and thus it is impossible to transfer such missiles as one piece or even as disjointed pieces across the border without being monitored,” the official said. 

“The issue is very serious and no country can get involved even Iran.”

Shiite political parties and armed factions are Iran’s biggest and most powerful tool in Iraq, where they have competed with the US to win influence since 2003.

“The Americans know that the ballistic Iranian missiles are in Lebanon with Hezbollah not in Iraq,” a prominent Shiite leader told Arab News.

“Iraq is an area used by Iran to solve its problems with America not vice versa.

“Iran sees Iraq as a region that could lose its control completely at any moment, so why would they provide Iraqis with ballistic missiles that might be used against it one day?”


Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list
Updated 28 min 26 sec ago

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list
  • Omani citizens, diplomats, health workers and their families are excluded from the latest rule

DUBAI: The Philippines and Egypt were the latest inclusion in Oman’s list where travelers from the said countries are banned from entering the Sultanate.

The decision was issued by the Supreme Committee, which takes lead in the country’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic, and took effect on Friday, May 7.

Travelers from Egypt and the Philippines, and those who transited in any of the said countries during the 14 days, are particularly affected by the travel restriction a report from Times of Oman said.

Omani citizens, diplomats, health workers and their families are excluded from the latest rule but are subject to the procedures adopted upon entering the Sultanate, the report added.

Oman earlier added India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to the travel ban list, joining Sudan, Lebanon, South Africa, Brazil, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and the United Kingdom where their residents have been barred from entering since February 24.


UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours
Updated 08 May 2021

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours
  • The total number of recorded cases in the UAE is now at 532,710 since the pandemic began

DUBAI: UAE health authorities reported 1,766 new coronavirus cases after conducting 211,462 additional COVID-19 tests over the past 24 hours, as well three deaths fatalities from the contagious disease.

The total number of recorded cases in the UAE is now at 532,710 since the pandemic began, with 1,607 confirmed deaths, a report from state news agency WAM said.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention reiterated its call for residents to adhere coronavirus protocols and maintain social distancing to ensure public health and safety.

Meanwhile, 141,283 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been provided during the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of doses provided to residents and citizens to 11,048,547.

The rate of vaccine distribution now stands at 111.71 doses per 100 people.


US calls on Israelis, Palestinians to ‘deescalate’ tensions

US calls on Israelis, Palestinians to ‘deescalate’ tensions
Updated 54 min 10 sec ago

US calls on Israelis, Palestinians to ‘deescalate’ tensions

US calls on Israelis, Palestinians to ‘deescalate’ tensions
  • US State Department: Palestinian families targeted for eviction have "lived in their home for generations"

WASHINGTON: The United States called Friday for de-escalation in annexed east Jerusalem, and warned against carrying out a threatened eviction of Palestinian families that has sent tensions soaring.
"The United States is extremely concerned about ongoing confrontations in Jerusalem... which have reportedly resulted in scores of injured people," a statement from State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
"There is no excuse for violence, but such bloodshed is especially disturbing now, coming as it does on the last days of Ramadan."
He said Washington was calling on Israeli and Palestinian officials to "act decisively to deescalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence."
And he warned it was "critical" to avoid any steps that could worsen the situation — such as "evictions in East Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions, and acts of terrorism."
An earlier State Department statement said Washington was concerned in particular about the "potential eviction of Palestinian families in Silwan neighborhood and Sheikh Jarrah," two areas of east Jerusalem where tensions have been running high.
It noted that some Palestinian families targeted for eviction have "lived in their home for generations."
The comments came as more than 160 people were wounded after Israeli riot police clashed with Palestinians at Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound late Friday, capping a week of violence in the Holy City and the occupied West Bank.
Earlier Friday, Israeli security forces killed two Palestinians and wounded a third after the trio opened fire on a base in the occupied West Bank, police said.
The unrest came on Al-Quds Day — named for the Arabic word for Jerusalem — an annual day of pro-Palestinian rallies held by Iran, the arch-enemy of Israel.
The nation's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Israel "not a country, but a terrorist base," and in a televised speech said that fighting the Jewish state was "everyone's duty."


Opposition forces leave Somali capital after deadly clashes

Opposition forces leave Somali capital after deadly clashes
Somali opposition soldiers pose for a photograph in Mogadishu as they move to their barracks after reaching an agreement with the prime minister. (Reuters)
Updated 08 May 2021

Opposition forces leave Somali capital after deadly clashes

Opposition forces leave Somali capital after deadly clashes
  • Soldiers loyal to influential opposition leaders began pouring into the capital, where clashes broke out with pro-government troops, killing three

MOGADISHU: Opposition fighters withdrew from the Somali capital on Friday, ending a tense standoff with pro-government troops after a dispute over delayed elections triggered the country’s worst political violence in years.
Hundreds of heavily armed gunmen pulled out of strongholds in Mogadishu they had occupied since late April, when a long-running political crisis turned deadly with clashes erupting between rival factions of the security forces.
Under a deal reached by the warring sides this week, opposition troops began leaving their positions in the capital, and key roads sealed off with sandbags and machine guns were opened once more.
“We are sending our forces back to the frontline position to defend the country and its people,” said Mahad Salad, an opposition lawmaker, at a camp outside Mogadishu where troops assembled after pulling out of the city.
Mogadishu had been on edge since February, when President Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed’s term ended before elections were held, and protesters took to the streets against his rule.
But a resolution in April to extend his mandate by two years split the country’s fragile security forces along all-important clan lines.
Soldiers loyal to influential opposition leaders began pouring into the capital, where clashes broke out with pro-government troops, killing three.
The fighting drove tens of thousands of civilians from their homes and divided the city, with government forces losing some key neighborhoods to opposition units.
Under pressure to ease the tension, Mohammed abandoned his mandate extension and instructed his prime minister to arrange fresh elections and bring together rivals for talks.
“These forces came to the rescue of the people, and have taught a new lesson which will be remembered in future. They refused a dictatorship, and have forced the democratic governance process to continue,” opposition lawmaker Salad said.

FASTFACT

Hundreds of heavily armed gunmen pulled out of strongholds in Mogadishu they had occupied since late April, when a long-running political crisis turned deadly with clashes erupting between rival factions of the security forces.

Indirect elections were supposed to have been held by February under a deal reached between the government and Somalia’s five regional states the previous September.
But that agreement collapsed as the president and the leaders of two states, Puntland and Jubaland, squabbled over the terms.
Months of UN-backed talks failed to broker consensus between the feuding sides.
In early May, Mohammed relaunched talks with his opponents over the holding of fresh elections, and agreed to return to the terms of the September accord.
Prime Minister Mohammed Hussein Roble has invited the regional leaders to a round of negotiations on May 20 in the hope of resolving the protracted feud and charting a path to a vote.
The international community has threatened sanctions if elections are not held soon, and warned the political infighting distracted from the fight against Al-Shabab, the militants who control swathes of countryside.
Maj.-Gen. Ali Araye Osoble told opposition troops outside the capital that it was time to return to duty.
“I order that you return to your positions and fulfil your commitments in the fight against Al-Shabab,” the opposition commander said.


Tunisia orders lockdown amid ‘worst’ ever health crisis

Tunisia orders lockdown amid ‘worst’ ever health crisis
People wearing protective face masks walk in Tunis, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, Tunisia, April 29, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 08 May 2021

Tunisia orders lockdown amid ‘worst’ ever health crisis

Tunisia orders lockdown amid ‘worst’ ever health crisis
  • Under new rules, travel will be banned between regions, gatherings and celebrations prohibited, and a 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew imposed

TUNIS: Tunisia ordered a partial lockdown from Sunday for the week-long Eid Al-Fitr holidays, warning that any further increase in coronavirus infections could overwhelm specialist care facilities.
Announcing the measure on Friday, Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi said Tunisia was going through “the worst health crisis in its history.”
Mosques, markets and nonessential businesses will be closed under the new restrictions, which come as Muslims mark the end of the month of Ramadan, said Mechichi.
“Health institutions are at risk of collapse,” Mechichi said, adding that medics were stretched to the limit, with around 100 people a day dying of COVID-19.
More than 500 people are currently in intensive care, an unprecedented number that has required medics to set up field hospitals, and the North African country is struggling to meet the demand for oxygen.
Under new rules, travel will be banned between regions, gatherings and celebrations prohibited, and a 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew imposed.
Tunisians are encouraged to leave their homes only for what is strictly necessary, government spokeswoman Hasna Ben Slimane said.
The Mediterranean country, with a population of around 12 million, has recorded more than 300,000 coronavirus cases and over 11,200 deaths.
Tunisia’s economy has lurched from one crisis to another since the country’s 2011 revolution, with GDP estimated to have contracted by a record 8.2 percent last year.
Mechichi had said several times in recent weeks that Tunisia is unable to afford to repeat the restrictions put in place in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic.