Iraq seeks power revamp to head off sanctions, protests

Iraq seeks power revamp to head off sanctions, protests
In this file photo taken on September 2, 2018, Iraqi protesters gather trash cans and scrap with barbed wire as they erect a make-shift barricade during clashes with security forces following a demonstration against corruption and lack of basic services outside the local government headquarters in the southern city of Basra. (AFP)
Updated 28 November 2018

Iraq seeks power revamp to head off sanctions, protests

Iraq seeks power revamp to head off sanctions, protests
  • Iraq’s broken electricity sector is planning a long-awaited overhaul to meet US pressure to halt Iranian power imports

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s broken electricity sector is planning a long-awaited overhaul to both meet US pressure to halt Iranian power imports and head off summertime protests over chronic cuts.
With a freshman at the helm, the electricity ministry is exploring options including revamping stations and lines to cut waste, importing power, and improving bill collection to boost revenues.
Baghdad hopes it will generate enough megawatts to feed demand by summer, when cuts can leave millions powerless for up to 20 hours per day.
But it also has an earlier deadline to meet.
When Washington reimposed sanctions on Tehran in November over the latter’s nuclear program, it granted Iraq a 45-day waiver to produce a roadmap to stop using Iranian electricity and gas.
Iraq pipes in up to 28 million cubic meters of Iranian gas daily to feed its stations, and also directly imports up to 1,300 megawatts of Iranian-produced electricity.
Now, Baghdad’s power ministry has outlined a plan to wean off Iranian electricity within 18 months and resolve some decade-old problems, said spokesman Musab Al-Mudarris.
“In the coming two weeks, we will submit to the Americans a five-year plan including yearly assessments,” he told AFP.
If the US approves, it may extend the waiver for “a year or two.”
“But there are no quick fixes,” Mudarris insisted.
Iraq sits on 153 billion barrels of proven crude reserves, but it needs higher quality fuel and gas for power turbines.
Mudarris admitted that while Iraq could do without Iran’s electricity, it needed Iranian gas until it could extract its own or capture flares from oil drilling.

Using its own fuel plus Iranian gas, Iraq can produce a total of around 16,000 megawatts of electricity.
That is far below demand, which hovers around 24,000 MW but can jump to 30,000 in summer, when temperatures reach a sizzling 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).
Much of the shortfall is technical: when Iraq transmits power, 30 to 50 percent gets lost to poor infrastructure, according to the Iraq Energy Institute (IEI).
Some of that is age, but pipelines and stations were also attacked by the Daesh group before Iraq beat it back last year.
Rehabilitation is a key element of the ministry’s plan.
Mudarris pointed to recent memorandums of understanding with Siemens, worth $10 billion, and General Electric, at $15 billion, to fix infrastructure.
Together, they could add up to 24,000 MW within five years: “That would bring us to 40,000 MW,” Mudarris said.
Electricity Minister Luay Al-Khateeb has also asked Siemens and GE for “fast-track” plans to boost power generation by summer.
Baghdad is finding ways to fund these efforts, including a $600 million finance deal between GE, the Trade Bank of Iraq, and Standard Chartered announced in late November.
Another ministerial initiative involves swapping Iranian power for imports from other neighbors, Mudarris said, including 300 MW each from Turkey, Jordan, and Kuwait, plus Saudi solar power.
In a possible omen, new Iraqi President Barham Saleh visited Amman, Kuwait, and Riyadh in his first regional trip since assuming power.
Finally, Baghdad wants to recover money lost by the ministry’s poor collection service.
“We are losing about 60 percent of our revenues to people who don’t pay. If we can cut those losses, we can stop relying on Iran,” said Mudarris.

Last year, Iraq began privatising by hiring collection services to ensure households paid power bills.
Samir Hussein, a 20-year employee of the ministry’s distribution department, said privatised collection has already reduced outages in Baghdad.
“Those who pay cut their usage by half, which allows me to redirect megawatts to other neighborhoods, preventing cuts there,” he told AFP.
But obstacles remain, including overdue bills to Iran for previous imports.
A draft 2019 budget shows Iraq allocating some $800 million for “Iranian gas arrears” and around $350 million for Iranian electricity backpay, according to an IEI analysis.
Another issue is Iraq’s bloated electricity ministry, said energy expert Harry Estepanian.
Neighbouring Kuwait generates around the same amount of electricity as Iraq, but its ministry employs 12,000 compared with Iraq’s roughly 140,000, he said.
The body is also accused of widespread corruption, which technocrat and first-time minister Khateeb pledged to investigate this week.
“Whatever he is planning is doomed to fail if he does not reform,” Estepanian told AFP.
And Iraq’s five-year plan must account for skyrocketing consumption as cities are rebuilt post-Daesh.
“Right now Mosul, Anbar, Salahaddin probably don’t have high demand. Once reconstruction starts, demand will start to go up by around seven to 10 percent,” Estepanian said.
“The gap between supply and demand is widening. It’s not like it was in 2003 or 2013, and it won’t be the same in 2023.”


UAE reports 1,539 additional COVID-19 cases, 2 deaths in past 24 hours

UAE reports 1,539 additional COVID-19 cases, 2 deaths in past 24 hours
Updated 20 min 6 sec ago

UAE reports 1,539 additional COVID-19 cases, 2 deaths in past 24 hours

UAE reports 1,539 additional COVID-19 cases, 2 deaths in past 24 hours
  • An additional 1,497 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19

DUBAI: The UAE reported on Tuesday 1,539 additional COVID-19 infections and two deaths overnight as total coronavirus cases in the country reached 674,724, including 1,929 fatalities related to the highly infection disease.
The Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) also said that 296,686 COVID-19 tests were done over the past 24 hours, as the UAE expands testing capacities nationwide to ensure earlier detection of coronavirus cases so the necessary treatment of patients could undertaken.
MoHAP also noted that an additional 1,497 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 652,180.
Health officials earlier said the UAE has provided 16,524,169 COVID-19 vaccines doses, for a vaccine distribution rate of 167.07 doses per 100 people.
About 77.88 percent of the Emirates’ population have received at least one dose of the COVID-19, while 68.93 percent have been fully vaccinated.
Abu Dhabi from August 20 would allow only vaccinated people access to some public places including shopping centers, restaurants, cafes and all other retail outlets, which officials said was designed to safeguard public health and curb the spread of COVID-19.
In Dubai, hotels have been allowed to operate up to full occupancy while entertainment were allowed to increase capacity to 70 per cent.
Weddings are allowed to have guests of up to 100 people at venues and hotels, but all staff and guests must be vaccinated. Private gatherings have been limited to 30 guests.


EU calls for quick return to ‘stability’ in Tunisia

EU calls for quick return to ‘stability’ in Tunisia
Updated 38 min 9 sec ago

EU calls for quick return to ‘stability’ in Tunisia

EU calls for quick return to ‘stability’ in Tunisia
  • Borrell pointed to the “considerable support” given by the EU to help with a financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic

BRUSSELS: The European Union on Tuesday called for a speedy return to political stability in Tunisia after the country plunged into turmoil following the president’s ousting of the prime minister.
“The European Union is following developments in Tunisia with the greatest attention,” the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.
“We call for the restoration of institutional stability as soon as possible, and in particular for the resumption of parliamentary activity, respect for fundamental rights and an abstention from all forms of violence.”
Borrell insisted that “the preservation of democracy and the stability of the country are priorities,” and pointed to the “considerable support” given by the EU to help with a financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic.
The young North African democracy, the cradle of the Arab Spring uprisings a decade ago, was thrust into a constitutional crisis on Sunday after President Kais Saied dismissed premier Hichem Mechichi and ordered parliament closed for 30 days, a move the biggest political party Ennahdha decried as a “coup.”
Saied then sacked the defense minister and justice minister.
The crisis follows months of deadlock between the president, the premier and Ennahdha chief Rached Ghannouchi, which has crippled the Covid response, as deaths have surged to one of the world’s highest per capita rates.


Israel defense minister to visit France to discuss spyware firm, Iran

Israel defense minister to visit France to discuss spyware firm, Iran
Updated 27 July 2021

Israel defense minister to visit France to discuss spyware firm, Iran

Israel defense minister to visit France to discuss spyware firm, Iran
  • Israel’s Defense Ministry oversees commercial exports of spyware and cyber-surveillance technologies
  • Pegasus had been used in attempted and successful hacks of smartphones belonging to journalists

JERUSALEM: Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz will travel to France this week to discuss spyware sold by Israeli cyber firm NSO that was allegedly used to target French President Emmanuel Macron.
Macron’s phone was on a list of targets that were possibly under surveillance by Morocco, which used NSO Group’s Pegasus software, according to France’s Le Monde newspaper. The French leader has called for an investigation.
Gantz will meet French Defense Minister Florence Parly on Wednesday, an official Israeli statement said.
“Gantz will discuss the crisis in Lebanon and the developing agreement with Iran. He will also update the minister on the topic of NSO,” it said.
Israel’s Defense Ministry oversees commercial exports of spyware and cyber-surveillance technologies like Pegasus.
A global investigation published last week by 17 media organizations, led by the Paris-based non-profit journalism group Forbidden Stories, said Pegasus had been used in attempted and successful hacks of smartphones belonging to journalists, government officials and human rights activists.
Israel has since set up a senior inter-ministerial team to assess any possible misuse of the spyware.
NSO rejected the reports, saying it was “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories.” Pegasus is intended for use only by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism and crime, the company said.
Gantz’s trip was planned before the NSO affair and was meant to focus on the growing economic crisis in Lebanon, which shares a border with Israel, and on world powers’ efforts to resume a nuclear deal with Iran, Israeli media said.
Israel is concerned a revival of the deal may eventually allow its arch-foe Tehran to acquire atomic weapons. Iran denies seeking the bomb. Attempts to revive the 2015 accord, after then-President Donald Trump abandoned it in 2018, have been slow to make progress.
France’s foreign ministry said on Monday that Iran was endangering the chance of concluding an accord with world powers over reviving the deal if it did not return to the negotiating table soon.


Human Rights Watch: Israeli war crimes apparent in Gaza war

Human Rights Watch: Israeli war crimes apparent in Gaza war
Updated 27 July 2021

Human Rights Watch: Israeli war crimes apparent in Gaza war

Human Rights Watch: Israeli war crimes apparent in Gaza war
  • Rights group issues conclusions after investigating three Israeli airstrikes that it said killed 62 Palestinian civilians
  • Such attacks violate ‘the prohibition against deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians’

JERUSALEM: Human Rights Watch on Tuesday accused the Israeli military of carrying attacks that “apparently amount to war crimes” during an 11-day war against the Hamas militant group in May.
The international human rights organization issued its conclusions after investigating three Israeli airstrikes that it said killed 62 Palestinian civilians. It said “there were no evident military targets in the vicinity” of the attacks.
The report also accused Palestinian militants of apparent war crimes by launching over 4,000 unguided rockets and mortars at Israeli population centers. Such attacks, it said, violate “the prohibition against deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians.”
The report, however, focused on Israeli actions during the fighting, and the group said it would issue a separate report on the actions of Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups in August.
“Israeli forces carried out attacks in Gaza in May that devastated entire families without any apparent military target nearby,” said Gerry Simpson, associated crisis and conflict director at HRW. He said Israel’s “consistent unwillingness to seriously investigate alleged war crimes,” coupled with Palestinian rocket fire at Israeli civilian areas, underscored the importance of an ongoing investigation into both sides by the International Criminal Court, or ICC.
There was no immediate reaction to the report by the Israeli military, which has repeatedly said its attacks were aimed at military targets in Gaza. It blames Hamas for civilian casualties by launching rocket attacks and other military operations inside residential areas.
The war erupted on May 10 after Hamas fired a barrage of rockets toward Jerusalem in support of Palestinian protests against Israel’s heavy-handed policing of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, built on a contested site sacred to Jews and Muslims, and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers in a nearby neighborhood. In all, Hamas fired over 4,000 rockets and mortars toward Israel, while Israel has said it struck over 1,000 targets linked to Gaza militants.
In all, some 254 people were killed in Gaza, including at least 67 children and 39 women, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Hamas has acknowledged the deaths of 80 militants, while Israel has claimed the number is much higher. Twelve civilians, including two children, were killed in Israel, along with one soldier.
The HRW report looked into Israeli airstrikes. The most serious, on May 16, involved a series of strikes on Al-Wahda Street, a central thoroughfare in downtown Gaza City. The airstrikes destroyed three apartment buildings and killed a total of 44 civilians, HRW said, including 18 children and 14 women. Twenty-two of the dead were members of a single family, the Al-Kawlaks.
Israel has said the attacks were aimed at tunnels used by Hamas militants in the area and suggested the damage to the homes was unintentional.
In its investigation, HRW concluded that Israel had used US-made GBU-31 precision-guided bombs, and that Israel had not warned any of the residents to evacuate the area ahead of time. It also it found no evidence of military targets in the area.
“An attack that is not directed at a specific military objective is unlawful,” it wrote.
The investigation also looked at a May 10 explosion that killed eight people, including six children, near the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. It said the two adults were civilians.
Israel has suggested the explosion was caused by a misfired Palestinian rocket. But based on an analysis of munition remnants and witness accounts, HRW said evidence indicated the weapon had been “a type of guided missile.”
“Human Rights Watch found no evidence of a military target at or near the site of the strike,” it said.
The third attack it investigated occurred on May 15, in which an Israeli airstrike destroyed a three-story building in Gaza’s Shati refugee camp. The strike killed 10 people, including two women and eight children.
HRW investigators determined the building was hit by a US-made guided missile. It said Israel has said that senior Hamas officials were hiding in the building. But the group said no evidence of a military target at or near the site and called for an investigation into whether there was a legitimate military objective and “all feasible precautions” were taken to avoid civilian casualties.
The May conflict was the fourth war between Israel and Hamas since the Islamic militant group, which opposes Israel’s existence, seized control of Gaza in 2007. Human Rights Watch, other rights groups and UN officials have accused both sides of committing war crimes in all of the conflicts.
Early this year, HRW accused Israel of being guilty of international crimes of apartheid and persecution because of discriminatory polices toward Palestinians, both inside Israel as well as in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel rejected the accusations.
In Tuesday’s report, it called on the United States to condition security assistance to Israel on it taking “concrete and verifiable actions” to comply with international human rights law and to investigate past abuses.
It also called on the ICC to include the recent Gaza war in its ongoing investigation into possible war crimes by Israel and Palestinian militant groups. Israel does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction and says it is capable of investigating any potential wrongdoing by its army and that the ICC probe is unfair and politically motivated.


Oman vaccinates almost 2 million people against COVID-19

Oman vaccinates almost 2 million people against COVID-19
Updated 27 July 2021

Oman vaccinates almost 2 million people against COVID-19

Oman vaccinates almost 2 million people against COVID-19
  • The number of people who took the first dose of a vaccine stood at 1,587,784

DUBAI: Almost 2 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in Oman since the start of the country’s National Immunization Campaign. 

This represents 53% of the targeted population, the state-owned Oman News Agency said. 

The number of people who took the first dose of a vaccine stood at 1,587,784 while the number of those who took two doses stood at 338,523, it said. 

Muscat governorate came first in the number of vaccinated people that reached 618,264 (55% of the target category) followed by North Al Batinah with 234,808 (39%), then South Al Batinah with 153,277 (45%).