Iraqi education minister resigns over brother’s Daesh links

Iraq's new Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi is seen leaving the Parliament building in Baghdad. (AP)
Updated 30 December 2018

Iraqi education minister resigns over brother’s Daesh links

  • Shaima Khalil Al-Hayali was approved by Parliament last week
  • Websites linked to Daesh published videos showing her brother praising the militants and inciting people to fight the Iraqi military.

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s new education minister has resigned over allegations her brother was a leader with Daesh just days after she was handed the post.

The scandal is the latest blow to Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi who has still not completed his Cabinet amid deep divisions between the Parliament’s main political blocs over the key positions. 

Shaima Khalil Al-Hayali was approved by Parliament last week to head the Education Ministry but had not yet taken the ministerial oath.

She submitted her resignation on Saturday to Abdul Mahdi after intelligence information emerged that her brother was a Daesh leader in Mosul between the summer of 2014, when the extremist group overran the city, and October 2016, when it was liberated by security forces.

Laith Khalil Al-Hayali, was an engineer working for the Nineveh Water Directorate, local security officials in Mosul told Arab News. He was dismissed from his post before 2014 for his association with Daesh, but he was reappointed as a director after 2014 when the militants seized the city. 

Websites linked to Daesh published videos showing Laith praising the militants and inciting people to fight the Iraqi military.

The intelligence also said that two of Laith’s sons were killed fighting for Daesh during the liberation of Mosul in 2016.

The first was killed in clashes between the militants and security forces, while the second one blew himself up in a bid to halt advancing forces.

The minister did not deny her brother’s involvement with Daesh but said he was forced to work with them and that he showed up in the videos under the threat of being shot.

The information is an embarrassment to the leaders of the pro-Iran Al-Binna’a coalition who nominated Al-Hayali. 

It was not clear whether the resignation was Al-Hayali’s decision alone or whether her backers had ordered her to quit.

Abdul Mahdi was sworn in at the end of October but has faced a series of crises during his short time in the position. 

This is not the first time he has presented his preferred candidates for ministerial positions without checking their security and political backgrounds — something that has deepened mistrust between the prime minster and political parties that could bring down his government.

He is still without without three key ministers — defense, interior and justice amid a dispute between the two main blocs in Parliament over the candidates, lawmakers told Arab News on Sunday.

Reform, led by the influential Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, opposes the candidates nominated by Al-Binna’a for interior and defense. Al-Binna’a is led by Hadi Al-Amiri, commander of the Iran-backed Badr Organization, the most powerful armed faction.

Abdul Mahdi has not commented on Al-Hayali’s resignation and not even announced whether he has accepted her letter.

The incident has brought to the forefront allegations against other new ministers. They include Communications Minister Naeim Al-Rubaie, a former senior figure in Saddam Hussein’s Baath party. Anyone linked to the organization is banned from involvement in Iraq’s government.

“It would be better for Abdul Mahdi to accept her (Al-Hayali’s) resignation to save face,” a key negotiator from Reform told Arab News. 

“We asked him at the first session of Parliament to submit the names of the candidates to the security services to be checked. We also demanded that they be presented to the bodies of integrity and accountability and justice, but our requests were ignored.

“The result is that the government now includes a minister representing Daesh, another one representing Al-Qaeda and a third one representing Baath party.”

Iraq has struggled to form a government since an election in May led to two main parliamentary camps, one pro Iran and the other anti. An agreement in September broke the deadlock, with the two coalitions agreeing to try and negotiate a new Cabinet led by Abdul Mahdi.

Streets before suits: US envoy vists Beirut’s ‘real’ rescue hub

Updated 14 August 2020

Streets before suits: US envoy vists Beirut’s ‘real’ rescue hub

  • Hale’s visit to the volunteer hub in the Gemmayzeh district came days after Macron took a tour of the same street last week
  • Students and young professionals have ditched classes and day jobs to save lives and provide emergency support

BEIRUT: Arriving in Lebanon after last week’s deadly Beirut blast, US envoy David Hale bypassed politicians to head straight to a hard-hit neighborhood where young volunteers are helping people abandoned by their state.
At the volunteer hub dubbed the “Base Camp,” there is a “focus on getting things done,” Hale told a press conference after his tour.
He contrasted the hive of activity to the “dysfunctional governance and empty promises” of Lebanon’s political leaders, who face public outrage over the explosion of a vast stock of ammonium nitrate stored for years at Beirut’s port.
Volunteer efforts “could not only be tapped to rebuild Beirut but (also) to undertake necessary reforms that will bring the kind of transformation that is necessary for Lebanon,” Hale said.
In the wake of the August 4 explosion of a the huge chemical store that laid waste to whole Beirut neighborhoods, students and young professionals have ditched classes and day jobs to save lives, provide emergency support and start to rebuild.
Hale’s visit to the volunteer hub in the blast-hit Gemmayzeh district came days after French President Emmanuel Macron took a tour of the same street last Thursday, as well as meeting Lebanese leaders.
But while Macron was welcomed as a savior, it was clear that the heroes of the moment were the volunteers.
“I don’t know why (Hale) would do that second step and go to meet politicians,” said Wassim Bou Malham, 33, who leads a database management team at the Base Camp.
“The aid is happening here, the data collection is happening here, the cleaning is happening here, the reconstruction is happening here,” he told AFP.
Wearing face masks and neon vests, volunteers sounded like international experts as they explained how they were cleaning up their government’s mess.
In fluent English, they described 3D mapping operations, data collection and relief efforts organized since the cataclysmic blast.
Bou Malham, who spoke with Hale during the tour, is not a data expert but picked up useful experience managing client databases for two of Beirut’s biggest nightclubs.
After the blast tore through the city, wounding 6,500 people and displacing 300,000 from their homes, his skills became vital for the aid effort.
The digitised database developed by Bou Malham and his team of volunteers is now critical for sorting and delivering aid to thousands of blast survivors.
“We haven’t seen any government official or representative actually come in here and ask us if we need anything,” he said.
“It’s so funny that David Hale is the first.”
It is not only in the Base Camp that the state has been thin on the ground.
In the first hours after the explosion, civil defense teams were vastly outnumbered by young volunteers flooding the streets to help.
By the next day, the latter had set up a camp where they offered food, medicine, temporary shelter and repair services to thousands of blast victims, in partnership with several non-governmental groups.
Operations have continued to expand since.
A Base Camp relief hotline received more than 200 calls in the first two hours. Volunteers have assessed the damage to around 1,200 homes and installed at least 600 wooden doors.
“The work is going to speak for itself,” said Bushra, a 37-year-old volunteer.
Simmering anger against Lebanon’s leaders has flared since the blast, which appears to have been caused by years of state corruption and negligence.
With 171 people dead, it is widely seen as the most tragic manifestation yet of the rot at the core of the country’s political system.
Western donors too are fed up with Lebanon’s barons, who have for years resisted reforms demanded by the international community.
In a joint statement released after an international donor conference organized by France in the wake of the disaster, world leaders called for aid to be delivered directly to the Lebanese people.
USAID acting administrator, John Barsa, said at the time that American help “is absolutely not going to the government.”
USAID “will increase its financial support to civil society groups in Lebanon by 30 percent to $6.627 million,” Barsa said in a press briefing on Thursday.
At the volunteer camp in Gemmayzeh, it was clear that funding would be put to good use.
Ziad Al-Zein, arrives before volunteers start their shifts at 9:00 am to ensure the camp is clean and secure.
The 33-year-old was among the first groups of volunteers clearing debris in Gemmayzeh.
“We are not speacialists in crisis management or catastophe management. We are learning things as we go,” he said.
“There is no state,” he added. “We will not abandon our fellow Lebanese in these conditions.”