Visits to Israel by Iraqi officials stir controversy

Visits to Israel by Iraqi officials stir controversy
The ministry said the Iraqi travelers had visited “Israeli officials and universities,” as well as the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem pictured above. (Getty Images)
Updated 07 January 2019

Visits to Israel by Iraqi officials stir controversy

Visits to Israel by Iraqi officials stir controversy
  • Baghdad does not recognize Israel, and is technically in a state of war with it
  • A significant Iraqi Jewish community lives in Israel and regularly calls for a normalization of ties between Baghdad and the Jewish state

BAGHDAD: Visits by Iraqi officials to Israel announced by the Jewish state stirred controversy Monday in Iraq, where the deputy parliamentary speaker demanded a probe to identify those who crossed a “red line.”
Israel’s foreign ministry said on Twitter on Sunday that three Iraqi delegations visited Israel in 2018, and details were also later released by media.
Baghdad does not recognize Israel, and is technically in a state of war with it.
First deputy speaker of parliament Hassan Karim Al-Kaabi called in a statement for “an investigation... to identify those who went to the occupied territory, particularly if they are lawmakers.”
“To go to the occupied territory is a red line and an extremely sensitive issue for all Muslims,” the statement said.
Kaabi is close to Shiite leader Moqtada Sadr, whose bloc won the largest number of seats in Iraq’s legislative election last year.
Israel’s foreign ministry said on Twitter that the 15 Iraqi visitors were “influential Shiite and Sunni personalities in the country,” but did not give names.
The ministry said the Iraqi travelers had visited “Israeli officials and universities,” as well as the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.
A spokesman for the memorial told AFP that “a group of 10 Iraqis” had “undertaken a guided tour in late December.”
He said he was not able to give details on the identity and roles of the Iraqis.
Private Israeli TV station Hadashot, which described the Iraqis as “local leaders,” said Sunday that they had stressed they were not taking part in an official visit and that secrecy was paramount.
A significant Iraqi Jewish community lives in Israel and regularly calls for a normalization of ties between Baghdad and the Jewish state.
But the question remains sensitive and Israel’s support for an independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan in late 2017 provoked Iraqi officials’ ire.
Israel was the only country to back the vote, which Baghdad deemed illegal.
In 2017, a former Miss Iraq sparked a storm when she took a selfie with Miss Israel.


‘Our protests will become fiercer’ say families of Beirut blast victims

A general view shows the site of the deadly Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut’s port, almost a year since the blast. The explosion killed more than 200 people. (Reuters)
A general view shows the site of the deadly Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut’s port, almost a year since the blast. The explosion killed more than 200 people. (Reuters)
Updated 7 min 6 sec ago

‘Our protests will become fiercer’ say families of Beirut blast victims

A general view shows the site of the deadly Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut’s port, almost a year since the blast. The explosion killed more than 200 people. (Reuters)
  • Rights group Amnesty International accused the Lebanese authorities of spending “the past year shamelessly obstructing the victims’ quest for truth and justice in the aftermath of the catastrophic blast

BEIRUT: The people of Lebanon will on Wednesday mark the first anniversary of the devastating explosion at Beirut’s port, the country’s worst peacetime disaster.
The massive blast that destroyed a large section of the capital on Aug. 4, killed at least 214 people and injured more than 6,500. It was caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored at the port for several years without proper safety precautions.
The families of those who died will hold a commemorative religious service at the port, business owners have said they will cover the city with black ribbons on Wednesday, and activists are planning anti-government demonstrations.
Lebanese flags were raised over balconies and shops in the city on Monday ahead of the anniversary.
A year after the tragedy, the families of the victims remain determined to ensure justice is served and those responsible for the failures that resulted in the explosion are held to account.
“Our protests will soon become fiercer,” said Ibrahim Hoteit, whose brother, Tharwat, died.
He condemned “the heinous state that did not even bother to console us,” and added: “(They) removed Judge Fadi Sawan just because he came close to (their) sectarian and political idols. Today, this whole play is being repeated under a new title: ‘immunity’ (from prosecution).”
Sawan, who was appointed to investigate the explosion, was removed from the investigation in February after two former ministers he had accused of negligence filed a complaint. In addition, requests for immunity to be lifted from a number of top officials so that they can be questioned have not been granted.
Hoteit, who said he was speaking on behalf of the families of the victims, gave “the state 30 hours to lift immunity from the defendants, including former ministers, present lawmakers and security officials.”
He added: “The authorities are asking us to pacify the street movements on Aug. 4 — we are not the police of discipline. The people of Lebanon have the right to express their anger and rage by all available and legitimate means after you destroyed the country. Never expect us to be your mediators.”
A committee of the victims’ families announced on Monday that they reject any attempt to politicize their cause.
In a statement issued for the anniversary of the explosion, rights group Amnesty International accused the Lebanese authorities of spending “the past year shamelessly obstructing the victims’ quest for truth and justice in the aftermath of the catastrophic blast.”
Waleed Taha, 67, who was only a few hundred meters from the explosion, told Arab News: “If someone can help me on Wednesday, I will certainly take part in the mourning day with the families of the victims, the wounded and protesters.
“I feel like doing something crazy, maybe destroying something, but my mind is stopping me. Anger will not do me any good and will not heal the wounds I have been suffering from since the explosion, which broke my ribs, shoulder and knee and has left me sleepless ever since.”
Taha, who is an electrical engineer, worked in Jeddah for 10 years before returning home to Beirut in 2015 to be with his family. He loves fishing and had obtained a permit from Lebanon’s General Security that allowed him to fish at the port. He said that Aug. 4 was the first day he had gone there to fish after a COVID-19 lockdown was lifted. He was at dock 11, where the Orient Queen cruise ship was docked. At about 5 p.m., he called his wife and told her he could see a fire at dock 9, only 300 meters away. He thought the silo there contained only fireworks.
“I spoke to the other fishermen and we decided to stay because it was just fireworks,” he said.
However the sounds of explosions got louder and louder, he said.
“I was standing in front of the cruise ship and could not see what was happening,” he said. “At around 6 p.m. an explosion occurred and sent rocks flying to where I was standing. I rushed to my car. Filipino hostesses from the cruise ship’s staff were walking on the dock and one of them came to my car for protection.
“When the second, massive blast hit, the car was thrown intro the sea — but the waves, which were as high as a 10-story building, threw us back to where we were. I lost consciousness until my son came looking for me in the rubble.
“I heard his voice calling me and all I was able to do was raise my head and tell him ‘I am here.’ He called the Civil Defense, who rescued me and took me to the hospital. My son had to walk between tens of bodies and injured people who were bleeding.”
Taha said that three of his closest friends died on the dock “including two retired officers and a greengrocer fishing to provide for his family.”
He added: “On that day, more than 50 people were jogging on the port’s docks. Some of them died, some of them were injured and disabled. A friend of mine survived the blast because he had moved to dock 14 to find more fish. The Filipino girls that were near me disappeared, maybe drowned in the sea.”
Taha said he paid his own treatment and recovery expenses and that “no one cared for the injured and their fates.”
He added: “I am reliving the shock every single day; I probably need therapy, I do not know. But I lost my job as I cannot walk long distances and I am in pain.”
He is pessimistic about the chances of the truth about the explosion and those responsible being revealed, saying that the truth about the assassination of former US president John F. Kennedy would be known before who is to blame for the Beirut blast. He added that he feels hopeless about the prospects for justice in a country where the state does not care about its citizens.
“I used to pass in front of the silo that contained the ammonium nitrate every day,” Taha said. “It was an abandoned silo with a rusty door, where some people used to urinate.
“To enter the port, one had to pass through three security checkpoints where army intelligence, the general security and the army checked the identities of those going in and the permissions they had — but the explosion still happened.”


Iranian Americans, US foreign policy figures rally in DC against Raisi presidency

Hundreds of Iranian Americans whose relatives were put to death by incoming Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi have rallied in DC to call on the US and its allies to hold him accountable. (Supplied: OIAC)
Hundreds of Iranian Americans whose relatives were put to death by incoming Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi have rallied in DC to call on the US and its allies to hold him accountable. (Supplied: OIAC)
Updated 03 August 2021

Iranian Americans, US foreign policy figures rally in DC against Raisi presidency

Hundreds of Iranian Americans whose relatives were put to death by incoming Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi have rallied in DC to call on the US and its allies to hold him accountable. (Supplied: OIAC)
  • Ebrahim Raisi will assume the Presidency Tuesday, and is accused of crimes against humanity for his role in the execution of thousands in 1988
  • For Tehran, ‘sanctions relief is the only game in town,’ Ambassador Ginsberg tells Arab News

LONDON: Hundreds of Iranian Americans whose relatives were put to death by incoming Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi have rallied in DC to call on the US and its allies to hold him accountable for his crimes against humanity.

A number of current and former figures from the US foreign policy apparatus spoke at the rally, attended by Arab News, and expressed their support for the demonstrators, adding to their calls for justice and accountability against the Iranian regime.

Hosted by the Organization of Iranian American Communities, Monday’s rally came just one day ahead of Raisi’s official inauguration as the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

And those in attendance in the grounds of Washington DC’s Capitol building had one clear message for the Biden administration and wider international community: Raisi is an international criminal, not a leader — and he should be treated as such.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, addressing the rally, said: “For too long the Iranian people have suffered at the hands of Ali Khamenei and Ebrahim Raisi. Their cries for freedom and justice ring across the world and have the support of freedom-loving Americans.”

He continued: “We will stand with the families of those massacred and strenuously encourage the Biden administration to hold Raisi and Khamenei accountable through sanctions and pressing for Raisi’s prosecution for crimes against humanity.”

Many of those at the rally told Arab News that they had personally lost loved ones when Raisi presided over what Amnesty International dubbed “death commissions” — sham trials levelled against political prisoners after the Iran-Iraq war.

In 1988, then-prosecutor for Tehran Ebrahim Raisi put thousands of political prisoners to death for their affiliation or sympathy for the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) — an Iranian revolutionary group that fell out of favor with the regime and was subsequently violently crushed.

Everyone that Arab News spoke with at Monday's rally continue to support the MEK today.

One attendee, Eshrat Dehghan, told Arab News that she lost three of her sons during the death commissions. For this crime and the thousands of others, she said, Raisi “should not be allowed into the UN.”

Now relying on a walking stick because of her own torture at the hands of the regime, she said: “the Biden administration should support the people of Iran and the MEK in their struggle against the regime.”

Listed for years a terrorist organization, the MEK was removed from the US and Europe’s list of terrorist organizations in 2012 — a victory for Lincoln Bloomfield, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs in the Bush Administration and who exhaustively investigated claims of terrorism made against the MEK. 

He told Arab News that throughout his investigation he found no evidence that the group had targeted the US or its allies with terrorism.

Bloomfield said: “If there had been any indication of targeting civilians, children, or innocent people that would be different — but this is legitimate resistance to tyranny.”

Marc Ginsberg, a former Middle East adviser to the White House, and long-time US diplomat, told Arab News that Saturday's lethal drone attack on an Israeli owned cargo tanker is “just one more reason” to hold the Raisi regime to account.

“I’m in favor of doing everything possible to undermine this regime and its ability to continue to repress, to instigate violence, and incite terrorism in the Middle East,” he said. “Even if (the regime) agrees to roll back their violations of the Iran nuclear agreement, that’s still never going to accomplish the objective of preventing them from developing a nuclear weapon.”

Ginsberg also said that beyond the nuclear question Tehran is refusing to give up its other destabilizing activities in the Middle East — and would in fact use the “lifeline” of sanctions relief to further them.

“They will not agree to constraints on their ballistic missile program, and they certainly are not going to give up their support for Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthi rebels or Syria’s Assad regime,” he said. 

“All they want is sanctions relief. Their question is: how little can we give up in exchange for sanctions relief?” Ginsberg added: “For them, sanctions relief is the only game in town.”


Iraqi PM launches mechanisms for economic reform program

Iraqi PM launches mechanisms for economic reform program
Updated 03 August 2021

Iraqi PM launches mechanisms for economic reform program

Iraqi PM launches mechanisms for economic reform program

LONDON: Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi said his government launched the signal to start the administrative and executive mechanisms for its economic reform program.
Al-Kadhimi said the “‘White Paper’ is a strategy for a modern, prosperous, productive Iraq that invests its enormous potential and human energies, combats corruption and stops waste.”
The implementation phase of the White Paper for Economic Reform, which sets out a clear roadmap to reform the Iraqi economy, began in February and included “putting in place governance, oversight, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to ensure that the reform process is administrated and managed effectively,” the government said


UN chief to name Swedish diplomat as new Yemen envoy: diplomats

UN chief to name Swedish diplomat as new Yemen envoy: diplomats
Updated 02 August 2021

UN chief to name Swedish diplomat as new Yemen envoy: diplomats

UN chief to name Swedish diplomat as new Yemen envoy: diplomats
  • UN officials informally floated his name to council members to solicit views by mid-July
  • The 15-member Security Council approved Grundberg as a replacement for Martin Griffiths

NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is expected to shortly name Swedish diplomat Hans Grundberg as his new Yemen envoy, diplomats said, after China informally gave the green light for the appointment following a delay of several weeks.
The 15-member Security Council has to approve Grundberg — by consensus — as a replacement for Martin Griffiths, who became the UN aid chief last month after trying to mediate an end to the conflict in Yemen for the past three years.
The war has killed tens of thousands of people and caused a dire humanitarian crisis, pushing Yemen to the brink of famine.
Grundberg has been the European Union ambassador to Yemen since September 2019. UN officials informally floated his name to council members to solicit views by mid-July and 14 members said they would agree to the appointment, diplomats said.
But China said it needed more time. An official with China’s UN mission in New York said on Monday that China had now signed off on Grundberg’s appointment, but declined to comment on why Beijing’s approval had been delayed.
Guterres will now formally notify the council of Grundberg’s appointment and the council will respond in a letter giving the green light. A spokesman for Guterres declined to comment.


How Arab connection to World Expos has evolved over time

People walk past the official sign marking the Dubai Expo 2020 near the Sustainability Pavilion in Dubai on January 16, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
People walk past the official sign marking the Dubai Expo 2020 near the Sustainability Pavilion in Dubai on January 16, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 45 min 37 sec ago

How Arab connection to World Expos has evolved over time

People walk past the official sign marking the Dubai Expo 2020 near the Sustainability Pavilion in Dubai on January 16, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Beginning in the mid-19th century, expos have grown to reflect trends in globalization and technology
  • After delays caused by the  pandemic, the first World Expo hosted by an Arab country opens in Dubai in October

DUBAI: Those unfamiliar with the concept of World Expos may have the misguided impression they are excruciatingly dull, corporate affairs. But the chronicle of such events, and the Arab world’s participation in them, tell a very different story.

For a host nation, a World Expo can be a rare occasion to stand front and center on the world stage. Participating countries can cultivate their national image and vie for acclaim, while visitors can feel as though the whole world has been put on display.

Part museum, part theme park and part political theater, World Expos are a kind of window on the collective global consciousness.

The earliest events, in the mid- to late-19th century, were a celebration of the Industrial Revolution, featuring mechanical wonders and architectural marvels such as the Crystal Palace in London and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

These events of mass spectacle brought together crowds of all nationalities and social class, accelerating globalization at a time when few had the luxury of world travel.

As mass production accelerated, consumerism began to feature more prominently. In the 20th century, world expos became a launchpad for all kinds of new products: The ice cream cone (1904), nylon stockings (1939), live television (1939), the mobile phone (1970), and touchscreens (1982), to name a few.

More recently, the gatherings have sought to address collective global challenges. In 2010, Shanghai focused on making cities more livable. In 2015, Milan addressed the issue of sustainable agriculture.

Likewise, Dubai’s forthcoming Expo Live program is taking a grassroots approach, funding more than 140 global innovators tackling world problems.

Journalists visit the Sustainability Pavilion during a media tour at the Dubai Expo 2020, a week ahead of its public opening, in the United Arab Emirates, on January 16, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

For Arab states, as for all participating countries, a World Expo is a chance to showcase their achievements in architecture, food, agriculture, industry, the arts and intellectual pursuits.

Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco participated in the earliest expos. The first ever, the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, featured around 400 artefacts from Egypt and 103 from Tunisia. Egypt’s contributions included minerals, agricultural products, textiles, and leather goods, as well as 165 books from its oldest printing house, the Bulaq Press.

Tunisia was represented through textiles sent by a single exhibitor, “His Highness Mushir Basha, Bey of Tunis.” In a style ahead of its time, the Tunisian display was truly experiential. The center of the exhibit featured a recreated Tunisian street market, including a tent lined with furs, textiles, and perfumes.

The 1867 Exposition Universelle de Paris marked the unveiling of the Eiffel Tower. It was also Morocco’s first World Expo, in which it offered visitors a rich, memorable, sensory experience.

From Queen Victoria opening the 1851 London exhibition (top left) to Seville 1992 (bottom right), Arab nations have participated since the earliest expos. (AFP/Public Domain)

Omitting anything related to commerce, industry or agriculture, Morocco and Tunisia’s neighboring pavilions were ornate tents, displaying a genteel, regal way of life. The tents featured soft couches, thick carpets, and a white marble fountain, with colorful inlaid Moroccan tiles.

Levantine countries made their expo debuts in the early to mid-20th century. At the 1939 New York World’s Fair, Lebanon made its first appearance independent from France.

Al-Hoda, the leading Lebanese newspaper in the US, ascribed great significance to Lebanon’s participation in the fair, saying it put Lebanon “among the free and independent nations of the world for the first time in modern history.”

Cedar branches were brought into the pavilion, filling it with the fragrance of Lebanon. Some Lebanese Americans were so overcome with emotion they kneeled to kiss the branches, tears running down their faces.

The six-month Dubai Expo world fair is a milestone for the emirate, which has invested $8.2 billion on the event. (AFP/File Photo)

Four months into the fair, however, the Second World War broke out, and the event’s initial theme, “The World of Tomorrow,” was changed to “For Peace and Freedom.”

Expo ’58 took place in Brussels at the start of a historic era of peace and prosperity in Western Europe. Organizers were resolutely focused on telling a story of progress, both past and future.

That year, five Arab states — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq — occupied one pavilion. At its center was a ceramic mural depicting the Arab world as “the cradle of civilization.” The pavilion’s theme was focused on the rising standard of living in the Arab world.

The 1967 Montreal Expo was the centerpiece of Canada’s centennial celebrations. It was originally intended to be held in Moscow to mark the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, but owing to high costs and other issues, the USSR cancelled the event and Canada was awarded the expo instead in late 1962.

People walk towards the Sustainability Pavilion, a week ahead of its public opening, at the Dubai Expo 2020 in Dubai on January 16, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

Despite this late change of venue, the 1967 event became one of the most successful to date, with more than 50 million visitors — more than twice the population of Canada at the time — and a record 62 participating countries.

In Montreal, as part of the Arab pavilions complex, Kuwait and Algeria both participated for the first time. Algeria’s pavilion was a serene, simple design of marble and tile. It focused on Algerian history and culture, with films about its history and development of agriculture, technology, and art.

Kuwait’s pavilion illustrated the nation’s relationship with oil and featured a model desalination plant. However, owing to rising tensions in the Arab region, the pavilion was closed just one month into the six-month expo.

Dubai’s forthcoming Expo Live program is taking a grassroots approach, funding more than 140 global innovators tackling world problems. (AFP/File Photo)

Most GCC nations first participated in a World Expo in 1970 or later. In its inaugural World Expo at Osaka in 1970, Abu Dhabi — which became the capital of the UAE within a year — created a replica Arabian fort. The structure was designed by an Egyptian city planner, Abdulrahman Makhlouf, who also worked on the city plan for Abu Dhabi.

The pavilion featured two minarets, one cylindrical and the other square. It was not elaborate. Aramco World reported Abu Dhabi’s contribution was, “simple … a memorable display … a symbol of the bright future awaiting Islam and the Arab world.”

At the 1992 Seville Expo in Spain, Oman made its first World Expo appearance. The Sultanate set a traditional tone with a large, heavy cedar door, steeped in the scent of frankincense. The pavilion focused on Oman’s history as a seafaring nation (and its most famous sailor, Sinbad), and highlighted traditional industries such as woodcraft and pottery.

A renaissance dome told visitors the story of how Oman had evolved from an ancient sultanate into a modern one.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai has promised that Expo 2020 Dubai will be the best World Expo ever. (AFP/File Photo)

The 2010 event in Shanghai breathed new life into the institution of World Expos. The Chinese government’s support for the Shanghai Expo netted a staggering 73 million visitors. Arab pavilions, including those of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, were among the most popular, with long lines of visitors snaking around them.

Shanghai 2010 was Bahrain’s inaugural World Expo. Its pavilion was compact and took visitors on a journey from the past to the present and into the future, with a focus on Bahraini craftsmanship. As with many national pavilions at the event, Bahrain showcased an interactive story through touchscreen technology.

After delays brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the first World Expo to be hosted in the Middle East opens in Dubai in October, with tickets now on sale.

Expo Dubai 2020 promises to celebrate humanity’s successes, relish its present and set a course for its future. One thing is certain — the next chapter in the story of World Expos will mark a historic moment for the Arab world.