Five experts killed clearing Houthi landmines for Saudi charity in Yemen

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The men died when an explosion took place in a vehicle carrying recovered landmines. (Masam Project)
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The landmines were being taken early on Sunday to be destroyed in Marib. (Masam Project)
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The Masam Project has removed more than 40,000 landmines in Yemen. (Masam Project)
Updated 22 January 2019

Five experts killed clearing Houthi landmines for Saudi charity in Yemen

  • The two South Africans, a Croatian, a Bosnian and a Kosovar were killed in Marib province
  • Yemen government condemns Houthis for planting thousands of landmines

RIYADH: A team of explosive safety experts in Yemen have been killed by a consignment of Houthi land mines that blew up while they were being transported to be destroyed.
The five technicians — two from South Africa, one from Croatia, one from Bosnia and one from Kosovo — were part of the Saudi de-mining program in Yemen, known as Masam Project. Its aim is to locate and destroy explosive devices illegally planted by Iranian-backed Houthi militias.
The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) said on Monday that the five experts had died in the explosion in Marib governorate early on Sunday. A vehicle carrying mines and other devices exploded while en route from Masam Project’s headquarters to a remote location, where they were to be destroyed.

“KSRelief joins with the rest of the international community in mourning the loss of these highly committed professionals, and expresses its deepest condolences to their families,” the center said.
“These brave members of the Masam team lost their lives while attempting to bring safety and security to the Yemeni people, and their service to mankind will not be forgotten.
“A full investigation into the tragic incident has been launched in coordination with Masam Project experts and local authorities.”

Ousama Algosaibi, the managing director of Masam Project, wrote heartfelt tributes to his collagues on Twitter.

The Houthis have planted more than a million land mines in Yemen, in violation of UN rules. They have caused more than 1,539 deaths, injured more than 3,000 and caused permanent disability to more than 900 Yemenis.
“These five people were doing noble work,” Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international relations scholar in Riyadh, told Arab News. 
“They were trying to save the lives of Yemeni people, as opposed to the Houthis, whose only aim is to cause chaos and mayhem.”
Al-Shehri said Saudi Arabia had constantly reminded the world community of the atrocities being committed by the Houthis against the Yemeni people. 
“Saudi Arabia cares for the people of Yemen. It went into Yemen to save the Yemeni people from the Houthis who held them hostage,” he said.
“Saudi Arabia continues to provide humanitarian relief despite the Houthis creating all sorts of obstacles and trying to keep the relief away from the needy civilians of Yemen.”
For Saudi Arabia, the people of Yemen came first, Al-Shehri said. “Saudi Arabia went into Yemen as part of an Arab coalition to rescue the Yemeni people from the clutches of their abductors — the Houthis. It is the people of Yemen who are suffering because of the arms and ammunition and these deadly land mines that have been supplied by Iran. They have no care for human life.”

On Monday, UN envoy Martin Griffiths arrived in the capital, Sanaa, on an unannounced visit to discuss the “complex situation” in and around the coastal city of Hodeidah,

Yemen’s warring parties agreed to a cease-fire in the port last month.

Also under discussion from Monday will be disagreements between the Houthi militia, who hold Hodeidah, and Retired Dutch Maj. Gen. Patrick Cammaert, who is heading a UN mission charged with monitoring the cease-fire.

The Yemeni military and the Arab Coalition, which includes Saudi Arabia, has accused the Houthis of hundreds of violations of the agreement, which have killed almost 50 civilians and wounded hundreds more. 

Iraqi PM tightens government grip on country’s armed factions

Updated 17 September 2019

Iraqi PM tightens government grip on country’s armed factions

  • The increasingly strained relations between the US and Iran in the region is casting a large shadow over Iraq

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi is putting increased pressure on the nation’s armed factions, including Shiite-dominated paramilitary troops and Kurdish guerrillas, in an attempt to tighten his control over them, Iraqi military commanders and analysts said on Monday.

Military commanders have been stripped of some of their most important powers as part of the efforts to prevent them from being drawn into local or regional conflicts.

The increasingly strained relations between the US and Iran in the region is casting a large shadow over Iraq. 

Each side has dozens of allied armed groups in the country, which has been one of the biggest battlegrounds for the two countries since 2003. 

Attempting to control these armed factions and military leaders is one of the biggest challenges facing the Iraqi government as it works to keep the country out of the conflict.

On Sunday, Abdul Mahdi dissolved the leadership of the joint military operations. 

They will be replaced by a new one, under his chairmanship, that includes representatives of the ministries of defense and interior, the military and security services, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and the Ministry of Peshmerga, which controls the military forces of the autonomous Kurdistan region.

According to the prime minister’s decree, the main tasks of the new command structure are to “lead and manage joint operations at the strategic and operational level,” “repel all internal and external threats and dangers as directed by the commander-in-chief of the armed forces,” “manage and coordinate the intelligence work of all intelligence and security agencies,” and “coordinate with international bodies that support Iraq in the areas of training and logistical and air support.”

“This decree will significantly and effectively contribute to controlling the activities of all combat troops, not just the PMU,” said a senior military commander, who declined to be named. 

“This will block any troops associated with any local political party, regional or international” in an attempt to ensure troops serve only the government’s goals and the good of the country. 

“This is explicit and unequivocal,” he added.

Since 2003, the political process in Iraq has been based on political power-sharing system. This means that each parliamentary bloc gets a share of top government positions, including the military, proportionate to its number of seats in Parliament. Iran, the US and a number of regional countries secure their interests and ensure influence by supporting Iraqi political factions financially and morally.

This influence has been reflected in the loyalties and performance of the majority of Iraqi officials appointed by local, regional and international parties, including the commanders of combat troops.

To ensure more government control, the decree also stripped the ministers of defense and interior, and leaders of the counterterrorism, intelligence and national security authorities, and the PMU, from appointing, promoting or transferring commanders. This power is now held exclusively by Abdul Mahdi.

“The decree is theoretically positive as it will prevent local, regional and international parties from controlling the commanders,” said another military commander. 

“This means that Abdul Mahdi will be responsible to everyone inside and outside Iraq for the movement of these forces and their activities.

“The question now is whether Abdul Mahdi will actually be able to implement these instructions or will it be, like others, just ink on paper?”

The PMU is a government umbrella organization established by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki in June 2014 to encompass the armed factions and volunteers who fought Daesh alongside the Iraqi government. Iranian-backed factions such as Badr Organization, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah represent the backbone of the forces.

The US, one of Iraq’s most important allies in the region and the world, believes Iran is using its influence within the PMU to destabilize and threaten Iraq and the region. Abdul Mahdi is under huge external and internal pressure to abolish the PMU and demobilize its fighters, who do not report or answer to the Iraqi government.

The prime minister aims to ease tensions between the playmakers in Iraq, especially the US and Iran, by preventing their allies from clashing on the ground or striking against each other’s interests.

“Abdul Mahdi seeks to satisfy Washington and reassure them that the (armed) factions of the PMU will not move against the will of the Iraqi government,” said Abdullwahid Tuama, an Iraqi analyst.

The prime minister is attempting a tricky balancing act by aiming to protect the PMU, satisfy the Iranians and prove to the Americans that no one is outside the authority of the state, he added.