Anger, grief sweep Iraq's Mosul as ferry disaster toll hits 100

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Relatives of victims of a ferry that sank in the Tigris river, cry outside the morgue in Mosul. (Reuters)
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A man attaches a picture of a missing child on a door, after a ferry sank in the Tigris river, outside a morgue in Mosul. (Reuters)
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Relatives of victims of a ferry that sank in the Tigris river, cry outside the morgue in Mosul. (Reuters)
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Men leave a morgue after collecting the body of their relative, victim of a ferry that sank in the Tigris river, in Mosul. (Reuters)
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Mourners bury one of the victims who died after an overloaded ferry sank in Tigris river near Mosul, during his funeral at Mosul cemetery, Iraq March 22, 2019. (Reuters)
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People pray near the sunken ferry site in Mosul. (AP)
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Iraqi rescuers search for victims on the site where an overloaded ferry sank in the Tigris river near Mosul, Iraq March 22, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 22 March 2019

Anger, grief sweep Iraq's Mosul as ferry disaster toll hits 100

  • Residents of Iraq's second city, scarred by years of extremist rule, demanded justice as Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi decreed three days of national mourning following Thursday's accident
  • Mosulites had resumed the annual festivities this year for the first time since Iraqi forces ousted Daesh following years of brutal extremist rule

MOSUL: The capsizing of a Tigris river ferry packed with families celebrating Kurdish New Year in Mosul left at least 100 people dead, mostly women and children, the Iraqi interior ministry said on Friday, as grief and anger swept the city.
Residents of Iraq's second city, scarred by years of extremist rule, demanded justice as Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi decreed three days of national mourning following Thursday's accident.
Mosulites had resumed the annual festivities this year for the first time since Iraqi forces ousted Daesh following years of brutal extremist rule.
But the celebrations turned to tragedy when the overcrowded vessel ran into trouble as it headed to a popular picnic site across the river Tigris.
Mosul security officials blamed the accident on high water levels and overcrowding on the boat.
Hundreds of relatives of victims and residents gathered Friday at the scene of the accident, where prayers were held for the dead.




Mourners bury one of the victims who died after an overloaded ferry sank in Tigris river near Mosul, during his funeral at Mosul cemetery, Iraq March 22, 2019. (Reuters)


Many said the disaster could have been avoided, and chanted "corruption is killing us!"
"We want those responsible to be brought to justice," said Mohammed Adel, 27, whose father was among those who died.
He accused officials of failing to enforce safety standards.
Abu Salem, who lost his wife and two children in the accident which also coincided with mother's day in Iraq, pinned blame for the tragedy on profit motives and the corruption that is endemic in Iraq.
The managers of the picnic site were "criminals... I want them to pay up and I won't leave here until they do", the 50-year Iraqi said.




A man attaches a picture of a missing child on a door, after a ferry sank in the Tigris river, outside a morgue in Mosul. (Reuters)


Reflecting the popular mood, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiite Mulim majority, in his Friday sermon accused "the authorities in charge of supervision of not doing their job".
Transparency International ranks Iraq in 12th place in its list of the world's most corrupt countries.
Video footage from cameras at the picnic site, posted online, showed a severely overcrowded vessel beginning to list as water comes aboard.
As it capsizes completely, it traps dozens of people under its hull.
Authorities had warned people to be cautious after several days of heavy rains led to water being released through the Mosul dam, causing the river to rise.
Videos showed a fast-flowing, bloated river and dozens of people floating in the water or trying to swim around the partly submerged boat.
Abdel Mahdi said the justice system "must do its job and the investigation must produce results on the reasons for this shipwreck".

Scores of angry protesters swarmed President Barham Salih and Nineveh province governor Nawfal Hammadi Al-Sultan on Friday, forcing them to leave the site of the river ferry accident. 
While war and extremist attacks have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in Iraq in recent years, such accidents are relatively rare.
But corruption and the dismal state of public services in Iraq were triggers for widespread protests last year.
Daesh turned Mosul into its de facto capital after sweeping across much of the country's north in 2014.
The city spent three years under the group's iron-fisted rule until it was recaptured by Iraqi troops backed by a US-led coalition in 2017.
Survivors of Thursday's disaster were treated in hospitals heavily damaged by the months-long military campaign against the extremists.
A mortuary was receiving bodies wrapped in white shrouds, many bearing the names of women.
A forensics official said many had yet to be identified.
Iraq's justice ministry said it had ordered the arrest of nine ferry company officials and banned the owners of the vessel and the picnic site from leaving the country.
Officials implicated in various scandals have fled Iraq in recent years.


Can Damascus-Ankara face off in Syria flare up?

Updated 26 min 8 sec ago

Can Damascus-Ankara face off in Syria flare up?

  • An all-out conflict between Syrian regime forces and Turkey is unlikely

BEIRUT: A week-old Turkish invasion of northeast Syria combined with a US withdrawal have redrawn the lines and left Russian-backed Syrian regime troops and Ankara’s forces standing face-to-face.

Experts argue that an all-out conflict between Syrian regime forces and Turkey is unlikely but they do not rule out sporadic clashes.

On Oct. 9, the Turkish army and its Syrian proxies launched a broad offensive against Kurdish forces controlling swathes of northeastern Syria.

The move against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a militia Ankara considers a terrorist group, came after US troops who were deployed along the border as a buffer between the two enemies pulled back.

Turkey and its proxies — mostly Arab and Turkmen former rebels defeated by regime forces earlier in Syria’s eight-year-old conflict — have already conquered territory along 120 km of the border.

In some areas, they have moved some 30 km deep into Syria territory, prompting the Kurds to turn for help to the regime in Damascus.

Government troops responded and rushed north as soon as US troops withdrew from some of their positions, including the strategic city of Manbij.

The Syrian regime’s main backer Russia swiftly sent its own forces to patrol the new contact line between regime forces and the former fighters.

“It is mostly rebel groups linked to Ankara who are on the front lines, Turkish troops are mostly deployed along the border,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The intense ballet of military deployments is redrawing the map of territorial control in a region previously held by the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Forces.

“There’s a new map. And it’s the regime sweeping almost everything, Turkey is left with a few crumbs along the border,” said Thomas Pierret, from the French National Center for Scientific Research.

Turkey insists it will not stop the offensive until it meets its declared goals of creating a buffer zone all along the border, but it now has limited room for maneuver in the face of the regime surge.

Russia and Iran, both Damascus allies, “will act as intermediaries to ensure everybody stays on the patch they have been allocated,” said geographer and Syria expert Fabrice Balanche.

He said incidents should not be ruled out “due to the unclear nature of the territorial boundaries and the presence on the Turkish side of uncontrollable elements.”

Two Syrian soldiers were killed near Ain Issa in artillery fire from Turkish proxies Tuesday, the Observatory said.

“There could be limited clashes ... but no major battles,” Pierret said. “The Syrian army cannot take on Turkey ... The Turkish army is much better equipped.”

“It isn’t hard to imagine how areas retaken by the regime could be used as a staging ground for YPG guerrilla operations,” he said.

The Kurdish force could be “reinvented as an anti-Turkey force” at Damascus and Moscow’s orders. “It’s a very credible scenario and could give Russia new leverage against Turkey.”

Moscow is keen to avert any escalation, analysts say.

“Russia is working overtime to prevent any type of large scale conflict between Assad’s forces and Turkey and its proxies,” said Nick Heras from the Center for New American Security.

Turkey together with Russia and Iran launched the so-called Astana process which provides a framework for peace talks on Syria.

To win support for its invasion, Turkey will need to make concessions over the Idlib region in Syria’s northwest, Balanche predicted.

“The Russians finally agreed to this Turkish intervention in the north, in exchange for Idlib,” he said, referring to the last opposition bastion in Syria, a region where Ankara has some clout but which Damascus wants to retake.

The strategic relationship between Ankara and Moscow goes far beyond the Syrian conflict. NATO member Turkey has ignored US warnings and acquired Russia’s state-of-the-art S-400 missile defense system.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected in Moscow on Thursday for talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

Putin’s office said a prior phone call between the two leaders had emphasized “the need to prevent confrontations between units of the Turkish army and Syrian armed forces.”