Palestinian flags at Eurovision irks Israel minister

This handout photo released by KAN shows two of Madonna's dancers (foreground) side-by-side with Israeli and Palestinian flags on their backs during her performance in an apparent call for unity. Madonna and US rapper Quavo performed during a guest appearance at the 64th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2019 at Expo Tel Aviv on May 19, 2019, in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv. (AFP / KAN / Orit Pnini)
Updated 20 May 2019

Palestinian flags at Eurovision irks Israel minister

  • Madonna resisted calls from pro-Palestinian activists to boycott the event over Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory
  • Israel occupied the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War and it remains under occupation today

JERUSALEM: Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev on Sunday criticized the display of Palestinian flags during the Eurovision song contest finals in Tel Aviv, including by one of Madonna’s dancers.
“It was an error,” Regev, a right-wing minister known for provocative stances, told journalists before a cabinet meeting.
“Politics and a cultural event should not be mixed, with all due respect to Madonna.”
Regev criticized Israeli public broadcaster KAN for not having prevented the flags from being shown, though it was unclear what could have been done.
During Madonna’s performance at the Eurovision extravaganza, which began Saturday night and stretched into Sunday morning, two of her dancers could be seen side-by-side with Israeli and Palestinian flags on their backs.
The gesture was an apparent call for unity, but Eurovision organizers seek to keep all politics out of the event and the display of Palestinian flags inside Israel is deeply controversial.
Madonna had not commented on the flags.
Separately, Icelandic group Hatari displayed scarfs with Palestinian flags when results were being announced.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the event, condemned both displays.
Referring to Madonna’s dancers, it said “this element of the performance was not part of the rehearsals.”
“The Eurovision Song Contest is a non-political event and Madonna had been made aware of this.”
Madonna resisted calls from pro-Palestinian activists to boycott the event over Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.
In a statement before the finals, Madonna said: “I’ll never stop playing music to suit someone’s political agenda nor will I stop speaking out against violations of human rights wherever in the world they may be.”
Regev also criticized KAN for not having filmed any of its “postcards” of participating singers in the occupied West Bank.
Each singer was filmed in scenic areas of Israel and some of the footage was aired during the show.
Israel occupied the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War and it remains under occupation today.
Israeli settlements there are viewed as illegal under international law and are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.
Israel won the right to host Eurovision thanks to last year’s victory by Israeli singer Netta Barzilai.
The Netherlands’ Duncan Laurence won this year’s Eurovision with his power ballad “Arcade.”


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.