Iraq boosts security measures at base where US trainers stay

A member of the Iraqi SWAT team stands guard as security forces and others gather next to a US-made F-16 fighter jet at Balad Air Base, Iraq. (AP)
Updated 23 June 2019
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Iraq boosts security measures at base where US trainers stay

  • Stepped-up security at Balad Air Base comes amid sharply rising tensions in Middle East

BAGHDAD: Security measures were increased at one of Iraq’s largest air bases that houses American trainers following an attack last week, a top Iraqi air force commander said on Saturday. The US military said operations at the base were going on as usual and there were currently no plans to evacuate personnel.
The stepped-up Iraqi security measures at Balad Air Base, just north of the capital, Baghdad, come amid sharply rising tensions in the Middle East between the US and Iran.
The current regional crisis is rooted in the US withdrawal last year from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. Washington subsequently reimposed sanctions on Iran, sending its economy into freefall and cutting deeply into its oil exports.
Gen. Falah Fares told The Associated Press by telephone that the measures include a nighttime curfew, boosting security inside and near the base as well as surveillance of nearby areas. He said these measures are being carried out in coordination with the US
“All unnecessary movements have been reduced,” Fares said, adding that the curfew now lasts from sunset until sunrise. He said the change was made after Balad Air Base, home to a squadron of Iraqi F-16 fighter jets, was hit with three mortar shells last week without inflicting casualties. The curfew had previously been from midnight to sunrise, he said.
Col. Kevin Walker, US Air Forces Central Command Director of Force Protection, denied in a statement later on Saturday reports that US forces are evacuating contractors or any other personnel from Balad Air Base.

FASTFACT

Iraq hosts more than 5,000 US troops, and is home to powerful Iranian-backed militias, some of whom want those US forces to leave.

“Operations at Balad Air Base are continuing as normal. Claims that personnel are being evacuated are categorically false,” Walker said. “There are no plans at this time to evacuate any personnel from Balad.”
“The safety and security of all air force personnel and those that provide services to the US Air Force are constantly evaluated, and should there be increased threats to our people, the US Air Force will put measures in place to provide the protections required,” he said.
Like neighboring Iran, Iraq has been trying to maintain a fine line between allies Tehran and Washington. There have been concerns that Baghdad could once again get caught in the middle, just as it is on the path to recovery.
Iraq hosts more than 5,000 US troops, and is home to powerful Iranian-backed militias, some of whom want those US forces to leave.


Israeli army raids offices of Palestinian NGO

Updated 3 min 8 sec ago

Israeli army raids offices of Palestinian NGO

  • Israeli soldiers forced their way into the offices of prisoner support group Addameer in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah
  • No staff were in the office at that time as thousands of dollars worth of equipment, including five computers were seized

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: Israel’s army raided the offices of a prominent Palestinian NGO early Thursday, its director said, in an operation Amnesty International said aimed to “crush peaceful activism.”
Israeli soldiers forced their way into the offices of prisoner support group Addameer in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah at around 2:00 am, the organization’s director Sahar Francis said.
No staff were in the office at that time, she said, but Israeli forces seized thousands of dollars worth of equipment, including five computers.
“They searched the whole office,” Francis said.
Addameer works to support Palestinian prisoners in both Israeli and Palestinian prisons.
Israeli right-wing activists accuse it of links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union.
The Israeli army did not immediately respond to request for comment on the raid.
Amnesty International’s Deputy Middle East Director Saleh Higazi condemned the “chilling raid,” labelling it an Israeli attempt “to crush peaceful activism and silence NGOs.”
“This was a sinister and calculated attack designed to curtail Addameer’s vital human rights work,” he said in a statement.
The NGO, which documents allegations of abuse in Israeli prisons, has been raided twice before, most recently in 2012.
Francis said that time they had smashed the door and also seized computers.
“We never got back the things they stole in 2012, despite making a request,” she said.
An Addameer employee has also been detained without charge since last year under Israel’s administrative detention laws, Amnesty said.
Higazi said the raid was part of an intensifying Israeli campaign against civil society organizations.
Human Rights Watch’s director for Israel and the Palestinian territories is currently fighting an Israeli expulsion order over allegations he called for a boycott of Israel.
The country in 2017 passed a law banning entry to foreigners supporting a boycott.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since a 1967 war.
The office is in a part of the West Bank nominally under full Palestinian control, but the Israeli army regularly carries out raids in such areas.