Iraq denies links to drone attack on Saudi oil facilities

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A technical staff is seen standing at the Port of Fujairah, UAE. (Reuters)
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The attacks early Saturday targeted two key oil installations in Saudi Arabia, causing massive fires and taking out half of the kingdom’s vast oil output. (Screenshot/AFP)
Updated 16 September 2019

Iraq denies links to drone attack on Saudi oil facilities

  • Kuwait investigating the sighting of a drone over its territory and is coordinating with Saudi Arabia
  • US says no evidence attacks came from Yemen, as claimed by the Houthis

BAGHDAD: Iraq on Sunday strongly denied claims that its territory had been used to launch a wave of drone strikes on two Saudi oil facilities.

In a statement from Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s media office, the government vowed to take “firm” action against any parties that attempted “to violate the constitution,” and appealed for an end to the attacks which posed a major threat to regional and global security. And Iraqi commanders of pro-Iran armed factions warned they could now be targeted themselves by the US. 

Drones hit Saudi Aramco refineries at Abqaiq and Khurais, in the Eastern Province, on Saturday setting them on fire and sparking international outrage.

Although the Iranian-backed Yemeni Houthi group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, while the US has officially blamed Iran, some regional and international media organizations have accused Iraqi factions linked to Iran of launching the strikes from Iraqi territory.

“Iraq denies news circulated by some media outlets that suggest its territory was used to attack Saudi oil facilities using drones, and stresses its constitutional commitment to prevent the use of its territory to attack its neighbors, brothers and friends,” the statement said.

“The Iraqi government will deal firmly with anyone who tries to violate the constitution … (and) calls on all parties to stop mutual attacks which cause great loss of life and facilities.

“The Iraqi government affirms that it follows with great interest these developments and solidarity with its brothers and expresses concern that the escalation and military solutions will complicate the humanitarian and political situation and threaten our common, regional and international security,” it added. The strikes, which have disrupted Saudi crude oil production, have raised fears of US retaliation and intensified concerns in the region, especially from Iraq, about the reaction of American President Donald Trump’s administration to Iran and its allies.

Iraq has become one of the biggest battlegrounds in the region between the US and Iran since 2003. The two sides control dozens of armed groups and their allies, and the Iraqi government has come under pressure, both internally and externally, to deal with the activities of pro-Iran factions.

For years Iraq has maintained a policy of distancing itself from any regional or international conflicts.

A senior Iraqi National Security source told Arab News: “We have no evidence to suggest that any armed Iraqi faction was involved in these attacks, and we have not received any accusation from Saudi Arabia, or any international or regional party involved.

“We were surprised by the prime minister’s statement and sent him a written reply saying that issuing this denial is wrong and if there is a need to provide some clarifications to our allies or friends in the region, including Saudi Arabia, diplomatic channels and back channels can play this role.”

The Iraqi Security and Defense Parliamentary Committee was also surprised that a statement had been issued denying Iraq’s involvement in the bombings, three committee members told Arab News.

“We in principle refuse to target innocent people and infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and anywhere in the world. We have no rivalry with Saudi Arabia, and the Iraqi government and its security forces, including the Popular Mobilization Units, have no interest in engaging in a war that we have nothing to do with,” Ahmad Assadi, a prominent Shiite member of the committee and commander of one of Jund Al-Imam’s armed factions, told Arab News.

“We do not understand the motive behind the accusations. If someone thinks that these attacks (on the Saudi oil installations) are part of our response to attacks that targeted our warehouses, they are wrong.

“We have already declared that the attacks on our warehouses were directly or indirectly carried out by the Zionist entity, and therefore Saudi Arabia has nothing to do with them, and we have no justification for attacking it.”

Iraqi commanders of pro-Iran armed factions said media reports of their involvement were an American attempt to put more pressure on the Iraqi government and justify future attacks on resistance leaders inside Iraq.

“We know that the accusations are baseless and the Americans cannot prove them. They would know if any drones took off from anywhere in Iraq as they fully control the Iraqi skies, so it is just a new pretext to target us,” a prominent commander of Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq, one of the most powerful Shiite armed groups in Iraq, told Arab News.

“They (the US) will start a campaign to terminate the leaders of the resistance (pro-Iran) factions and some Shiite politicians who they (the Americans) believe are a threat for their (the US’) interests.

“We have taken precautions and whoever (commanders) thinks he will be a target will avoid public appearances for this period.”


Akiba Cafe: Your manga escape in Saudi Arabia

Visitors to the cafe can order their drinks and browse Akiba’s collection for free at diner-style tables, or enjoy their experience solo as they catch up on their favorite manga tales. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 10 August 2020

Akiba Cafe: Your manga escape in Saudi Arabia

  • Jeddah destination provides a taste of Japan with anime, comics, desserts and films

JEDDAH: Japanese comic books, known as manga, have captured the hearts of some Saudis so much that a 31-year-old citizen decided to give the genre’s fans a specialist Jeddah cafe so that they can pursue their passion as well as meet others who share it.

Akiba Cafe is the brainchild of Mohammed Saeed Baghlaf, an urban planning engineer who spent over a year living in Japan after graduating from college in the US and was working on a project for Tokyo’s 2020 Olympics.
Manga cafes can be found in most cities across Japan. They are a place where people can spend hours reading manga, and they are also considered to be a cultural space where people can relax and have conversations about manga.
He was inspired by the concept of manga cafes while he was in Japan, and took notice of the growing love for manga in the Kingdom. As an urban planner, he was able to grasp the Japanese concept and implement it in Saudi Arabia with a few tweaks and changes to suit the local audience.
“Manga cafés are all over Japan, albeit executed differently,” Baghlaf told Arab News. “They’re a little like internet cafés where people can spend the night. Of course, recreating that here doesn’t go along with our culture and traditions, so we recreated the concept in a way that accommodates that.”

Signature drinks
Akiba has only been open for a few months but, by the time Arab News visited the manga hotspot, people have already been flocking to the cafe to try out its signature drinks and read their favorite comics.

We have contracted a company in Tokyo to get the rights for a bunch of shows and, after many discussions, we get to air an episode an hour after it airs in Japan with Arabic subtitles for our customers.

Mohammed Saeed Baghlaf, Urban planning engineer

Friends and families can be seen relaxing together on the ground floor flicking through the pages of a comic book, or delving into a more accessible e-reading option as manga is still in short supply in Saudi Arabia.
Visitors to the cafe can order their drinks and browse Akiba’s collection for free at diner-style tables, or enjoy their experience solo as they catch up on their favorite manga tales.
Akiba also airs popular anime and animated films throughout the day, uploading their schedule on their Twitter and Instagram pages.
Baghlaf is an avid gamer, but watching anime and reading manga is definitely on his list of favorite things to do. Keeping up with popular stories also helps him to figure out what manga volumes to acquire and which anime films to screen.
The urban planning engineer noticed the Kingdom’s approach in linking many objectives in the Vision 2030 reform plan to entertainment and, as cafes continue to draw large crowds in Saudi Arabia, he felt encouraged about going for Akiba.
“Specialty cafes are very popular here nowadays, so how am I going to be special? I went for a manga or anime cafe,” he said.
The cafe’s target audience are those who are interested in specialty coffee, manga and anime. For people with a sweet tooth there are Japanese desserts on offer, including cheesecake.

BACKGROUND

• Akiba Cafe is the brainchild of Mohammed Saeed Baghlaf, an urban planning engineer.

• He spent over a year living in Japan after graduating from college in the US and was working on a project for Tokyo’s 2020 Olympics.

• He was inspired by the concept of manga cafes while he was in Japan, and took notice of the growing love for manga in Saudi Arabia.

• The name Akiba comes from Akihabara, a popular area in Tokyo that is a hub for anime, gaming and electronics retailers.

• It also has specialty cafes throughout its busy maze of streets.

• Mohammed Saeed Baghlaf wants to support local talent by initiating artist nights at Akiba so that people can come and get sketches and put local manga on display for readers to discover.

Baghlaf has to make frequent trips to Japan to discuss screening rights with creators in Tokyo. “We’ve contracted a company in Tokyo to get the rights for a bunch of shows and, after many discussions, we get to air an episode an hour after it airs in Japan with Arabic subtitles for our customers.”
Due to the deals Baghlaf has made with distributors, he receives the episodes prior to their airing date to green-light them in terms of translation accuracy and censorship, in order not to air anything that goes against the Kingdom’s culture.
The same goes for manga. “I would bring in a story with 70-something volumes and, out of those, one book could end up with something inappropriate and I’d have to shelve the whole series.”


Baghlaf believes that the market for Japanese storytelling is massive in Saudi Arabia and continues to grow each day.
“It’s definitely popular and it’s why you see major events happening like Comic Con and Anime Expo, which I’ve been to myself with 200,000 others. It was so crowded,” he said.

Friendship
The Saudis have grown up with Japanese stories for decades, as well as slapstick US cartoons such as Tom and Jerry and the Loony Tunes that lack storytelling or arcs, according to Baghlaf. The Japanese stories have taught generations of Saudis about friendship, brotherhood, integrity and how to deal with others.
“There’s also a huge likeness between Japanese and Arabic culture. Within families, respecting those older than you whether through language, which has levels of formality where elders deserve the most respectable form when talked to and they have a lot of respect for familial bonds as well.”
The cafe owner revealed that the name Akiba comes from Akihabara, a popular area in Tokyo that is a hub for anime, gaming and electronics retailers. It also has specialty cafes throughout its busy maze of streets.
Baghlaf wants to support local talent by initiating artist nights at Akiba so that people can come and get sketches and put local manga on display for readers to discover.