Iranian general ‘played leading role’ in crackdown on Iraqi protests

Iranian general ‘played leading role’ in crackdown on Iraqi protests
Gen. Qasim Soleimani
Updated 09 October 2019

Iranian general ‘played leading role’ in crackdown on Iraqi protests

Iranian general ‘played leading role’ in crackdown on Iraqi protests
  • Iraqi president acknowledges excessive force had been used against demonstrators

BAGHDAD: The Iraqi government sent Iranian-backed armed factions to crack down on demonstrations and kill protesters, senior Iraqi security officials and politicians told Arab News on Tuesday. 

The groups are said to directly report to Gen. Qasim Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

“The general personally came to Baghdad a few days ago to manage the crisis,” said a senior security official in Baghdad. “He gave the orders to brutally deal with the demonstrators, and even kill them to sow terror in the hearts of the rest.

“On his orders, Iraqi security leaders were excluded from (dealing with the protests), the internet was blocked, most local journalists covering the demonstrations were threatened and some local and Arabic satellite TV stations were set on fire.”

There have been widespread demonstrations in Baghdad and seven southern, Shiite-dominated provinces over the past week in protest against corruption, high levels of unemployment and a lack of basic daily services. They turned violent when Iraqi riot police used live bullets and tear gas to disperse demonstrators who were trying to reach government and political party headquarters.

In the past eight days, more than 180 people have been killed and 7,000 injured, including security personnel, and dozens of government buildings, political party headquarters and military vehicles have been torched, security sources said.

Video footage recorded by demonstrators and activists reveals that many of the demonstrators who were killed were unarmed and not close enough to any security services or government buildings to pose a threat.

One of the videos seen by Arab News showed a young demonstrator running through a popular small marketplace to escape his pursuers. When he stopped to talk to someone a gunman approached and, from a distance of less than a meter, shot him in the head.

In a speech on Monday evening, Iraqi President Barham Salih acknowledged that excessive force had been used against demonstrators but added that the authorities did not give any orders to use deadly force, and the killers are criminals.

“Targeting peaceful demonstrators and security forces with live bullets ... is unacceptable in Iraq, which we have accepted and pledged to be a democracy in which rights and freedoms are fostered,” he said.

“The government and the commanders of the security services assure us that there were no orders to shoot, and that these abuses, the excessive violence and the targeting (of demonstrators) with live bullets, were not (the result of) a decision by the state and its agencies. Consequently, the perpetrators are criminals and outlaws.”

Security chiefs said Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi ignored their recommendations not to use force against protesters as long as they did not pose a threat to citizens or the state, and to try to calm their anger. Rather than allow some time to find a peaceful solution, he ordered armed factions allied with the government to deal with the situation, security officials said.

The factions that took to the street are said to be the Badr Organization, the largest armed Shiite group, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, Sayyid Al-Shuhada Brigades and Saraya Al-Khorasani. Security leaders, politicians and activists said these groups played a pivotal role in cracking down on the demonstrations and the killing of demonstrators.

Iraqi authorities on Tuesday blocked internet access for an eighth consecutive day in an attempt to control the protests and prevent demonstrators from sharing videos and pictures that they hope will help gain more domestic and international support.

Most Iraqi and foreign journalists and activists who were reporting on or monitoring the protests left Baghdad over the past week after receiving warnings that warrants had been issued for the arrest of dozens of them under terrorism legislation, the punishment for which includes the death penalty or life imprisonment.

“We have nothing to do with any of these measures,” said a senior National Security Council official. “Everything related to the demonstrations is currently managed by the Popular Mobilization Security Directorate. Even the arrest warrants issued against journalists and activists, we have nothing to do with them. The situation gets worse day after day.”

The Popular Mobilization Forces is a governmental umbrella organization, established in June 2014, composed of pro-Iran Shiite armed factions and individuals who volunteered to fight Daesh alongside the Iraqi government. The Badr Organization, Assaib Ahl Al-Haq and several other factions form its backbone.

Abdul Mahdi on Sunday announced a package of policies he described as exceptional, including the creation of thousands of jobs, the construction of housing for poor families, loans for the unemployed, and the chance for thousands expelled from military service to return to their units and for volunteers to join the army. It coincided with large-scale arrests of protesters or anyone else involved in the demonstrations.

The protests in Baghdad have greatly diminished since Sunday. There are now only small groups concentrated in Sadr City, east of Baghdad, and the surrounding areas. However, they have been the deadliest in the city to date, with 57 killed and more than 1,000 wounded, 205 of whom are in a critical condition, security and medical sources said.

“What Abdul Mahdi and his allies have done to the protesters is particularly brutal,” a key organizer of the demonstrations told Arab News. “They may silence the demonstrations by force for now but we will soon return more strongly.

“Recent days have proven to us that we are alone and that all political forces have abandoned us, while others have traded us, so our next step is to resort to arms. They have left us no other choice.”


Drought-hit Jordan to build Red Sea desalination plant

Drought-hit Jordan to build Red Sea desalination plant
Updated 35 min 40 sec ago

Drought-hit Jordan to build Red Sea desalination plant

Drought-hit Jordan to build Red Sea desalination plant
  • The cost of the project is estimated at ‘around $1 billion’
  • Thirteen international consortiums have put in bids, and the government will chose five of them by July

AMMAN: Jordan said Sunday it plans to build a Red Sea desalination plant operating within five years, to provide the mostly-desert and drought-hit kingdom with critical drinking water.
The cost of the project is estimated at “around $1 billion,” ministry of water and irrigation spokesman Omar Salameh said, adding that the plant would be built in the Gulf of Aqaba, in southern Jordan.
The plant is expected to produce 250-300 million cubic meters of potable water per year, and should be ready for operation in 2025 or 2026, Salameh said.
“It will cover the need for drinking water (in Jordan) for the next two centuries,” he said, adding that the desalinated water would be piped from Aqaba on the Red Sea to the rest of the country.
Jordan is one of the world’s most water-deficient countries and experts say the country, home to 10 million people, is now in the grip of one of the most severe droughts in its history.
Thirteen international consortiums have put in bids, and the government will chose five of them by July, Salameh said.
Desalinating water is a major drain of energy, and the companies must suggest how to run the plant in Jordan, which does not have major oil reserves.
Last month Salameh said that Jordan needs about 1.3 billion cubic meters of water per year.
But the quantities available are around 850 to 900 million cubic meters, with the shortfall “due to low rainfall, global warming, population growth and successive refugee inflows,” he said.
This year, the reserves of key drinking water dams have reached critical levels, many now a third of their normal capacity.


Former Jordan royal court chief faces trial over destabilization plot

Former Jordan royal court chief faces trial over destabilization plot
Updated 13 June 2021

Former Jordan royal court chief faces trial over destabilization plot

Former Jordan royal court chief faces trial over destabilization plot

CAIRO: Jordan's military court will start the trial next week of former royal court chief Bassem Awadallah and Sherif Hassan Zaid Hussein on charges of agitating to destabilise the monarchy, state media said on Sunday.

Prosecutors last week referred to court the defendants case. They were arrested in early April over allegations they had liaised with foreign parties over a plot to destabilise Jordan. 


Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19

Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19
Updated 13 June 2021

Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19

Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19
  • For six months the UAE has been running one of the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns against COVID-19

DUBAI: About two-thirds of people eligible for inoculation against COVID-19 have now received two doses of the vaccine in Dubai, the tourist and business hub of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai Health Authority (DHA) said.
Dubai is the most populous of the seven emirates that make up the UAE and has one of the world’s busiest airports.
For six months the UAE has been running one of the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns against COVID-19, initially using a vaccine developed by the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) and then adding the Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca shots and Russia’s Sputnik V.
DHA deputy director general Alawi Alsheikh Ali told Dubai Television late on Saturday that 83 percent of people aged over 16 — or about 2.3 million people — had now received at least one dose of a vaccine and that 64 percent had received two doses in the emirate.
The UAE recently said nearly 85 percent of its total eligible population had received at least one dose of a vaccine, without saying how many people had had both doses.
The UAE, which does not break down the number of cases by emirate, has seen a rise in the number of infections in the past month. It recorded 2,281 new cases on Saturday, bringing the total so far to around 596,000 cases. Daily cases peaked at almost 4,000 a day in early February.
DHA said 90 percent of the COVID-19 patients admitted to intensive care units in Dubai hospitals were unvaccinated, without specifying when that statistic was recorded.


Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says

Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says
Updated 13 June 2021

Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says

Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says

ALGIERS: The results of an Algerian parliamentary election in which fewer than a third of voters took part will be announced within a few days, the head of the voting authority said late on Saturday.
The ruling establishment has tried to use elections along with a crackdown on dissent as a way to end two years of political unrest, with Algeria facing a looming economic crisis.
Supporters of the “Hirak” mass protest movement said it showed the system lacked legitimacy. Two prominent journalists, Khaled Drareni and Ihsane El Kadi, and the opposition figure Karim Tabbou, were detained last week but released on Saturday.
Politicians said the turnout of 30.2 percent, the lowest ever officially recorded for a parliamentary election in Algeria, was “acceptable.”
“The election took place in good conditions. Voters were able to vote and choose the most suitable candidates to serve Algeria,” said election authority head Mohamed Chorfi on television.
The protests erupted in 2019 and unseated veteran President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, continuing weekly until the global pandemic struck a year later. After a year-long pause they resumed in February but police mostly quashed them last month.
Many Algerians believe real power rests with the military and security establishments who have dominated politics for decades, rather than with elected politicians.
“We have grown accustomed in the past to high turnout due to fraud,” said Arslan Chikhaoui, an Algerian analyst, saying the authorities had manipulated the results of elections before the Hirak protests to suggest greater enthusiasm.
After Bouteflika was forced to step down, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune was elected with a turnout of 40 percent. Last year he held a referendum on an amended constitution that gained only 25 percent of votes.
The old parties that traditionally dominated have been tarred with corruption and abuse scandals, giving space to independents and moderate Islamist parties that hope to gain a majority of seats in the new parliament.
Those that win a lot of seats are likely to be included in the next government.
During parliament’s coming five-year term, Algeria is likely to face a fiscal and economic crunch, after burning through four fifths of foreign currency reserves since 2013.
The government has maintained expensive social programs and the state’s central role in the economy despite plummeting oil and gas sales.
Reforms to strengthen the private sector contributed to corruption that fueled the Hirak. Spending cuts could trigger a new wave of protests against the ruling establishment.
Laws passed by the outgoing parliament to encourage foreign and private investment and strengthen the energy sector have so far had little effect.


Lebanon stops Syrians attempting illegal sea crossing

Lebanon stops Syrians attempting illegal sea crossing
Updated 13 June 2021

Lebanon stops Syrians attempting illegal sea crossing

Lebanon stops Syrians attempting illegal sea crossing

BEIRUT: The Lebanese army on Sunday said it intercepted a small boat carrying 11 people, mostly Syrians, attempting an illegal sea crossing out of the crisis-hit country.
A statement said a naval force spotted the boat off the northern port city of Tripoli and that its passengers were all detained and referred for investigation, the army added.
The boat was carrying “10 people of Syrian nationality and a Lebanese national,” it said.
Their journey’s end was not specified but neighboring Cyprus, a member of the European Union, has been a popular sea smuggling destination in recent months.
In May, the Lebanese army intercepted a boat near Tripoli carrying 60 people, including 59 Syrians.
Lebanon, home to more than six million people, says it hosts more than a million Syrian refugees.
They have been hit hard by widening poverty rates and growing food insecurity brought on by the country’s economic crisis.
In a report released this month, the World Bank warned that Lebanon’s economic collapse is likely to rank among the world’s worst financial crises since the mid-19th century.