Talks in Baghdad as violence hits Iraq’s shrine cities

Students take part in a march to mourn protesters killed in anti-government rallies in the southern Iraqi city of Basra on December 1, 2019. (File/AFP)
Updated 03 December 2019

Talks in Baghdad as violence hits Iraq’s shrine cities

  • Najaf has been a flashpoint since protesters torched the Iranian consulate in the city last Wednesday
  • In the shrine city of Karbala, renewed street clashes between protesters and security forces raged late into the night

NAJAF: Iraq’s politicians gathered in Baghdad on Tuesday to discuss a way out of two months of protests that brought down the previous government, as violence hit two Shiite shrine cities.
In Najaf, seat of Iraq’s Shiite religious leadership, anti-government demonstrators gathered late into the night around the tomb of a cleric who founded a Shiite party, an AFP correspondent reported.
Armed men in civilian clothes who were guarding the tomb were seen firing shotguns and tear gas at protesters, but medics could not provide an immediate casualty toll.
It is part of a larger complex that has been surrounded for days by demonstrators denouncing the rule of an entrenched political elite.
Najaf has been a flashpoint since protesters torched the Iranian consulate in the city last Wednesday, accusing Iraq’s eastern neighbor of propping up a corrupt government in Baghdad.
Around two dozen protesters have died since, and the governor has called on the central government to put an end to the violence.
Influential tribal dignitaries have also tried to mediate and on Tuesday they called on populist cleric Moqtada Sadr and his Saraya Al-Salam (Peace Brigades) to intervene, according to a statement by Sadr’s office.
He has yet to respond.
Sadr was a key sponsor of outgoing prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi after having won the lion’s share of seats in parliament in a May 2018 general election.
But he backed the protests early on and instructed his fighters to “protect” demonstrators from security forces.
In the shrine city of Karbala, renewed street clashes between protesters and security forces raged late into the night, an AFP correspondent reported.
Riot police fired live rounds and tear gas at the crowds.
Protests also continued in other parts of the south against the central government and Iran, whose pointman for Iraqi affairs Qasem Soleimani is in Iraq for talks.
Political factions were meeting on Tuesday to find a replacement for Abdel Mahdi and to hash out a new electoral law to oversee a snap general election.
The protesters, who have thronged the streets since early October, say they want more than just a premier and new elections.
They have also called for a new constitution and the abolition of the parties that have dominated Iraqi politics for more than a decade.


Russian envoy seeks to break ‘suffocating’ Beirut deadlock

Updated 30 September 2020

Russian envoy seeks to break ‘suffocating’ Beirut deadlock

  • Moscow move comes after Iran-backed factions block Macron reforms

BEIRUT: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov will visit Lebanon to discuss support for the crisis-hit country following the failure of French efforts to form an independent Lebanese government.

Bogdanov, the Russian president’s special envoy for the Middle East and North Africa, told Lebanese Democratic Party (LDP) leader Talal Arslan on Tuesday that “efforts and dialogue are needed to reach a solution that gets Lebanon out of the suffocating crisis it is going through.” 

In a meeting in Moscow on Monday, Bogdanov told Lebanese Ambassador Shawki Bou Nassar that he will visit Beirut in late October for talks with senior officials. 

It will be the first visit by a Russian official since the Beirut port blast on Aug. 4 devastated large areas of the capital and plunged the country into political turmoil.

The Russian move follows the failure of French President Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to form an independent Lebanese government and introduce reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help the country avoid a financial and economic meltdown.

Last Sunday, Macron gave Lebanese officials a six-week deadline to form a new government, accusing Lebanese leaders of betraying their pledges to him during a high-profile visit to Beirut in early September.

The accusations were directed at the Iran-backed Hezbollah and Amal Movement factions over obstruction of Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib’s plans for a new government.

Both factions were widely criticized in the wake of Adib’s resignation on Saturday and accused of sabotaging the French initiative.

On Monday, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said that Tehran rejected claims of “external interference in Lebanon’s affairs.”

Amal Movement said that Macron’s accusations, as well as attempts to blame Amal Movement and Hezbollah, “are far from the facts and the realities of discussions with the prime Minister-designate.”

The political faction said that its leader, Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, “is at the forefront of those keen to preserve Lebanon’s stability and the unity of its people.”

Berri’s political aide, former minister Ali Hassan Khalil, has been been hit by US sanctions on a string of charges, including corruption.

Zafer Nasser, secretary-general of the Progressive Socialist Party, told Arab News that the objectives of Bogdanov’s visit remain unclear and Lebanon must continue to support Macron’s efforts.

“The French initiative is our last chance and we must hold on to it,” he said.

With Lebanon’s central bank expected to begin reducing subsidies for the import of hydrocarbons in coming weeks, gas stations around the country experienced shortages on Tuesday due to delays in imports.

According to a representative of the Gas Station Owners Syndicate, George Brax, a partial reduction of subsidies will raise the price of a can of gasoline to between 37,000 and 40,000 Lebanese pounds, while with a total reduction, it will reach between 65,000 and 70,000 Lebanese pounds.

“If the dollar exchange rate continues to rise, the price of a can of gasoline may reach 85,000 Lebanese pounds,” he said.