Iran’s Gen. Soleimani killed in airstrike at Baghdad airport

Iran’s Gen. Soleimani killed in airstrike at Baghdad airport
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Updated 07 January 2020

Iran’s Gen. Soleimani killed in airstrike at Baghdad airport

Iran’s Gen. Soleimani killed in airstrike at Baghdad airport
  • The strike also killed Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces
  • The Pentagon said the strike on Soleimani “was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans”

BAGHDAD: The United States killed Iran’s top general and the architect of Tehran’s proxy wars in the Middle East in an airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport Friday, an attack that threatens to dramatically ratchet up tensions in the region.
The targeted killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, could draw forceful Iranian retaliation against American interests in the region and spiral into a far larger conflict between the US and Iran, endangering US troops in Iraq, Syria and beyond.

Iranian State TV channel Iran Press broadcasts images showing burnt cars purportedly at the site of a US strike which killed Revolutionary Guards commander Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad:


The Defense Department said it killed Soleimani because he “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.” It also accused Soleimani of approving the attacks on the US Embassy in Baghdad earlier this week.
An adviser to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani quickly warned US President Donald Trump of retaliation from Tehran.
“Trump through his gamble has dragged the US into the most dangerous situation in the region,” Hessameddin Ashena wrote on the social media app Telegram. “Whoever put his foot beyond the red line should be ready to face its consequences.”
The airport strike also killed Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, and five others, including the PMF’s airport protocol officer, Mohammed Reda, Iraqi officials said.
Trump was vacationing on his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, but sent out a tweet of an American flag.

The dramatic attack comes at the start of a year in which Trump faces both a Senate trial following his impeachment by the US House and a re-election campaign. It marks a potential turning point in the Middle East and represents a drastic change for American policy toward Iran after months of tensions.
Tehran shot down a US military surveillance drone and seized oil tankers. The US also blames Iran for a series of attacks targeting tankers, as well as a September assault on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry that temporarily halved its production.
The tensions take root in Trump’s decision in May 2018 to withdraw the US from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, struck under his predecessor, Barack Obama.
Soleimani was the target of Friday’s US attack, which was conducted by an armed American drone, according to a US official. His vehicle was struck on an access road near the Baghdad airport.
A senior Iraqi security official said the airstrike took place near the cargo area after Soleimani left his plane to be greeted by Al-Muhandis and others. The official said the plane had arrived from either Lebanon or Syria.
Two officials from the PMF said Suleimani’s body was torn to pieces in the attack, while they did not find the body of Al-Muhandis. A senior politician said Soleimani’s body was identified by the ring he wore.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject and because they were not authorized to give official statements.
It’s unclear what legal authority the US relied on to carry out the attack. American presidents claim broad authority to act without congressional approval when US personnel or interests are facing an imminent threat. The Pentagon did not provide evidence to back up its assertion that Soleimani was planning new attacks against Americans.
Democratic Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Trump owes a full explanation to Congress and the American people. “The present authorizations for use of military force in no way cover starting a possible new war. This step could bring the most consequential military confrontation in decades,” Blumenthal said.
But Trump allies were quick to praise the action. “To the Iranian government: if you want more, you will get more,” tweeted South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

For Iran, the killing represents more than just the loss of a battlefield commander, but also a cultural icon who represented national pride and resilience while facing US sanctions. While careful to avoid involving himself in politics, Soleimani’s profile rose sharply as US and Israeli officials blamed him for Iranian proxy attacks abroad.
While Iran’s conventional military has suffered under 40 years of American sanctions, the Guard has built up a ballistic missile program. It also can strike asymmetrically in the region through forces like Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels. The US long has blamed Iran for car bombings and kidnappings it never claimed.

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As the head of the Quds, or Jersualem, Force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, Soleimani led all of its expeditionary forces and frequently shuttled between Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. Quds Force members have deployed into Syria’s long war to support President Bashar Assad, as well as into Iraq in the wake of the 2003 US invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, a longtime foe of Tehran.
Soleimani rose to prominence by advising forces fighting the Daesh group in Iraq and in Syria on behalf of the embattled Assad.
US officials say the Guard under Soleimani taught Iraqi militants how to manufacture and use especially deadly roadside bombs against US troops after the invasion of Iraq. Iran has denied that. Soleimani himself remains popular among many Iranians, who see him as a selfless hero fighting Iran’s enemies abroad.
Soleimani had been rumored dead several times, including in a 2006 airplane crash that killed other military officials in northwestern Iran and following a 2012 bombing in Damascus that killed top aides of Assad. Rumors circulated in November 2015 that Soleimani was killed or seriously wounded leading forces loyal to Assad as they fought around Syria’s Aleppo.
Soleimani’s killing follows the New Year’s Eve attack by Iran-backed militias on the US Embassy in Baghdad. The two-day embassy attack, which ended Wednesday, prompted Trump to order about 750 US soldiers deployed to the Middle East.
It also prompted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to postpone his trip to Ukraine and four other countries “to continue monitoring the ongoing situation in Iraq and ensure the safety and security of Americans in the Middle East,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Wednesday.
The breach at the embassy followed US airstrikes Sunday that killed 25 fighters of the Iran-backed militia in Iraq, the Kataeb Hezbollah. The US military said the strikes were in retaliation for last week’s killing of an American contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base that the US blamed on the militia.
US officials have suggested they were prepared to engage in further retaliatory attacks in Iraq.
“The game has changed,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Thursday, telling reporters that violent acts by Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq — including the Dec. 27 rocket attack that killed one American — will be met with US military force.

 


Policeman killed, 7 wounded in Houthi drone attack in Yemen’s Taiz

Policeman killed, 7 wounded in Houthi drone attack in Yemen’s Taiz
Updated 07 March 2021

Policeman killed, 7 wounded in Houthi drone attack in Yemen’s Taiz

Policeman killed, 7 wounded in Houthi drone attack in Yemen’s Taiz
  • Two of the seven injured people are in critical condition
  • Al-Eryani said the militia will not stop its practices unless it becomes under military and political pressure

DUBAI: One policeman was killed and seven others were wounded in a Houthi drone attack targeting a police station in Yemen’s Taiz province, state news agency Saba News reported.
Two of the seven injured people are in critical condition, the report said.
Meanwhile, Yemen’s Information Minister Muammar Al-Eryani said the Iranian-backed Houthi militia will not stop its practices unless it becomes under military and political pressure.
“The Houthi militia won’t yield to the calls for de-escalation and engage in peacebuilding based on the three references unless they come under military and political pressure, something which the international community should understand,” Al-Eryani said.
He further said that even during negotiations, the Houthis did not show willingness to reach a peaceful solution to end the conflict in the country.
“Their engagement was a mere maneuver to take a break and then regroup and recruit and brainwash more fighters,” he added.
Al-Eryani urged the international community and the United Nations to avoid wasting more time and efforts in convincing the militia to reach peace, as the country’s people are suffering due to their military escalations.
The country’s civil war kicked off in 2014 when Houthis seized the capital, leading the internationally recognized government to flee to neighboring Saudi Arabia.


Oman café stops serving beverages in baby bottles, UAE’s Ajman shutters shop for violating COVID-19 measures

Oman café stops serving beverages in baby bottles, UAE’s Ajman shutters shop for violating COVID-19 measures
Updated 07 March 2021

Oman café stops serving beverages in baby bottles, UAE’s Ajman shutters shop for violating COVID-19 measures

Oman café stops serving beverages in baby bottles, UAE’s Ajman shutters shop for violating COVID-19 measures
  • This practice has received condemnation from people in Oman who called for legal measures against the cafe
  • Ajman emirate in the UAE has shut down a retail outlet and imposed a fine of $1,361 for violating COVID-19 measures

DUBAI: A cafe in Oman’s Al-Buraimi province has suspended serving coffee to customers in baby bottles to prevent the spread of this phenomenon in the Sultanate, local daily Times of Oman reported.
News and pictures of this practice has been spreading over social media, where some cafes across the Gulf region served beverages in baby bottles.
This practice has received condemnation from people in Oman who called for legal measures against the cafe to prevent the spread of this phenomenon from the country.
Dubai authorities on Saturday also banned local cafes from serving drinks in baby bottles to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Dubai Economy said in a tweet.
Meanwhile, Ajman emirate in the UAE has shut down a retail outlet and imposed a fine of $1,361 for violating COVID-19 measures, state news agency WAM reported.
The Emergency, Crisis, and Disaster Management team coordinated with Ajman Police and the Department of Economic Development to close the shop which was overcrowded by customers who failed to maintain social distancing.


LIVE: Pope Francis visits Irbil, Mosul on third day of Iraq apostolic tour

LIVE: Pope Francis visits Irbil, Mosul on third day of Iraq apostolic tour
Updated 2 min 48 sec ago

LIVE: Pope Francis visits Irbil, Mosul on third day of Iraq apostolic tour

LIVE: Pope Francis visits Irbil, Mosul on third day of Iraq apostolic tour
  • Pope Francis spent much of Saturday in the air, touching down in three Iraq cities

DUBAI:  Pope Francis spent much of Saturday in the air, touching down in three cities during the second day of his apostolic visit in Iraqi.

He left Baghdad early for Najaf, where he had a historic meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, one of the leading figures in Shiite Islam.

The meeting marked a landmark moment in modern religious history and in terms of Pope Francis’s efforts to deepen interfaith dialogue.

Pope Francis then returned to the sky to head to Nassiriya, where he traveled by car to Ur – traditional birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, a central figure in the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths – where he made an impassioned plea for ‘unity’ after conflict in a gathering Iraq’s religious communities.

He then flew back to Baghdad, and after a brief rest celebrated the Holy Mass at the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph.

Follow live coverage of his third day itinerary below (All times GMT)

Pope Francis arrives at the Immaculate Conception Church to a warm welcome. (AP)

0928: Pope Francis receives a rousing welcome as he arrives at the Immaculate Conception Church.

Pope Francis greets faithful as he arrives to hold a mass at the Immaculate Conception Church. (Iraqiya TV/Reuters TV via Reuters)

0910: Pope Francis arrives in Qaraqosh is enroute to the Immaculate Conception Church.

WATCH: Residents of the Iraqi Christian enclave of Qaraqosh wait for the arrival of Pope Francis. Click on Twitter link below.

READ: Pope Francis’ visit provides moral support to Christians of Iraq’s Qaraqosh

People arrive to attend a mass to be held by Pope Francis near the Grand Immaculate Church in Qaraqosh, northern Iraq. (Reuters)

0804: Pope Francis has left Mosul and is off to the small Christian village of Qaraqosh north of Iraq to visit the Immaculate Conception church.

Iraqi Catholics wait for Pope Francis inside the restored Immaculate Conception church. (Screengrab)

0733: Pope Francis prays for “victims of war” outside a centuries-old church in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, heavily damaged by the Daesh group.
The 84-year-old pontiff said the exodus of Christians from Iraq and the broader Middle East “does incalculable harm not just to the individuals and communities concerned, but also to the society they leave behind.”
“How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow, with ancient places of worship destroyed and many thousands of people – Muslims, Christians, Yazidis — who were cruelly annihilated by terrorism — and others forcibly displaced or killed,” Francis said.
The Rev. Raed Kallo, the only priest in Iraq’s second largest city, shared his story among the crowd and before the pontiff. He fled along with most of his congregation of 500 Christian families when Daesh overran the city in June 2014.

Pope Francis releases a white dove during a prayer for war victims in Mosul. (Reuters)


But he said he returned three years ago, after the extremists were defeated by Iraqi and international forces in a grueling campaign that left much of the city in ruins. He said: “My Muslim brothers received me after the liberation of the city with great hospitality and love.”
But he said only around 70 Christian families reside in Mosul today. The rest are afraid to return and many have emigrated abroad.
Also addressing the crowd was Gutayba Aagha, a Muslim and the head of the Independent Social and Cultural Council for the Families of Mosul. In words welcomed by Francis, he said: “In the name of the council I invite all our Christian brothers to return to this, their city, their properties, and their businesses.”

Pope Francis prays for war victims at Hosh Al-Bieaa (Church Square) in Mosul. (Reuters)

0709: Pope Francis is now at the Hosh Al-Bieaa (Church Square) in Mosul, where he will lead a prayer of suffrage for the victims of the war.

Pope Francis arrives at the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (Al-Tahira-l-Kubra) in Mosul. (AFP)

0655: Pope Francis arrives via helicopter in Mosul, once a stronghold for Daesh and where Christians now number little more than a few dozen families.

MOSUL WAITS FOR POPE FRANCIS

Iraqi children dressed in costumes wave national flags near the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (Al-Tahira-l-Kubra) in Mosul on March 7, 2021. (AFP)
Iraqis gather in the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (Al-Tahira-l-Kubra) in the northern city of Mosul ahead of the Pope Francis’ visit on March 7, 2021. (AFP)

WATCH: Preparations at Hosh Al-Bieaa (Church Square) in Mosul, where Pope Francis will lead a prayer of suffrage for the victims of the war. Click on Twitter link below.

0523: Pope Francis arrives in Irbil, and is welcomed by Prime Minister Mansour Barzani of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan and other civil authorities of the region.

READ: Pope Francis’ visit brings Iraqi Kurdistan’s safe-haven status into sharp focus

Pope Francis gets a warm welcome from Iraqis dressed in traditional outfits upon his arrival at Irbil airport on March 7, 2021. (AFP)

 


Pope Francis visits Iraqi Christians who suffered under Daesh

Pope Francis visits Iraqi Christians who suffered under Daesh
Updated 07 March 2021

Pope Francis visits Iraqi Christians who suffered under Daesh

Pope Francis visits Iraqi Christians who suffered under Daesh
  • Under tight security, he will lead a prayer “for the victims of the war” in Mosul
  • He will also visit Qaraqosh, further east in the Nineveh Plain, which is one of Iraq’s oldest Christian towns

BAGHDAD: Pope Francis, on his historic Iraq tour, visits on Sunday Christian communities that endured the brutality of the Daesh group until the jihadists’ “caliphate” was defeated three years ago.
The 84-year-old, traveling under tight security, will lead a prayer “for the victims of the war” in Mosul, an ancient crossroads whose center was reduced to rubble by fierce fighting to oust the Daesh, or also known as ISIL.
“We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion,” Francis said at an interfaith service Saturday, one of the many stops on the first-ever papal visit to the war-scarred country.
Pope Francis’ trip to Iraq as a “pilgrim of peace” aims to reassure the country’s ancient, but dwindling, Christian community and to expand his dialogue with other religions.
The leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics on Saturday met Iraq’s top Shiite Muslim cleric, the reclusive Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who agreed that Iraq’s Christians should be able to live in “peace.”
“We all hope that this visit will be a good omen for the Iraqi people,” Adnane Youssef, a Christian from northern Iraq, told AFP. “We hope that it will lead to better days.”
The Christian community of Iraq, a Muslim-majority country of 40 million, has shrunk from 1.5 million before the 2003 US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein to only 400,000 now, about one percent of the population.
“This very important visit will boost our morale after years of difficulties, problems and wars,” said an Iraqi Christian leader, Father George Jahoula.
Back in 2014, when IS militants swept across one third of Iraq, Pope Francis had said he was ready to come to meet the displaced and other victims of war.
Seven years later, after a stop early Sunday in the Kurdish north of Iraq, he will see for himself the devastated Old City of Mosul and efforts to rebuild it.
Pope Francis will also visit Qaraqosh, further east in the Nineveh Plain, which is one of Iraq’s oldest Christian towns.
It was largely destroyed in 2014 when IS rampaged through the area, but its residents have trickled back since 2017 and slowly worked at rebuilding their hometown.
To honor the pope, local artisans have woven a two-meter (6.5-foot) prayer shawl, or stole, with the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” prayers carefully hand-stitched in golden thread in Syriac, a dialect of the language spoken by Jesus Christ that is still used in Qaraqosh.
Security will be extra-tight in the north of Iraq, where state forces are still hunting IS remnants and sleeper cells.
Many thousands of troops and police have been deployed as the pope has criss-crossed the country, taking planes, helicopters and armored convoys to cover more than 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) in-country.
The other major challenge is the Covid-19 pandemic, as Iraq has recently been in the grip of a second wave, with a record of more than 5,000 cases in a day.
Iraqi authorities have imposed lockdown measures to control crowds, but thousands of faithful are expected to flock to a stadium later Sunday in the northern city of Irbil to hear the pope.
Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s oil-rich northern Kurdish region, has been a relative haven of stability and a place of refuge for many Christians who fled IS.
Several thousand seats in the Franso Hariri stadium will be left empty to avoid creating a super-spreader event when Iraqis come to hear the Catholic leader, known here as “Baba Al-Vatican,” deliver the holy mass.


Lebanon summons Iranian ambassador over media report on Maronite leader

Lebanon summons Iranian ambassador over media report on Maronite leader
Lebanon's Cardinal Mar Bechara Boutros al-Rahi greets supporters ahead of a speech on February 27, 2021 at the Maronite Patriarchate in the mountain village of Bkerki, northeast of Beirut. (AFP)
Updated 07 March 2021

Lebanon summons Iranian ambassador over media report on Maronite leader

Lebanon summons Iranian ambassador over media report on Maronite leader
  • Hezbollah ally the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) on Saturday issued a “categorical rejection” of the media report, saying it constituted “an assault” on the position of the patriarch

BEIRUT: Lebanon has summoned the Iranian ambassador over a media report on the country’s Maronite leader.
Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi was the focus of a report on the Iranian Al-Alam News Network website that accused him of supporting normalization with Israel.
Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe said on Saturday that Ambassador Ghazanfar Roknabadi had been summoned for a meeting on Monday.
The minister said the conversation with the ambassador would be “frank and sincere, based on the existing friendship between the two countries.”
An apology from the Iranian side had reached the patriarch, he added, and Lebanon’s ambassador to Tehran had been asked to provide details of what was reported by Al-Alam. “He informed me of an apology and condemnation issued by the Iranian government,” the minister said.
Earlier this month at a rally in Bkerke, north of Beirut, the cleric had called for a UN-sponsored international conference to deal with Lebanon’s economic collapse and political stalemate.
He urged neutrality so that the country would no longer be the victim of regional conflicts. But his comments drew anger from Hezbollah, as well as the critical report on the Al-Alam website.
The report said that Al-Rahi was “plotting today against the weaponry of the resistance and describes it as a militia loyal to Iran. He claims to be prudent and objective and talks about neutrality in the war for existence with global Zionism. We will definitely see him tomorrow in the arms of Israel.”
The patriarchate condemned the “insulting” report and said that, since it was issued by a foreign media organization, it was considered as “interference” in Lebanon’s internal and national affairs as well as interference in the church’s affairs.

FASTFACT

Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi’s call for neutrality embarrassed the Free Patriotic Movement, whose supporters did not participate in the Bkerke rally.

It demanded the channel “back off and apologize” so that it did not cause internal and external unfortunate repercussions, especially since Al-Rahi’s words were clear.
“The TV channel is trying to fabricate a headline to mobilize people against Bkerke, which called a spade a spade, put the finger on the wound and spoke about the situation of all the Lebanese, without exception,” it added.
The Maronite League in Lebanon, headed by former MP Naamatallah Abi Nasr, denounced the report’s accusations about Al-Rahi and said it retained the right to “resort to the competent judiciary.”
It called on the Foreign Ministry to summon the ambassador and inform him of Lebanon’s rejection of such attitudes.
Hezbollah ally the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) on Saturday issued a “categorical rejection” of the media report, saying it constituted “an assault” on the position of the patriarch.
Al-Rahi’s call for neutrality embarrassed the FPM, whose supporters did not participate in the Bkerke rally.
After a meeting of its political council on Saturday, the FPM said that Bkerke “was and still is a beacon for open thought and an edifice of convergence.”
“Patriarch Al-Rahi has always advocated adherence to the roots of this East, and solidarity with all its components in the face of the dangers and enemies that lie in wait. It has never been a conduit for plotting against its people.”