Iraqis ‘dancing in the street’ after Soleimani death: Pompeo

Iraqis ‘dancing in the street’ after Soleimani death: Pompeo
President Donald Trump ordered the killing of the Iran Revolutionary Guards commander Qasem Soleimani. (AFP)
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Updated 05 January 2020

Iraqis ‘dancing in the street’ after Soleimani death: Pompeo

Iraqis ‘dancing in the street’ after Soleimani death: Pompeo
  • Trump said Soleimani should have been killed “many years ago”
  • US said Iranian commander was planning imminent action that threatened American citizens when he was killed in the US strike

WASHINGTON: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo posted a video on Twitter Thursday he said showed Iraqis “dancing in the street” after the United States killed top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani.

“Iraqis — Iraqis — dancing in the street for freedom; thankful that General Soleimani is no more,” Pompeo wrote, alongside footage of scores of people running along a road and waving what appeared to be Iraqi flags and other banners.

President Donald Trump ordered the killing of the Iran Revolutionary Guards commander, who died Friday “in a decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad,” the Pentagon said.

President Donald Trump said Friday that Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani should have been killed long before.
In his first substantial comments on the operation, carried out earlier Friday at Baghdad's international airport, Trump tweeted that Soleimani "should have been taken out many years ago!"
Soleimani "has killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time, and was plotting to kill many more...but got caught!" Trump said.

White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said Friday that any Iranian retaliation in response to the US killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani would be a “very poor decision.”

O’Brien, briefing reporters on the US operation in a conference call, said Soleimani was struck while traveling around the Middle East planning attacks against American military personnel and diplomats in the region.

Iran told the United Nations Security Council and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday that it reserves its right to self-defense under international law after the USattack on  Soleimani.

Iranian U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi wrote in a letter that the killing of Soleimani "by any measure, is an obvious example of State terrorism and, as a criminal act, constitutes a gross violation of the fundamental principles of international law, including, in particular, those stipulated in the Charter of the United Nations."

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

READ MORE:  OPINION: Qassem Soleimani’s death is a severe blow to Iran’s leadership — Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

READ MORE: How Iran’s Qassem Soleimani destabilized the Middle East

The US Department of Defense said in a statement: “General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”

“General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.”

Pompeo did not provide a source for the video or offer any details about where the images were filmed.

The strike at Baghdad’s international airport also killed the deputy chief of Iraq’s powerful Hashed Al-Shaabi paramilitary force.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani was planning imminent action that threatened American citizens when he was killed in the US strike.

"He was actively plotting in the region to take actions - a big action, as he described it - that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk," Pompeo told CNN.

"We know it was imminent," Pompeo said of Soleimani's plot, without going into detail about the nature of the planned operation.

"These were threats that were located in the region," Pompeo added. "Last night was the time that we needed to strike to make sure that this imminent attack ... was disrupted."

"This was an intelligence-based assessment that drove our decision-making process," Pompeo added.

Pompeo said the United States remains committed to de-escalation with Iran but will defend itself. He added that the United States has fortified its assets in the region and is prepared for any possible retaliation, including a cyberattack.

Hours after news of the attack, the US embassy in Baghdad urged American citizens in Iraq on Friday to "depart immediately", for fear of fallout from a US strike that killed top Iranian and Iraqi commanders.

"US citizens should depart via airline while possible, and failing that, to other countries via land," the embassy said in a statement.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is deeply concerned by the recent rise in tensions in the Middle East, where the United States killed top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani following violent protests at its embassy in Baghdad.
"The Secretary-General has consistently advocated for de-escalation in the Gulf. He is deeply concerned with the recent escalation," said his spokesman, Farhan Haq, in a statement. "This is a moment in which leaders must exercise maximum restraint. The world cannot afford another war in the Gulf."

The US strike hit outside Baghdad airport early Friday but security sources told AFP it was still open to flights.

A pro-Iran mob this week laid siege to the US embassy following deadly American airstrikes on a hard-line Hashed faction.

The US had called the strikes in response to a rocket attack days earlier that killed an American contractor working in Iraq.

The Pentagon said Soleimani had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the past months, including on December 27, the day the contractor was killed.

“General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the US Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week,” it said.

Republican lawmakers quickly spoke out Thursday in strong support of Trump's attack that killed Soleimani.

“In a display of resolve and strength, we struck the leader of those attacking our sovereign US territories,” top House Republican Kevin McCarthy said in a statement.

The sentiment was swiftly echoed by his fellow Republicans.

“Wow - the price of killing and injuring Americans has just gone up drastically,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a close confidant of Trump, wrote on Twitter.

Former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley also praised the attack.

“Qassem Soleimani was an arch terrorist with American blood on his hands,” Haley said on Twitter. “his demise should be applauded by all who seek peace and justice. “proud of president trump for doing the strong and right thing.”

Trump's former advisor John Bolton always praised the killing of Soleimani and "congratulated" those involved.

The high praise from the right stood in stark contrast to reaction from Democrats, who severely criticized Trump's latest move in a sign of Washington's polarization ahead of this year's presidential elections.

“President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox,” said former vice president Joe Biden, who leads the pack of Democratic contenders, in a statement.

“Iran will surely respond. We could be on the brink of a major conflict across the Middle East,” Biden said.

US entrepreneur and Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang wrote on Twitter that “war with Iran is the last thing we need and is not the will of the American people.

“We should be acting to deescalate tensions and protect our people in the region.”

Democratic Vermont senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said “Trump's dangerous escalation brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East that could cost countless lives and trillions more dollars.”

It was already a topic trending in US-based think tank and diplomatic circles late Thursday.

“Make no mistake: any war with Iran will not look like the 1990 Gulf war or the 2003 Iraq war,” Richard Haass, president of the US-based Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on Twitter.

“The region (and possibly the world) will be the battlefield,” he wrote.

Bahrain said on Friday it is following the developments in Iraq and called for de-escalation after the US air strike, according to state news agency BNA. 

Egypt's Foreign Ministry said on Friday it was following developments in Iraq with "great concern" and appealed against any further escalation.

"The Foreign Ministry is following with great concern accelerating developments in Iraq, which augur an escalation it is important to avoid," the statement said.

"For this reason, Egypt calls for containing the situation and avoiding any escalation."

Yemen’s government on Friday said it considered the killing of top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani an important step to end conflict in the region.

The comment was posted on Twitter by Muammar Al-Iryani, Information Minister of the internationally-recognised government, after the United States carried out an air strike in Iraq that killed Soleimani, architect of Iran’s military influence in the Middle East.

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In response to the attack, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that a “harsh retaliation is waiting” for the US after the airstrike, calling Soleimani the “international face of resistance.” Khamenei declared three days of public mourning for the general’s death.

Iran also summoned the Swiss charges d'affaires, who represents US interests in Tehran, to protest the killing.

Iranian state television called Trump’s order to kill Soleimani “the biggest miscalculation by the US” since World War II. “The people of the region will no longer allow Americans to stay," it said.

Iranian-backed Houthi militia, who control Yemen's capital Sanaa, also called for "swift reprisals" for the killing of Soleimani.

"We condemn this killing and direct and swift reprisals are the answer," senior Houthi official Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi tweeted.

The US air strike in Baghdad which killed Iranian Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani will increase insecurity and instability in the region, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

In a written statement, the ministry said that it was deeply concerned by the rising tensions between the United States and Iran, and that turning Iraq into an area of conflict will harm peace and stability in the region.

Lebanon's foreign ministry on Friday called for the country and wider region to be spared any repercussions from the US air strike that killed the commander of Iran's elite Quds Force.
The ministry also condemned the killing, calling it a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and a dangerous escalation against Iran.

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on Friday sung the praise of slain Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, who played a key role in saving his regime in the nearly nine-year-old Syrian conflict.
The Syrian people "will not forget that he stuck by the side of the Syrian Arab army", Assad said in a letter of condolences sent to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Meanwhile, France’s embassy in Tehran on Friday urged its citizens in Iran to stay away from public gatherings after the killing of Soleimani.

“Three days of mourning have been declared after the death of General Soleimani. In this context, we recommend French citizens to stay away from any gatherings and to behave with prudence and discretion and abstain from taking pictures in public spaces,” it said in a statement on Twitter.

Royal Jordanian Airlines said on Friday it suspended flights to Baghdad's international airport until further notice due to the security situation.
The state carrier, which has eighteen scheduled flights every week to Baghdad, said its flights to other Iraqi cities were not affected and operating normally. 


Iraq records 12,000 COVID-19 infections in new daily high

Iraq records 12,000 COVID-19 infections in new daily high
Updated 56 min 26 sec ago

Iraq records 12,000 COVID-19 infections in new daily high

Iraq records 12,000 COVID-19 infections in new daily high
  • Much of the 40-million-strong population remains skeptical of vaccines
  • More than 1.5 million people have now tested positive and 18,347 have officially died of Covid-19 in Iraq

BAGHDAD: Iraq has recorded 12,180 Covid infections over the past 24 hours, the health ministry said on Monday, the highest number detected in a single day so far in the pandemic.
More than 1.5 million people have now tested positive and 18,347 have officially died of Covid-19 in Iraq, where the health infrastructure is dilapidated.
Much of the 40-million-strong population remains skeptical of vaccines, with only 1.3 million having been inoculated, the health ministry says.
It is not clear how many of those have received two jabs.
Monday’s record “unfortunately, does not surprise us because of a lack of respect for mandatory hygiene measures such as a ban on gatherings and mask wearing,” ministry spokesman Saif Al-Badr said.
“This increase is probably due to the large number of gatherings during the Eid” Al-Adha festival marking the end of the annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage, he said.
The authorities have struggled to persuade people to get vaccinated and to abide by measures such as wearing face masks in public.
Earlier this month, Sarmad Al-Qarlousi, who heads Baghdad’s Al-Kindi Hospital, warned that unless more people get jabbed, Iraq will spiral toward “an epidemiological catastrophe.”
The ministry spokesman has blamed a reluctance to get inoculated on a “misinformation campaign which preceded the arrival of the vaccine.”
On Monday Badr renewed his appeal to Iraqis to get vaccinated, saying the spike in infections is putting pressure on the country’s fragile health infrastructure.
Two huge fires at Covid-19 hospital wards in April and in mid-July killed more than 120 people, sparking anger and defiance among Iraqis who blame corruption for the failing health system.


UAE reports 1,549 new COVID-19 cases, 7 deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,549 new COVID-19 cases, 7 deaths in last 24 hours
Updated 26 July 2021

UAE reports 1,549 new COVID-19 cases, 7 deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,549 new COVID-19 cases, 7 deaths in last 24 hours
  • 1,510 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing patient recoveries to 650,683

DUBAI: The UAE on Monday reported 1,549 new COVID-19 cases and seven deaths overnight, bringing the total number of recorded cases to 673,185 with 1,927 fatalities related to the highly contagious disease.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention also said that 1,510 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing patient recoveries to 650,683.

An 232,389 additional COVID-19 tests were also over the past 24 hours, the ministry added in a statement published by state news agency WAM.

The UAE’s aggressive vaccination drive has resulted into a 77.85 percent of the population receiving a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 68.75 percent have been fully vaccinated.

The total number of doses provided stands at 16,495,917 with a rate of vaccine distribution of 166.79 doses per 100 people, the ministry reported.


Biden, Iraqi PM to announce end of US combat mission in Iraq

Biden, Iraqi PM to announce end of US combat mission in Iraq
Updated 26 July 2021

Biden, Iraqi PM to announce end of US combat mission in Iraq

Biden, Iraqi PM to announce end of US combat mission in Iraq
  • Plan to shift the American military mission will be spelled out in a broader
  • The Daesh is a shell of its former self since it was largely routed on the battlefield in 2017

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi are expected to announce on Monday that they’ve come to an agreement to end the US military’s combat mission in Iraq by the end of the year, according to a senior Biden administration official.
The plan to shift the American military mission, whose stated purpose is to help Iraq defeat the Daesh group, to a strictly advisory and training role by year’s end — with no US troops in a combat role — will be spelled out in a broader communique to be issued by the two leaders following their White House meeting on Monday afternoon, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the yet to be announced plan.
The official said the Iraqi security forces are “battle tested” and have proved themselves “capable” of protecting their country. Still, the Biden administration recognizes that Daesh remains a considerable threat, the official said.
Indeed, the Daesh terror organization is a shell of its former self since it was largely routed on the battlefield in 2017. Still, it has shown it can still carry out high-casualty attacks. Last week, the group claimed responsibility for a roadside bombing that killed at least 30 people and wounded dozens in a busy suburban Baghdad market.
The US and Iraq agreed in April that the US transition to a train-and-advise mission meant the US combat role would end, but they didn’t settle on a timetable for completing that transition. The announcement comes less than three months before parliamentary elections slated for Oct. 10.
Al-Kadhimi faces no shortage of problems. Iranian-backed militias operating inside Iraq have stepped up attacks against US forces in recent months, and a series of devastating hospital fires that left dozens of people dead and soaring coronavirus infections have added fresh layers of frustration for the nation.
For Al-Kadhimi, the ability to offer the Iraqi public a date for the end of the US combat presence could be a feather in his cap ahead of the election.
Biden administration officials say Al-Kadhimi also deserves credit for improving Iraq’s standing in the Mideast.
Last month, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi visited Baghdad for joint meetings — the first time an Egyptian president has made an official visit since the 1990s, when ties were severed after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
In March, Pope Francis made a historic visit to Iraq, praying among ruined churches in Mosul, a former IS stronghold, and meeting with the influential Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani in the holy city of Najaf.
The US and Iraq have been widely expected to use the face-to-face meeting to announce plans for the end of the combat mission, and Al-Kadhimi before his trip to Washington made clear that he believes it’s time for the US to wind down the combat mission.
“There is no need for any foreign combat forces on Iraqi soil,” Al-Kadhimi said.
The US troop presence has stood at about 2,500 since late last year when former President Donald Trump ordered a reduction from 3,000.
The announcement to end the US combat mission in Iraq comes as the US is in the final stages of ending its war in Afghanistan, nearly 20 years after President George W. Bush launched the war in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
The US mission of training and advising Iraqi forces has its most recent origins in former President Barack Obama’s decision in 2014 to send troops back to Iraq. The move was made in response to the Daesh group’s takeover of large portions of western and northern Iraq and a collapse of Iraqi security forces that appeared to threaten Baghdad. Obama had fully withdrawn US forces from Iraq in 2011, eight years after the US invasion.
The distinction between combat troops and those involved in training and advising can be blurry, given that the US troops are under threat of attack. But it is clear that US ground forces have not been on the offensive in Iraq in years, other than largely unpublicized special operations missions aimed at Daesh group militants.
Pentagon officials for years have tried to balance what they see as a necessary military presence to support the Iraqi government’s fight against IS with domestic political sensitivities in Iraq to a foreign troop presence. A major complication for both sides is the periodic attacks on bases housing US and coalition troops by Iraqi militia groups aligned with Iran.
The vulnerability of US troops was demonstrated most dramatically in January 2020 when Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Al-Asad air base in western Iraq. No Americans were killed, but dozens suffered traumatic brain injury from the blasts. That attack came shortly after a US drone strike killed Iranian military commander Qassim Soleimani and senior Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis at Baghdad International Airport.
The US military mission since 2014 has been largely focused on training and advising Iraqi forces. In April, in a joint statement following a US-Iraqi meeting in Washington, they declared, “the mission of US and coalition forces has now transitioned to one focused on training and advisory tasks, thereby allowing for the redeployment of any remaining combat forces from Iraq” at a time to be determined later.
Monday’s communique is also expected to detail US efforts to assist the Iraqi government’s COVID-19 response, education system and energy sector.


Lebanon's PM-designate says he can form government to implement French plan

Lebanon's PM-designate says he can form government to implement French plan
Updated 40 min 41 sec ago

Lebanon's PM-designate says he can form government to implement French plan

Lebanon's PM-designate says he can form government to implement French plan
  • France's plan includes a government of specialists capable of initiating enough reforms to attract foreign aid

BEIRUT: Lebanon's new prime minister-desginate Najib Mikati said on Monday he would work to form a government and implement a French plan to save the country from its crippling financial crisis.
"I don't have a magic wand and can't perform miracles... but I have studied the situation for a while and have international guarantees," Mikati said after he won a majority of votes in parliamentary consultations to be nominated.
France's plan includes a government of specialists capable of initiating enough reforms to attract foreign aid.


Tunisians celebrate government ousting with cheers, fireworks

Tunisians celebrate government ousting with cheers, fireworks
Updated 26 July 2021

Tunisians celebrate government ousting with cheers, fireworks

Tunisians celebrate government ousting with cheers, fireworks
  • Tunisia’s military stop Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi from entering the parliament building early on Monday
  • ‘The president was very brave ... we know this is not a coup’

Soon after Tunisia’s President Kais Saied said he had ousted the government, tens of thousands of people poured into city streets to applaud a move decried by his critics as a coup.
As they cheered, ululated, honked car horns and let off fireworks, Said’s supporters revelled in his decision and in the perceived downfall of the moderate Islamist Ennahda, the biggest party in parliament and his main political opponent.
It showed how a decade after Tunisia’s 2011 revolution that introduced democracy, street activism remains a potentially powerful force — and one that could lead to confrontation after Ennahda called for people to protest against Saied.
Tunisia’s military stopped Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi from entering the parliament building early on Monday, a witness said, after Saied declared he had frozen the body’s activities.
The crowds late on Sunday were defying a COVID-19 curfew as they gathered in local neighborhoods and cities throughout the North African country and along the main Habib Bourguiba avenue in Tunis that has long served as the epicenter of any protests in the capital.

A military vehicle drives on a street as supporters of Tunisia's President Kais Saied gather after he dismissed the government and froze parliament, in Tunis, Tunisia July 25, 2021. (Reuters)

 

Thousands of people including many families walked along the tree-lined avenue, raising national flags, dancing and lighting red flares.

“The president was very brave... we know this is not a coup,” said Amira Abid, a woman in Tunis’ town center as she kissed a Tunisian flag.


Soon afterwards, Saied himself arrived to meet jubilant supporters in the very street where the biggest protests took place in 2011 during a revolution whose own democratic legacy now hangs in the balance.
Saied’s critics fear his move to dismiss the government and freeze parliament is part of a shift away from democracy and a return to the autocratic rule of the past — concerns he rejected in public statements as he denied conducting a coup.
As helicopters hovered above the crowds supporting his move, the people on the streets cast Ennahda as the cause of Tunisia’s failures over the past decade to overcome political paralysis and achieve prosperity.
“Today, today, Ennahda ended today,” sang young men in the Omrane Superieur district of the capital.
Nearby, as families stood with their children and raised their phones to the record the moment, a man walking with his daughter said “today is our Eid (holiday).”