Philippine troops to evacuate citizens in Iraq

Iraq is in the midst of rising tensions between the US and Iran. (AFP)
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Updated 09 January 2020

Philippine troops to evacuate citizens in Iraq

  • The repatriation efforts will be led by Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, who is set to fly to the Middle East on Thursday. 

MANILA: The Philippines on Wednesday ordered the evacuation of its nationals from Iraq amid rising tensions between the US and Iran.

The Philippine government expressed deep concerns over security in the region and raised the threat alert in Iraq to the highest level.

“The Philippine Embassy in Baghdad has been tasked to effect the mandatory evacuation of Filipinos estimated to be around 1,640 in that country,” the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced. The level-4 alert, according to the DFA, is raised when “there is large-scale internal conflict or full-blown external attack.”

The repatriation efforts will be led by Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, who is set to fly to the Middle East on Thursday. 

“We will do everything to bring out Filipinos there,” Cimatu said, adding that those who refuse will be forced to leave.

He also said that as Iraq is practically landlocked, Filipinos residing there would either be airlifted if the Baghdad airport is still open, or moved by land to transit points from where they could board ships or planes to the Philippines.

If they are evacuated by land, they would go through Amman in Jordan or Irbil in northern Iraq. From Amman or Irbil, they would be flown to Doha in Qatar or to Dubai in the UAE, and then board flights to Manila.

The highest alert level was also imposed for Iran and Lebanon, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said, adding that senior labor officials are being sent to different Middle Eastern countries — including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE — to brief Filipinos of the government’s action plan should tensions escalate.

The government is also prepared to bring home Philippine nationals from Iran and Libya.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Philippine military will send two battalions to help repatriate Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) from Iraq.

“The two battalions will not be there to engage in combat,” he said, “but to facilitate or help assist in the repatriation of the OFWs, especially in Iraq,” he told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo.

The two battalions will comprise the Philippine Army’s Special Operation Command marines and troops. A battalion is composed of between 350 and 500 officers and enlisted personnel.

Lorenzana added that if the need arises, the troops will also protect the Philippine nationals and those helping them in the evacuation process.

Asked whether they already have rules of engagement for these soldiers, the defense chief said that everything is still in the planning stage. 

Lorenzana said that a brand-new Philippine Coast Guard offshore patrol vessel, the BRP Gabriela Silang, which is now in Malta, is expected to reach Jeddah in Saudi Arabia by Thursday.

The ship will be held there “for a while in case we will need the ship to shuttle OFWs from Iran or Iraq to Qatar and then from there we can maybe charter a plane or charter ships to bring them home,” he said, adding that other military assets that can be used to transport the OFWs are two landing docks — the BRP Tarlac and the BRP Davao Del Sur — with a combined capacity of 500 people.

Also to be deployed for the operation are two Air Force Lockheed C-130 cargo planes and the EADS CASA C-295 military transport aircraft.

If the need arises, the government will engage commercial planes and cruise ships as well.


Missing boy’s death exposes Houthi child recruitment

A boy holds a weapon while Shiite rebels known as Houthis protest against coalition airstrikes, during a rally in Sanaa, Yemen, Wednesday, April 1, 2015. (AP)
Updated 4 min 23 sec ago

Missing boy’s death exposes Houthi child recruitment

  • Barman said the Houthis have never been ashamed of their recruitment of children despite local and international criticism

AL-MUKALLA: When 15-year-old Abdul Aziz Ali Al-Dharhani went missing, his family visited the local Houthi officials of their small village in Yemen’s Dhale province to ask for information. The Iranian-backed rebels said they knew nothing about their son’s whereabouts.

The family were certain the officials were lying, because their son had attended Houthi religious sessions at a local mosque before he went missing. Family members circulated Al-Dharhani’s image on social media and asked people to help find him.

A local Houthi figure, despite claiming to not know about the child, called the family 10 days later to congratulate them on the “martyrdom” of their son.

Abdurrahman Barman, a Yemeni human rights advocate and director of the American Center for Justice, investigated the boy’s disappearance and said Al-Dharhani was brainwashed by Houthis and sent to battle where he was killed.

Barman added that his investigation revealed that Houthis actively recruit child soldiers.

“Before joining them, the boy was friendly and got on with people,” he told Arab News.

After joining sessions at the mosque, where he was lectured on jihad and Houthi movement founder Hussein Al-Houthi, Al-Dharhani isolated himself from family and friends. He left home without telling anyone, leaving his family in fear and panic.

“The Houthis give recruited children nicknames to convince them they are men and can fight,” Barman said, adding that he learned the boy was sent to the front line without any military training.

“He was killed shortly after,” Barman said.

NUMBER

7,000 Children are reported to have been recruited by Houthis, according to the Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations

Houthis held a long funeral procession where his body was wrapped in slogans. Houthi media quoted local officials as saying that Al-Dharhani was a “hero” who fought Israel, the US and other enemies.

Barman said the Houthis have never been ashamed of their recruitment of children despite local and international criticism.

“The Houthi movement boasts about the deaths of their child soldiers. Even some Houthi-affiliated rights activists describe dead children as heroes and martyrs.”

Yemeni government officials, human rights groups and experts said the story of Al-Dharhani represents only the tip of the iceberg. Houthis are alleged to have recruited thousands of children over the last five years to shore up troop numbers amid the increasingly costly war.

The Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations, known as the Rasd Coalition, recently reported that Houthis had recruited 7,000 children from heavily populated areas under their control.

Nadwa Al-Dawsari, a Yemeni conflict analyst, told Arab News that Houthis are responsible for most child soldiers in Yemen and use specific strategies to draw children to the front line.

“Houthis are aggressive when it comes to recruiting children. They are responsible for over 70 percent of child soldiers in Yemen according to the UN. They lure children to fight with them by brainwashing them through mosques and religious activities, sometimes without the knowledge of their families,” she said.

On the battlefield, the recruited children take part in fighting or logistical work, while some operate as spies. Al-Dawsari said Houthi ideology helps explain why they brag about recruiting children.

“They are a radical Jihadist group that doesn’t hesitate to spill blood to achieve their political objectives. They want to ensure Abdulmalik Al-Houthi and the Hashemite bloodline rule Yemen for good,” she said.

Rehabilitation center

In the central city of Marib, the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center founded a institute to rehabilitate soldiers in Yemen in 2017. The center has rehabilitated about 480 child soldiers. Mohammed Al-Qubaty, the center’s director, told Arab News that children are usually lured into joining through financial and social incentives. Enlisted children are given salaries, arms and food, while others are forced to take up arms, he said. “Children are cheap and easily influenced. They quickly learn how to use arms and are obedient to their commanders,” he added.