Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Al-Sistani calls for formation of new government as protesters killed

Iraqi demonstrators burn tires as they block a road during ongoing anti-government protests, in Baghdad, Iraq January 23, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 25 January 2020

Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Al-Sistani calls for formation of new government as protesters killed

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, urged Iraq’s political parties on Friday to form a new government as soon as possible, and urged authorities to respect protesters’ right to express themselves.

Al-Sistani, who delivered his message through a representative at Friday prayer in Karbala, reiterated calls to foreign powers to respect Iraq’s sovereignty. 

“The formation of the new government is constitutionally long overdue, it is necessary for the various parties concerned to cooperate,” Al-Sistani said.

He admonished authorities for “procrastinating” on reform promises and parties for being “very late” in naming a successor to Premier Adel Abdul Mahdi, who has acted as caretaker since resigning in December.

Two anti-government protesters were killed in clashes with security forces in Baghdad, hours after thousands of supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr rallied separately to demand the ouster of US troops.

A vowed enemy of US troops, Al-Sadr had called for “a million-strong” rally but did not attend himself. “Get out, get out, occupier!” they chanted.

FASTFACT

A statement read out at Al-Sadr’s rally demanded all foreign forces leave Iraq, Iraqi-American security agreements be cancelled, Iraqi airspace be closed to US military aircraft and for Trump not to act ‘arrogant.’

A statement read by his representative at the rally demanded all foreign forces leave Iraq, Iraqi-American security agreements be cancelled, Iraqi airspace be closed to US military aircraft and for President Donald Trump not to act “arrogant” when addressing Iraqi officials.

“If all this is implemented, we will deal with it as a non-occupying country — otherwise it will be considered a country hostile to Iraq,” the statement read.

Four NGO workers, three of them French nationals, were also reported missing in Baghdad, rocked since October by a youth-dominated protest movement demanding a government overhaul, early elections and more accountability.

The NGO’s director described the men as “experienced staff members who have been working with us for years” and who had “perfect knowledge of conflict zones.”

More than 470 people have died in protest-related violence since October, most of them demonstrators, and violence has spiked this week.

The Pentagon said that 34 US troops were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries suffered in this month’s Iranian missile strike on an Iraqi air base, and that half of the troops have returned to their military duties.

Seventeen of the 34 are still under medical observation, according to Jonathan Hoffman, the chief Pentagon spokesman.

Trump had initially said he was told that no troops had been injured in the Jan. 8 strike. The military said symptoms were not immediately reported after the strike and in some cases became known days later.


‘Social explosion’ in Lebanese camps imminent, warn officials

Updated 21 February 2020

‘Social explosion’ in Lebanese camps imminent, warn officials

  • Situation volatile as Palestinian refugees face economic crisis after US peace plan

BEIRUT: Authorities are battling to prevent “a social explosion” among Palestinian refugees crammed into camps in Lebanon, a top official has revealed.

Fathi Abu Al-Ardat, secretary of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) factions in Lebanon, told Arab News that urgent measures were being put in place to try and stop the “crisis” situation getting out of control.

“Conditions in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are very difficult due to the economic crisis facing the country, and we are trying to delay a social explosion in the camps and working on stopgap solutions,” he said.

And Dr. Hassan Mneimneh, the head of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC), said: “More Palestinian refugees from the camps in Lebanon are immigrating. Embassies are receiving immigration requests, and Canada is inundated with a wave of immigration because its embassy has opened doors to applications.”

According to a population census conducted in 2017 by the Central Administration of Statistics in Lebanon, in coordination with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), there are 174,422 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon spread across 12 camps and nearby compounds.

Mneimneh insisted the figure was accurate despite the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) estimating there to be 459,292 refugees in the country. He said: “The census we had conducted refers to the current reality in Lebanon.”

He added that he feared “increased pressure on European donor countries over UNRWA in the coming days after the unilateral implementation of the ‘Deal of the Century’ (the US peace plan for the Middle East) by Israel.

“Israel’s goal is to undermine UNRWA’s mission as a prelude to ending the Palestinian cause and, thus, preventing the return of Palestinians.”

Mneimneh held a meeting on Wednesday with two Lebanese and Palestinian action groups in Lebanon to discuss Palestinian asylum issues in light of the American peace plan. There were no representatives of Hezbollah or Hamas present at the talks.

He said: “This deal kick-starts an unusual stage that carries the most serious risks not only to the Palestinian people and cause, but also to the other countries and entities in the Arab region.

“The first of these is Lebanon, which senses the danger of this announcement in view of the clauses it contains to eliminate the Palestinian cause, including the refugee issue and the possibility of their settlement in the host countries.”

Al-Ardat said: “Palestinian refugees have no choice but to withstand the pressures on them to implement the so-called ‘Deal of the Century.’ What is proposed is that we sell our country for promises, delusions, and $50 billion distributed to three countries. Palestine is not for sale.”

He pointed out that “the camps in Lebanon resorted to family solidarity in coordination with the shops in the camps. Whoever does not have money can go to the shop after two (2 p.m.) in the afternoon and get vegetables for free.

“We have been securing 7,000 packs of bread to distribute in the camps and buying the same amount to sell the pack at 500 liras. But this does not solve the problem.”

He added: “The PLO leadership continues to perform its duty toward the refugees and, until now, we have not been affected by the restrictions imposed by banks in Lebanon, and refugees are still receiving medical treatment.

“However, our concern now is that Palestinian refugees do not starve, taking into account all the indications that the situation in Lebanon will not improve soon.

“Twenty percent of the Palestinians in Lebanon receive wages either from UNRWA — as they work there — or from the PLO because they are affiliated with the factions, but 80 percent are unemployed and have no income.”

The meeting hosted by Mneimneh agreed “the categorical rejection of the ‘Deal of the Century’ because it means further erasing the identity existence of the Palestinian people as well as their national rights, especially their right to return and establish their independent state.

“It also means assassinating the Palestinian peoples’ legitimate rights and supporting Israel’s usurpation of international justice and 72 years of Arab struggle.

“The deal includes ambiguous, illegal and immoral approaches that contradict all relevant UN and Security Council resolutions, especially with regard to the establishment of the Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 and the inalienable right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland and establish their state with Jerusalem as its capital,” a statement on the meeting added.

“UNRWA must remain the living international witness to the ongoing suffering and tragedy of the Palestinian people, and UNRWA must continue to receive support.”

Attendees at the talks also recommended “improving the conditions of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to strengthen the elements of their steadfastness until they return.” This was “based on the Unified Lebanese Vision for the Palestinian Refugees Affairs in Lebanon document, which includes the right to work.”