Iraqi PM promises to boost protection for US embassy

The US embassy in Baghdad was hit by mortars on Sunday night. (AP/File)
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Updated 28 January 2020

Iraqi PM promises to boost protection for US embassy

  • US says one person injured in latest attack on the compound in Baghdad
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdel Mahdi to uphold his country’s sovereignty

BAGHDAD: The Iraqi prime minister has promised to strengthen security for the US embassy in Baghdad after one person was injured in the latest missile attack on the compound.
Adel Abdul Mahdi stressed, in a phone call with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday, the importance of respecting Iraq’s sovereignty by everyone.
He also said there was a need to de-escalate tensions in the region, according to a statement from his office.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, a top US commander for the Middle East, said on Monday mortars were used in the attack on the embassy that injured one person and caused some material damage the previous night, not katyusha rockets as was initially reported by staffers and a statement from the military.
The mortar attack started a fire that was put out. He said no US military members were injured, but that one US national received a minor injury but has returned to work.
The US embassy is within the Iraqi capital’s Green Zone, and has been a flashpoint amid wider regional tensions between the US and Iran, which have played out inside Iraq in recent weeks. Iraqi supporters of an Iran-backed militia stormed the embassy compound on Dec. 31, smashing the main door and setting fire to the reception area.
An initial military statement said at least five katyusha rockets had landed inside the Green Zone late Sunday. It was the third attack targeting the US embassy this month, and the perpetrators were not immediately known. Perpetrators had used katyusha rockets in previous attacks and caused no injuries.
There was no claim of responsibility for any of the attacks. But the US has accused Iran-backed militias of targeting US interests by attacking military bases housing Americans and diplomatic missions.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdel Mahdi to uphold his country’s “sovereignty” in the face of “attacks” from Iran on US facilities in Iraq.
Pompeo “expressed his outrage at the continued assaults by Iran’s armed groups against US facilities in Iraq, including yesterday’s rocket attacks against our Embassy, which resulted in one injury,” the State Department said in a statement.
The statement said that “these attacks demonstrate a wanton disregard for Iraqi sovereignty and a failure to rein in these dangerous armed groups.”
Pompeo said on Twitter that “the government of #Iraq must take immediate steps to protect our diplomatic facilities as required by international law.”

* With AP/AFP


Russian mediation reopens major highway in NE Syria

Updated 26 May 2020

Russian mediation reopens major highway in NE Syria

  • Syria records 20 new cases of coronavirus in largest single-day increase

BEIRUT/DAMASCUS: Traffic returned to a major highway in northeastern Syria for the first time in seven months on Monday, following Russian mediation to reopen parts of the road captured last year by Turkey-backed opposition fighters.

Syrian Kurdish media and a Syrian Kurdish official said several vehicles accompanied by Russian troops began driving in the morning between the northern towns of Ein Issa and Tal Tamr. 

The two towns are controlled by regime forces and Syrian Kurdish fighters while the area between them is mostly held by Turkey-backed opposition fighters.

Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters captured parts of the highway known as M4 in October, when Ankara invaded northeastern Syria to drive away Syrian Kurdish fighters. The M4 links Syria’s coastal region all the way east to the Iraqi border.

Four convoys will drive on the M4 every day with two leaving from Tal Tamr and two from Ein Issa, according to the Kurdish ANHA news agency. The report said a convoy will leave from each town at 8 a.m., and another set of convoys will do the same, three hours later.

The ANHA agency added that the opening of the highway will shorten the trip between the two towns as people previously had to take roundabout, side roads.

“This is the first time the road has been opened” since October, said Mervan Qamishlo, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

Russia, a main power broker with Turkey in Syria, mediated the deal to reopen the highway, he said. Russia and Turkey back rival groups in Syria’s nine-year conflict.

Coronavirus cases

Syria reported 20 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Monday, the largest single-day increase to date.

The war-torn country has recorded 106 infections and four deaths so far, and new cases have increased in recent days with the return of Syrians from abroad.

Syria has kept an overnight curfew in place but has begun to open some of its economy after a lockdown. Doctors and relief groups worry that medical infrastructure ravaged by years of conflict would make a more serious outbreak deadly and difficult to fend off.