For Iraqis, no easy escape from Iran’s domination

For Iraqis, no easy escape from Iran’s domination
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An anti- government protester waves a national flag during a demonstration in the central Iraqi holy shrine city of Najaf in January. (AFP)
For Iraqis, no easy escape from Iran’s domination
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Clashes between protesters and police, like those below in Baghdad’s Al- Khilani Square, have left as many as 600 people dead. (AFP)
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Updated 03 March 2020

For Iraqis, no easy escape from Iran’s domination

For Iraqis, no easy escape from Iran’s domination
  • Until the coronavirus threat emptied out Baghdad's streets, protests were a daily fixture of life
  • The protesters were demanding an end to Iranian interference in elections and policy-making

LONDON: More than two months after nonstop anti-government protests prompted Iraq’s ethnic Kurdish president to offer a public letter of resignation, the fate of one of the Middle East’s most fragile states hangs in the balance.

If President Barham Salih eventually steps down, his replacement will have to contend with two destabilizing and diametrically opposed forces: A grassroots political movement that shows no sign of abating and the deeply entrenched influence of Iran’s discredited Shiite revolutionary regime.

The human cost kept rising every month until the protest sites of Baghdad emptied out amid fears over the coronavirus. According to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, more than 600 people have died and more than 20,000 people have been injured since the protests began in earnest on Oct. 1, 2019.

Rights activists and organizations on the ground say that Iraqi security forces have become increasingly prone to using lethal force to disperse protesters, evident in the widespread use of deadly, military-grade tear-gas grenades and live ammunition.

While they may be brutalized, Iraq’s protesters are not cynical. The demographic makeup of the average protest group testifies to the shared spirit of activism sweeping the country, with the typical protest group made up of the young and the old, men and women, Sunni and Shiite.

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This unlikely coalition of protesters has come up with an array of demands, including the resignation of the current legislative representative body, the transparent prosecution of corrupt political representatives and the establishment of fairer electoral laws.

Additionally, the protesters want an end to Iranian interference in Iraqi elections and policymaking, and the replacement of the current political set-up with a government better aligned with the needs and aspirations of the people of Iraq.

Unsurprisingly, one of the key objectives of Sunni protesters is the disbanding of the Popular Mobilization Forces, a politically influential paramilitary organization that is dominated by state-sponsored Shiite militias and strongly resembles Iran’s IRGC.

Of late, another vulnerability has emerged in the form of Iraq’s cultural and religious ties with Iran, which is one of the countries worst hit by coronavirus infections outside of China.

All 13 cases detected so far are linked to Iran, according to Iraq’s health ministry. After decades of war and sanctions, Iraq is believed to have fewer than 10 doctors per 10,000 inhabitants.

On the bright side, there is no dearth of political groups that champion Iraq’s sovereignty and disapprove of the spread of Iran’s tentacles into every area of Iraqi life. 

From the anti-sectarian National Independent Iraqi Front, which consists of both Sunni and Shiite leaders, and the Sovereignty Alliance for Iraq (SAI) to the National Wisdom Movement led by Ammar Al-Hakim, Iraqi political entities are increasingly asserting a pro-nationalist identity.

 

Dr. Herman Schmidt, of the London-based Global Distribution Network, says that Sunni-Shiite groups are beginning to emerge as a counterweight to Iran’s hegemonic ambitions.

“What we are seeing is the emergence of Iraq-first organizations, comprising Iraqi nationals and expats who’ve awoken to the dangers of foreign, specifically Iranian, interests, that seriously hamper Iraq’s ability to maintain control over its borders,” he told Arab News.

“The emergence of groups such as Sovereignty Alliance for Iraq and National Independent Iraqi Front is showing the world that Iraq wants to be a country for all its people, not merely a battleground for global Sunni-Shiite rivalry or a pawn in Iran’s game to control the Middle East.

“Establishing a unified Iraq with law and order is also indicative of a willingness to attract foreign capital into Iraq in order to rebuild its infrastructure after decades of conflict.”

For anyone following Iraq’s political trajectory over the past three years, the upsurge in tensions probably came as no surprise.

The anti-government chants that have reverberated across Iraq are prompted broadly by three sources of discontent: An unending cycle of hostilities; Iran’s perceived malign influence and economic dominance; and Iraqi politicians’ reputation as a corrupt elite out of touch with reality.

Despite the withdrawal of the bulk of US military forces and the defeat of Daesh as an organized terrorist group, Iraq continues to be wracked by terrorist insurgency, political unrest, extrajudicial abuses and killings, sectarian disputes and transnational criminal activity.

Notwithstanding Iran’s success in playing off one sect against another, Iraqi protesters are in no mood to let provincial or national government officials off the hook for the inadequate provision of basic public services, endemic government corruption and lack of employment opportunities.

During the war against Daesh, the Iraqi government managed to evade responsibility for the dismal state of administration and public finances. But now, after years of broken reform promises and declining living standards, it has become impossible for the authorities to contain the pent-up frustration and anger across the country.

Iraqis have no reason to be upbeat about the political outlook.

Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003 by a US-led invasion, they have helplessly watched Iran grow its political, intelligence and military footprint across their country.

Over the past three years especially, Iran’s intelligence apparatus has exploited Iraq’s endless cycle of war and violence to amass unprecedented levels of influence over its political and financial institutions.

Rather than leverage its newfound influence to tamp down violence and heal Iraqi wounds, Tehran has chosen to aggressively tighten its grip over Baghdad and sow discord and chaos.

Iran’s agents have bought out parts of Iraq’s civil bureaucracy and established what amounts to a foreign intelligence network — stacked with personnel from both the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — inside the country’s most populous provinces.

Leaked reports indicate that the objective of many of these operations is the perpetuation of Iraq’s role as a client state of Iran. So far, this has been achieved by carefully stoking ethnic and sectarian tensions and fostering a culture of corruption and incompetence.

Analysts say that unless Iraq succeeds in distancing itself from Iran’s geopolitical orbit, stronger economic relations between the country on the one hand and, on the other hand, the US and the wealthy GCC bloc will remain a pipe dream.

These potential allies are reluctant to pour investments into Iraq’s funds-starved economy mainly because of the entrenched presence of Iran and the attendant geopolitical risks.

“Iran’s penetration of the Iraqi security services has scared away foreign investment,” said Michael Doran, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington DC.

“An end to Iran’s influence would remove the greatest obstacle to developing the country for the benefit of its own people. Washington has not fully woken up to the benefits that the sovereignty movement can provide to US interests and regional peace and stability.”

With the level of discontent likely to rise in the future due to falling prices of the commodity (oil) on which the state heavily depends for revenue, the Iraqi government does not have the luxury of time.

Independent observers say that Baghdad has two options: To remain a puppet of Iran and employ state security forces in a doomed attempt to repress the protests; or to adopt a pro-sovereignty doctrine that takes the demands of the Iraqi people seriously.

If they wish to preserve their country’s status as a sovereign nation, the Iraqi ruling elite must choose the second option or surrender power.

 

 


IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity

IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity
Updated 25 min 41 sec ago

IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity

IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity

VIENNA: Iran has started the process of enriching uranium to 60% fissile purity at its above-ground Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz, the UN nuclear watchdog said on Saturday, confirming earlier statements by Iranian officials.
"The Agency today verified that Iran had begun the production of UF6 enriched up to 60% U-235 by feeding UF6 enriched up to 5% U-235 simultaneously into two cascades of IR-4 centrifuges and IR-6 centrifuges at the Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant," the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement.

UF6 is uranium hexafluoride, the form in which uranium is fed into centrifuges for enrichment. 


Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange

Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange
Ghada Aoun. (Photo/Twitter)
Updated 17 April 2021

Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange

Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange
  • Prosecutor’s stand sparks calls for judiciary to ‘rise up against corruption’

BEIRUT: Controversial Lebanese judge and Mount Lebanon state prosecutor Ghada Aoun carried out a second raid on a money exchange in northern Lebanon on Saturday in defiance of a senior judiciary decision dismissing her from an investigation into possible currency export breaches.

Aoun was accompanied by several activists from the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) during the raid on the money exchange in the Awkar district in northern Lebanon.

Less than 24 hours earlier she raided the office with members of the security services.

Aoun remained in the money exchange for several hours on Friday in protest at her dismissal by the the discriminatory Public Prosecutor, Judge Ghassan Oweidat, a decision that caused widespread anger among the Lebanese public.

Caretaker Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm held an emergency meeting on Saturday with Oweidat as well as Supreme Judicial Council head Judge Suhail Abboud and Judicial Inspection Authority head Judge Borkan Saad.

After the meeting Najm voiced her anger at the situation regarding the judiciary, saying that she refuses to be “a false witness to the decay of the judiciary and the fall of the fig leaf in this state.”

Najm said the events involving Aoun are an indication of “the failure of state institutions.”

Lebanon is facing a political and economic crisis amid disputes between state officials, a deadlock that has led to the collapse of the national currency.

However, critics accuse Aoun of a lack of respect for due process.

There are six criminal cases and 28 complaints against her before the Judicial Inspection Authority — the largest number of cases filed against any judge in the history of the Lebanese judiciary.

Aoun was investigating the Mecattaf money exchange company and Societe Generale Bank for allegedly withdrawing dollars from the market and shipping the funds abroad.

The Supreme Judicial Council dismissed Aoun along with two other judges who had previously been suspended by the Disciplinary Council for Judges.

Judge Oweidat on Friday asked the Director-General of State Security, Maj. Gen. Antoine Saliba, to suspend the officers who accompanied Aoun on the exchange office raid.

People in Lebanon on Friday watched on TV as Aoun requested that the money exchange office be sealed because the owner, Michel Mecattaf, refused to provide her with details of currency transfers on behalf of banks.

Earlier, Mecattaf’s agents informed Aoun that she had been dismissed from the case.

Aoun remained alone for hours inside the office after state security personnel left. A medical team checked on her after her blood pressure rose, and she left the premises soon after. Later she stepped on to the balcony of her home to wave to FPM supporters, who gathered outside to offer support.

After Aoun’s second raid on Saturday, the head of the Mecattaf financial company accused her supporters of “breaking into private property by force.”

Mecattaf described the case as “eminently political,” saying that he is “a witness and not a convict.”

Najm described the events as “unacceptable.”

“I am not in a position to please this political party or that team. We want an effective and independent judiciary. The problem is not the laws — oversight and accountability have been absent for years,” she said.

Najm also said that “the judiciary is incapable of fighting corruption,” and called on judges to “rise up against this reality.”

She added: “There is a lack of confidence in the judiciary, and this is a major insult.”

Retired General Prosecutor Hatem Madi told Arab News: “Judge Oweidat’s decision shows that some judges are working independently, but things must be put to rights. Regardless of whether Oweidat’s decision was right or wrong, the public prosecution offices in Lebanon must be an integrated unit.”

The decision to dismiss Aoun revived a political dispute between the FPM and the Future Movement, the two parties in conflict over the formation of the government.

The FPM, headed by MP Gebran Bassil, said that it will “continue to expose every file related to the fight against corruption,” saluting “every judge who rightfully performs their duties despite the injustice to which they are sometimes exposed.”

The Future Movement said that “mourning for judges after encouraging them to violate laws and asking them to open discretionary files for opponents is a matter that no longer fools any of the Lebanese people.”

 


Qatar’s controversial cleric Qardawi contracts coronavirus

Qatar’s controversial cleric Qardawi contracts coronavirus
Updated 17 April 2021

Qatar’s controversial cleric Qardawi contracts coronavirus

Qatar’s controversial cleric Qardawi contracts coronavirus
  • His son Abdul-Rahman Yusuf Al-Qaradawi confirmed that the cleric had coronavirus on Twitter

LONDON: Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric based in Qatar and infamous for his controversial religious edicts, has contracted COVID-19.
“Sheikh Al-Qaradawi has been infected with the coronavirus and he is in good condition, praise be to God. He is receiving health care, reassures his followers, and asks you to pray for his recovery and good health,” his official Twitter account stated.


The news was also reported by Turkish state-run news agency Anadolu.
His son Abdul-Rahman Yusuf Al-Qaradawi confirmed that the cleric had coronavirus on Twitter and said his father had been vaccinated against the virus previously. He also requested prayers for his father.
Al-Qaradawi is 94 years old and is the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, head of the European council for Fatwa and Research and co-founder of IslamOnline.net.

 


NGO says 4,500 Palestinians in Israeli prisons

NGO says 4,500 Palestinians in Israeli prisons
Updated 17 April 2021

NGO says 4,500 Palestinians in Israeli prisons

NGO says 4,500 Palestinians in Israeli prisons
  • Of the thousands behind bars, 430 are administrative detainees held without charge or trial, including 180 children and 41 women and girls
  • There are 550 prisoners suffering from various illnesses, including 11 with cancer, seven with kidney failure, and heart disease

AMMAN: There are 4,500 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including an 82-year-old man who has been behind bars since 2001, according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club NGO. 
It released the figures to mark Palestinian Prisoner’s Day, which is observed on April 17.
Of the thousands behind bars, 430 are administrative detainees held without charge or trial, including 180 children and 41 women and girls.
There are 550 prisoners suffering from various illnesses, including 11 with cancer, seven with kidney failure, and heart disease. One of the sick prisoners is Foad Shobaki, who is 82.
There are eight prisoners with serious disabilities, said the NGO, adding that 222 prisoners had died in Israeli prisons since 1967.
Prisoner’s Day had become an occasion for paying tribute to the 1 million people jailed since 1967, the Palestine National Council (PNC) said. 
According to the council, 73 prisoners had died as a result of physical torture while 67 died because of medical negligence.
It said that prisoners caught in a war or armed struggle were not destined to remain imprisoned for life, as indicated in the Third Geneva Convention.
The PNC said there were 14 prisoners who had spent more than 30 years in jail, and 47 who had been imprisoned for more than 20 years.
Israel continues to detain 25 prisoners held before the Declaration of Principles between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), in which Israel promised to release them but reneged at the last moment in 2014.
Former PLO Executive Committee member, Hanan Ashrawi, tweeted: “It’s important to understand the grave injustice that the Israeli Occupation inflicts on them and on the whole nation. The legal and political systems, the judiciary, the military and security forces are all in the service of an illegal and oppressive occupation.”
Fatah’s deputy chair Mahmoud Alloul said the prisoners’ cause was part of every Palestinian’s mind and consciousness.
His son Jihad, a Najah University student, was killed by Israeli gunfire during the second intifada. 
Alloul told the Voice of Palestine radio station: “Prisoners have sacrificed a lot having to spend their entire lifetime behind bars for their homeland. We will not carry (out) any political move without ensuring the freedom of the prisoners.”
He emphasized that the Palestinian leadership had resisted persistent pressure to stop support for prisoners and their families, saying that Israel had stolen money earmarked for the Palestinian Authority because of its continued support to prisoners and their families.
Khalil El-Halabi, whose son Mohammed has been held by the Israelis since 2016, made an appeal to world leaders — including Israeli ones.
He called for “building a new life based on peace for all the believers in God, Muslims, Christians, Jews and others.”
El-Halabi said his son was jailed because of false accusations that he diverted charitable funds to an illegal organization.
“The charity my son works for (World Vision) and the Australian government have thoroughly investigated these allegations and found them to be untrue,” he told Arab News. “Yet my son is in jail for five years despite torture that caused him to lose 50 percent of his hearing, simply because he refused to sign a plea bargain deal in which he would have to admit to a crime he did not commit.”
There were many like Mohammed who were tortured and charged with false accusations, he said, urging the Israeli people to seek justice if they wanted peace.
“Holding prisoners indefinitely will not bring peace and security and will not provide justice. I know that millions around the world would like to see peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Releasing innocent prisoners is the first step toward a lasting peace.”


Third coronavirus wave hits Egypt

Third coronavirus wave hits Egypt
Updated 17 April 2021

Third coronavirus wave hits Egypt

Third coronavirus wave hits Egypt
  • Hatem said that the number of cases is directly related to how far citizens follow precautionary measures
  • He said that there was no shortage of medicines in public hospitals, whether in university hospitals or those under the Ministry of Health

CAIRO: Egypt is witnessing a third coronavirus wave, a top official has said. Ashraf Hatem, head of the health affairs committee in the Egyptian Parliament and a member of the supreme committee for respiratory viruses of the Ministry of Higher Education, indicated that the number of coronavirus cases at university hospitals is once again increasing daily.
He said that citizens must adhere to precautionary measures, respect the rules of social distancing and wear their protective face masks, as well as avoiding family visits.
He advised of the need to follow proper nutritional habits and eat foods that contain nutrients that boost the immune system.
Hatem said that the number of coronavirus cases is directly related to how far citizens follow precautionary measures.
He said that there was no shortage of medicines in public hospitals, whether in university hospitals or those under the Ministry of Health.
Egypt has not yet reached the peak of the third wave, he said, and numbers might continue to rise until the last week of Ramadan. He called on citizens to be careful in the coming period to minimize the increase in infection rates.
He praised the decision of Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly to fine those who violate the instructions of the government.
Ashraf Abdel Basset, president of Mansoura University, said that the number of beds allocated for isolation had not been reduced following the earlier decrease in the number of daily recorded cases. He said that the hospitals are highly prepared for any emergency.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi had previously warned of a third coronavirus wave. “We are on the threshold of the third wave … please be careful, especially with the month of Ramadan … We want the matter to end in peace,” he said.