Libyan strongman Haftar opens mission in Syria

Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al Mekdad stands next to Eastern Libya's foreign minister Abdulhadi Lahweej at a ceremony to open the embassy of Libya's eastern-based government led by military commander Khalifa Haftar in Damascus, Syria March 3, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 March 2020

Libyan strongman Haftar opens mission in Syria

  • The Libyan flag was raised above its embassy in Damascus for the first time since 2012
  • Syria's Al-Meqdad attended the flag hoisting, which he said came as both sides faced a common enemy

DAMASCUS: Representatives of Libya’s strongman Khalifa Haftar on Tuesday opened a diplomatic mission in the Syrian capital Damascus — strengthening ties between two bitter foes of Turkey.
The Libyan flag was raised above the North African country’s embassy in the Syrian capital for the first time since 2012, AFP reporters said.
The Russia-backed regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad is battling forces sent into its strife-torn northwest by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
And in Libya, Erdogan is backing Libya’s UN-recognized government in Tripoli, which is fighting against troops loyal to Haftar who launched an offensive on the capital last April.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Al-Meqdad attended the flag hoisting, which he said came as both sides faced a common enemy.
“When Syria decides to renew ties with... Libya, it is recognition that we are waging a single battle in Syria and Libya against terrorism and those supporting it,” he said, using a term to signify rebels and jihadists.
“The Turkish regime and its leader — who has lost touch with reality — are escalating their attack,” he said.
Libya has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, with the two rival authorities now vying for power.
Turkey backs Libya’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord in the capital Tripoli, and has dispatched troops and pro-Turkish Syrian fighters there.
Haftar’s move in Syria came as tensions have spiralled between the Assad regime and Turkish forces in the northwest, where Turkey has downed several regime jets and bombs have killed dozens of troops on each side.
Haftar’s parallel administration sent its foreign minister Abdulhadi Lahweej and deputy prime minister Abdul Rahman Al-Ahiresh.
“This is not the embassy of the east or of the west” of Libya, Syria’s Meqdad claimed.
“We believe in a single Libya ... Our enemy is he who sells the country to the colonizer, especially the Turkish colonizer,” he added.
Syria’s conflict, sparked by the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011, has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions.
The Arab League suspended Syria’s membership in November 2011 as the death toll mounted.
Several regional powers, betting on the demise of Assad’s regime, suspended diplomatic ties with Damascus.
“We hope that those who froze Syria’s membership will recall their Arabism,” Meqdad said.
The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain re-opened their diplomatic missions in the Syrian capital in December 2018.


‘We want to breathe, too’: Solidarity from Iraq

A mask-clad young Iraqi woman speaks to another during an anti-government demonstration in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, despite the ongoing threat of the novel coronavirus. (AFP)
Updated 07 June 2020

‘We want to breathe, too’: Solidarity from Iraq

  • Violence left more than 550 people dead, but virtually no one has been held accountable — mirroring a lack of accountability over deaths at the hands of security forces in the US, Iraqis say

BAGHDAD: Seventeen years after US troops invaded their country and eight months since protests engulfed their cities, Iraqis are sending solidarity, warnings and advice to demonstrators across America.
Whether in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square or on Twitter, Iraqis are closely watching the unprecedented street protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in Minneapolis as a police officer knelt on his neck.
“I think what the Americans are doing is brave and they should be angry, but rioting is not the solution,” said Yassin Alaa, a scrawny 20-year-old camped out in Tahrir.
Only a few dozen Iraqis remain in tents in the capital’s main protest square, which just months ago saw security forces fire tear gas and live bullets at demonstrators, who shot back with rocks or occasionally Molotov cocktails.
Violence left more than 550 people dead, but virtually no one has been held accountable — mirroring a lack of accountability over deaths at the hands of security forces in the US, Iraqis say. Now, they want to share their lessons learned.
“Don’t set anything on fire. Stay away from that, because the police will treat you with force right from the beginning and might react unpredictably,” Alaa told AFP.
And most importantly, he insisted, stick together. “If blacks and whites were united and they threw racism away, the system can never stop them,” he said.
Across their country, Iraqis spotted parallels between the roots of America’s protests and their own society.
“In the US it’s a race war, while here it’s a war of politics and religion,” said Haider Kareem, 31, who protested often in Tahrir and whose family lives in the US.
“But the one thing we have in common is the injustice we both suffer from,” he told AFP.
Iraq has its own history of racism, particularly against a minority of Afro-Iraqis in the south who trace their roots back to East Africa.
In 2013, leading Afro-Iraqi figure Jalal Thiyab was gunned down in the oil-rich city of Basra — but discrimination against the community is otherwise mostly nonviolent.
“Our racism is different than America’s racism,” said Ali Essam, a 34-year-old Afro-Iraqi who directed a wildly popular play about Iraq’s protests last year.
“Here, we joke about dark skin but in America, being dark makes people think you’re a threat,” he told AFP.
Solidarity is spreading online, too, with Iraqis tweaking their own protest chants and slogans to fit the US.
In one video, an elderly Iraqi is seen reciting a “hosa” or rhythmic chant, used to rally people into the streets last year and now adapted to an American context.
“This is a vow, this a vow! Texas won’t be quiet now,” he bellowed, before advising Americans to keep their rallies independent of foreign interference — mimicking a US government warning to Iraqis last year. Others shared the hashtag “America Revolts.”
Another Arabic hashtag going viral in Iraq translates as “We want to breathe, too,” referring to Floyd’s last words.
Not all the comparisons have been uplifting, however.
The governor of Minnesota, the state in which Minneapolis is located, said the US street violence “was reminiscent of Mogadishu or Baghdad.”
And the troops briefly deployed by US President Donald Trump to quell unrest in Washington were from the 82nd Airborne — which had just returned from duty in Iraq.
“Trump is using the American army against the American people,” said Democrat presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden.
Iraqis have fought back online, tweeting “Stop associating Baghdad with turmoil,” in response to comparisons with their homeland.
Others have used biting sarcasm.
In response to videos of crowds breaking into shops across US cities, Iraqis have dug up an infamous quote by ex-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
“Lawlessness and looting is a natural consequence of the transition from dictatorship to a free country,” he said in response to a journalist’s question on widespread looting and chaos in Baghdad following the 2003 US-led invasion.