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.


Iraq’s foreign minister makes first visit to Iran

Updated 51 min 47 sec ago

Iraq’s foreign minister makes first visit to Iran

  • Iran sees neighboring Iraq as a possible route to bypass US sanctions that President Donald Trump re-imposed in 2018

TEHRAN: Iraq’s foreign minister arrived Saturday in Tehran for bilateral talks with senior Iranian officials, according to the state-run news agency.
IRNA reported that Fuad Hussein planned to meet his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani, in what marked his first visit to the Iranian capital.
Zarif visited Baghdad in mid-July, when he met with Hussein and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. It was Zarif’s first visit to Iraq since a US airstrike in January killed a top Iranian general, Qassim Soleimani, outside Baghdad’s international airport. The strike catapulted Iraq to the brink of a US-Iran proxy war that could have destabilized the Middle East.
After Zarif’s trip, the Iraqi premier visited Iran in July.
The report did not elaborate on the main reasons behind the top Iraqi diplomat’s two-day trip to Tehran.
Iran sees neighboring Iraq as a possible route to bypass US sanctions that President Donald Trump re-imposed in 2018 after pulling the US out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
Last year, Iran’s exports to Iraq amounted to nearly $9 billion, the official IRNA news agency reported on Tuesday. It said the two nations will discuss increasing the amount to $20 billion.
Before the current global pandemic, some 5 million Iranian pilgrims annually brought in nearly $5 billion visiting Iraq’s Shiite holy sites.
Iran has seen the worst outbreak in the region, with more than 443,000 thousand confirmed cases and at least 25,300 deaths.
A news website affiliated with Iranian state TV, yjc.ir, reported that Iran canceled all its flights to Iraqi cities until the religious holiday of Arbaeen, due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak. The holiday marks the end of the forty days of mourning that follow annually on the death anniversary of the seventh-century Muslim leader Hussein, who was killed at the Battle of Karbala during the tumultuous first century of Islam’s history.
Iran fought an eight-year war with Iraq that killed nearly 1 million people on both sides, after former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded in the early 1980s.