US-led forces pull out of 3rd Iraqi base this month

US soldiers stand guard before a handover ceremony of K-1 airbase from US-led coalition forces to Iraqi security forces, in Kirkuk governorate, Iraq March 29, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 March 2020

US-led forces pull out of 3rd Iraqi base this month

BAGHDAD: The US-led coalition in Iraq withdrew Sunday from a military base in the country's north that nearly launched Washington into an open war with neighboring Iran.
The K1 Air Base is the third site coalition forces have left this month, in line with US plans to consolidate its troops in two locations in Iraq.
A rocket attack on the base in late December killed one American contractor and lead to a series of tit-for-tat attacks between the US and Iran-backed Iraqi militia groups. The attacks culminated in the US-directed killing of top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and a senior Iraqi militia leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Coalition forces handed over the K1 base in the northern Iraqi province of Kirkuk to Iraq's military, according to a coalition statement. At least $1.1 million of equipment was transferred to the Iraqis as 300 coalition personnel departed.
Until last month, there were some 7,500 coalition troops based in Iraq, including 5,000 US forces.
Withdrawals are planned “in the coming days” from two bases in western Iraq, said Col. Myles Caggins, a coalition spokesman. He said troops have so far been relocated to other bases in the country and some will head home in the coming weeks, but did not specify how many.
He said the two bases are the Nineveh Operations Command in Mosul — Iraq’s second-largest city and which was under the Daesh group's control from 2014 until 2017 — and the Taqaddum military airport outside the city of Habbaniya, on the Euphrates River.
K1 has hosted coalition forces since 2017 to launch operations against Daesh in nearby mountainous areas. Areas south of Kirkuk, and north of neighboring provinces of Diyala, Salahuddin and Nineveh remain hotbeds of Daesh activity.
The stretch of territory is also disputed between the federal Iraqi government and the autonomous Kurdish region, which has created security gaps benefiting IS militants. The coalition's presence had at times been a mediating force between the two competing authorities.
A senior coalition official earlier this month claimed Daesh forces weren't as able to exploit the “security gap” between Iraqi and Kurdish forces, as the militants did in the past.
“That (gap) doesn’t necessarily mean that Daesh is free to operate in the way that they wish," said the official, using the Arabic acronym for IS. “They’re still pretty constrained.”
The coalition official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
US-led forces have already withdrawn this month from the Qayara base in Nineveh province followed by the Qaim base near the border with Syria. All the withdrawals were in line with plans to pull out from bases across Iraq and consolidate coalition forces in Baghdad and at the Ain al-Asad Air Base in the country’s western desert.
The plan has been in the works since late last year, the senior coalition military official has said, and accelerated when Iraqi forces proved they were capable of facing the Daesh threat with limited coalition assistance.
Coalition officials said they would still assist Iraqi forces with air support and surveillance, but significantly cut back on training and ground operations, as the limited withdrawal continues.


Over 150 killed in Ethiopia protests

Updated 37 min 6 sec ago

Over 150 killed in Ethiopia protests

  • Violent demonstrations roiled Ethiopia in the days following the murder of popular singer Hachalu Hundessa
  • Hachalu's music gave voice to Oromos' widespread sense of economic and political marginalisation during years of anti-government protests that swept Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to power in 2018

ADDIS ABABA: At least 166 people have died during violent demonstrations that roiled Ethiopia in the days following the murder of popular singer Hachalu Hundessa, police said Saturday.
Pop star Hachalu, a member of the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia's largest, was shot dead by unknown attackers in Addis Ababa on Monday night, fuelling ethnic tensions threatening the country's democratic transition.
"In the aftermath of Hachalu's death, 145 civilians and 11 security forces have lost their lives in the unrest in the region," said Girma Gelam, deputy police commissioner of Oromia region, in a statement on the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate.
Another 10 are known to have died in the capital Addis Ababa.
Girma said that a further 167 had "sustained serious injuries" and that 1,084 people had been arrested.
Officials have attributed the deaths to a combination of lethal force by security officers and inter-ethnic violence.
Girma added that the violent unrest had now "completely stopped".
Hachalu's music gave voice to Oromos' widespread sense of economic and political marginalisation during years of anti-government protests that swept Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to power in 2018.