Prepare for the worst, Iranians are warned as virus kills 81 in one day

Iranians wear protective face masks as they travel on the metro in Tehran on May 20, 2020. (West Asia News Agency/Ali Khara via REUTERS)
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Updated 02 June 2020

Prepare for the worst, Iranians are warned as virus kills 81 in one day

  • New fatalities raise the death toll in Iran to 7,878
  • The Islamic republic has a total of 154,445 infections

JEDDAH: Iranians were warned on Monday to expect a second and more lethal wave of the coronavirus after the regime reported nearly 3,000 new cases and 81 deaths in a single day.

“The outbreak is not over yet and at any moment it may come back stronger than before,” Health Minister Saeed Namaki said.

“If our people fail to respect the health protocols ... we must prepare ourselves for the worst situation.”

Iran reported a total of 154,445 infections on Monday, an increase of 2,979 from the previous day. The 81 new deaths took the total to 7,878.

Analysts both inside and outside the country have voiced skepticism about the official figures, and say the real toll is much higher.

Iran was slow to react to the original outbreak, and is now one of the worst-hit countries in the region. Clerics encouraged pilgrims to visit shrines in Qom and Mashad even when it was clear that they were hotbeds of the coronavirus, as a result of which it spread to Lebanon and Iraq.

Authorities began easing restrictions on movement in April after a drop in deaths, but there was a surge in infections in May and authorities had to reimpose restrictions in the southern provinces of Khuzestan and Baluchistan.

Nevertheless, government employees went back to work and mosques resumed daily prayers on Saturday as part of the relaxation of the lockdown.

Health officials have repeatedly raised the alarm for Khuzestan province on Iran’s southwestern border with Iraq. It remains “red,” the highest level on Iran’s color-coded risk scale, and is the only province where the regime has reimposed a lockdown.

“We pleaded with the people to not hold weddings or funerals but they did not listen,” Namaki said. “If this continues, deaths can reach three digits again.

In Saudi Arabia, health chiefs reported 22 deaths related to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), raising the total to 525.

The Health Ministry said there were 1,881 new cases of the disease on Monday, bringing the total to 87,142, of which 22,311 are active cases. The ministry said 1,864 patients had recently recovered from COVID-19, taking the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 64,306. Saudi Arabia has so far conducted 838,623 tests for the virus.

Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 6.3 million people and killed nearly 375,000.


US general sees smaller but enduring troop presence in Iraq

Updated 20 sec ago

US general sees smaller but enduring troop presence in Iraq

  • Tensions spiked between the US and Iraq in January after a US drone strike killed Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis
  • McKenzie said the US recognizes that Al-Kadhimi is in a difficult position as he tries to deal with all factions within the government

WASHINGTON: Six months after a deadly American airstrike in Baghdad enraged Iraqis and fueled demands to send all US troops home, the top US general for the Middle East is talking optimistically about keeping a smaller but enduring military presence there.
Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of US Central Command, met Tuesday with Iraq’s new prime minister, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, and said afterward that he believes the Iraqis welcome the US and coalition troops, especially in the ongoing fight to keep Daesh militants from taking hold of the country again.
“I believe that going forward, they’re going to want us to be with them,” McKenzie told a small group of reporters, speaking by phone hours after he left Iraq. “I don’t sense there’s a mood right now for us to depart precipitously. And I’m pretty confident of that.”
Tensions spiked between the US and Iraq in January after a US drone strike near the Baghdad airport killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis. Angry Iraqi lawmakers, spurred on by Shiite political factions, passed a nonbinding resolution to oust all US-led coalition forces from the country.
In response to the Soleimani killing, Iran on Jan. 8 launched a massive ballistic missile attack on Al-Asad air base in Iraq, which resulted in traumatic brain injuries to more than 100 American troops. Two months later, US fighter jets struck five sites in retaliation, targeting Iranian-backed Shiite militia members believed responsible for the January rocket attack.
President Donald Trump has vowed to bring troops home and halt what he calls America’s endless wars. But he has also warned Iran to expect a bold US response if Iranian-backed militias attack Americans in Iraq.
The US invaded Iraq in 2003, but troops left in 2011. American forces returned to Iraq in 2014, after Daesh began taking over large swaths of the country,
McKenzie last visited Iraq in early February, slipping into the country for a few hours to meet with leaders as anti-American sentiment was soaring and violent protests and rocket attacks were pummeling the American Embassy.
Relations, however, have improved since Al-Kadhimi took over in May. And while some groups, such as parliament’s Iran-backed Fatah bloc, continue to call for the withdrawal of US forces, there is an emerging dialog between the US and Iraq on the future relationship between the two nations.
McKenzie said the US recognizes that Al-Kadhimi is in a difficult position as he tries to deal with all factions within the government and maintain relations with both the US and Iran.
The US has criticized Iraq’s government for being unable to rein in the Iran-backed militia groups it believes are orchestrating the attacks. And Al-Kadhimi has pledged to protect American troops and installations from attacks.
“I think he’s negotiating a land mine now. I think we need to help him,” McKenzie said. “He’s in a very difficult position.”
McKenzie said he hopes the US-Iraq meeting slated for this month will be face-to-face but knows the coronavirus pandemic could affect that. The talks are expected to run the gamut of their bilateral relations, with Washington prioritizing future force levels in Iraq and the ongoing militia attacks, and Baghdad focusing more on its dire economic crisis.
“Certainly we need some foreign presence in Iraq,” McKenzie said. “I don’t know that it needs to be as big as it is now, because ultimately that’s going to be a political, not a military, decision. But I think the Iraqis know, welcome and value what we do for them now.”
There are between 5,000 and 6,000 US troops in Iraq.
McKenzie would not say how many US troops might stay. But he said Iraqi conventional forces now operate on their own. US and coalition forces continue to conduct training and counterterrorism operations, including with Iraqi commandos. Any final decisions, he said, would be coordinated with the Iraqi government.
He said that as Iraqi troops grow more competent, fewer coalition forces would be needed.