French FM urges Iraq to keep away from regional tensions

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Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein (R) receives his French couterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, on July 16, 2020. (AFP)
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French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (R), meets with his Iraqi counterpart in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, on July 16, 2020. (AFP)
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Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein (R) receives his French couterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, on July 16, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 16 July 2020

French FM urges Iraq to keep away from regional tensions

  • Baghdad “should dissociate itself from regional tensions,” Le Drian warned after meeting with his Iraqi counterpart
  • The world should not drop its guard against Daesh, Le Drian said

BAGHDAD: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian urged Baghdad on Thursday to “dissociate” itself from boiling regional tensions, hinting at dissatisfaction with unilateral Iranian and American strikes on Iraqi territory.
Iraq has been caught for years in the power struggle between its two main allies Washington and Tehran, but has had to walk an increasingly fine line since 2018, when the US began a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.
In January, a US drone strike on Baghdad killed top Iranian and Iraqi officials, and Tehran retaliated with strikes against American troops based in western Iraq.
Baghdad “should dissociate itself from regional tensions,” Le Drian warned after meeting with his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein.
France has been a top member of the US-led coalition fighting Daesh, which Iraq declared defeated in late 2017 after three years of warfare.
“The world should not drop its guard against the Islamic State group,” Le Drian said.
“The coalition’s aim at its core is to fight IS, and it should for no reason be derailed from this central mission,” he added.
His comments appeared to hint at widespread frustration among Western diplomats at Washington’s unilateral strikes against Iran-backed armed groups in Iraq.
They fear that these attacks would prompt a backlash against the coalition as a whole, not just US soldiers.
Following the US killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis in January, Iraq’s parliament voted to oust all foreign troops.
Le Drian is the first Western diplomat to visit Baghdad since Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi took office in May, although he has traveled to Iraq on many occasions.
He is also expected to meet Al-Kadhimi and Iraqi President Barham Saleh on his one-day visit.
He said France “backed (Al-Kadhimi’s) first decisions,” including efforts to fight government corruption and rein in rogue groups firing rockets at foreign troops and diplomats.
France would also facilitate $1.1 billion for “major projects in construction, transportation, energy and water,” Le Drian announced.
Iraq’s public infrastructure has been worn down by years of warfare and poor investment, but low oil prices have forced it to cut state spending on improving services.


Lebanon information minister quits in first government resignation over blast

Updated 09 August 2020

Lebanon information minister quits in first government resignation over blast

  • Manal Abdel-Samad apologizes to the Lebanese public for failing them
  • Explosion killed more than 150 people and destroyed swathes of the capital

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s information minister Manal Abdel Samad on Sunday quit in the first government resignation since a deadly port blast killed more than 150 people and destroyed swathes of the capital.

“After the enormous Beirut catastrophe, I announce my resignation from government,” she said in a statement carried by local media, apologizing to the Lebanese public for failing them.

The head of Lebanon’s Maronite church meanwhile called on the entire government to step down over the August 4 explosion, a blast widely seen as shocking proof of the rot at the core of the state apparatus.

Lebanese protesters enraged by the blast vowed to rally again after a night of street clashes in which they stormed several ministries.

Maronite patriarch Beshara Rai joined the chorus of people pressing Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s cabinet to step down over a blast he said could be “described as a crime against humanity.”

“It is not enough for a lawmaker to resign here or a minister to resign there,” Rai said in a Sunday sermon.

“It is necessary, out of sensitivity to the feelings of the Lebanese and the immense responsibility required, for the entire government to resign, because it is incapable of moving the country forward.”

Rai echoed calls by Diab for early parliamentary polls — a long-standing demand of a protest movement that began in October, demanding the removal of a political class deemed inept and corrupt.

He also joined world leaders, international organizations and the angry Lebanese public by pressing for an international probe into an explosion authorities say was triggered by a fire in a port warehouse, where a huge shipment of hazardous ammonium nitrate had languished for years.

President Michel Aoun on Friday rejected calls for an international investigation, which he said would “dilute the truth.”

At least six lawmakers have quit since the explosion.

Under increased pressure from the street and foreign partners exasperated by the leadership’s inability to enact reforms, Diab’s government is fraying at the edges.