Violence mounts against Iraqi doctors as COVID-19 cases spike

Violence mounts against Iraqi doctors as COVID-19 cases spike
1 / 4
Relatives of a patient, who died from COVID-19, beat up Tarik Sheibani, 47, an Iraqi doctor and director of Al-Amal Hospital, in this still image taken from CCTV footage obtained by Reuters, in Najaf, Iraq August 27, 2020. (Reuters)
Violence mounts against Iraqi doctors as COVID-19 cases spike
2 / 4
Tarik Sheibani, 47, an Iraqi doctor and director of Al-Amal Hospital, wears a protective suit at a hospital where he treats coronavirus disease patients, in Najaf, Iraq September 13, 2020. (Reuters)
Violence mounts against Iraqi doctors as COVID-19 cases spike
3 / 4
Tarik Sheibani, 47, an Iraqi doctor and director of Al-Amal Hospital, wears a protective suit as he walks at a quarantine ward at Al-Amal Hospital, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Najaf, Iraq September 13, 2020. (Reuters)
Violence mounts against Iraqi doctors as COVID-19 cases spike
4 / 4
Tarik Sheibani, 47, an Iraqi doctor and director of Al-Amal Hospital, wears a protective suit as he talks to a member of medical staff at a quarantine ward at Al-Amal Hospital, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Najaf, Iraq September 13, 2020. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 23 September 2020

Violence mounts against Iraqi doctors as COVID-19 cases spike

Violence mounts against Iraqi doctors as COVID-19 cases spike
  • “All the doctors are scared,” said Sheibani, speaking at his home in Kufa a few weeks after the Aug. 28 attack
  • More than 8,000 people have died, a number that some doctors fear will rise sharply

NAJAF: Iraqi doctor Tariq Al-Sheibani remembers little else beyond cowering on the ground as a dozen relatives of a patient, who had just died of COVID-19, beat him unconscious.
About two hours later the 47-year-old director of Al-Amal Hospital in the southern city of Najaf woke up in a different clinic with bruises all over his body.
“All the doctors are scared,” said Sheibani, speaking at his home in Kufa a few weeks after the Aug. 28 attack. “Every time a patient dies, we all hold our breath.”
He is one of many doctors struggling to do their job as COVID-19 cases rise sharply in Iraq.
They are working within a health service that has been left to decay through years of civil conflict and underfunding, and now face the added threat of physical attack by grieving and desperate families.
Reuters spoke to seven doctors, including the head of Iraq’s Medical Association, who described a growing pattern of assaults on medical staff. Dozens have taken place since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Meanwhile, the United Nations has warned that the pandemic could spiral out of control in Iraq.




Tarik Sheibani, 47, an Iraqi doctor and director of Al-Amal Hospital, wears a protective suit at a hospital where he treats coronavirus disease patients, in Najaf, Iraq September 13, 2020. (Reuters)


Authorities have lifted many lockdown measures, allowing restaurants and places of worship to reopen, but they have shut borders to pilgrims ahead of a large Shiite Muslim pilgrimage that normally draws millions to the south of the country.
Iraq has recorded several thousand new coronavirus infections every day, and the total now exceeds 300,000.
More than 8,000 people have died, a number that some doctors fear will rise sharply, putting frontline health care workers under huge pressure and in some cases in physical danger.
The health ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the COVID situation in Iraq and medics’ complaints about the threat of violence.
Sheibani, whose beating went viral when CCTV footage circulated online, said the family of the deceased patient blamed his staff for the death. He said he did not know how the video reached the public domain.
The patient had arrived at hospital in critical condition.
“I hate myself and I hate the day I became a doctor in Iraq,” Sheibani told Reuters. “They brought the patient in his final stages and he died, and they want the health system to bear the responsibility.”
Enforcing health safety guidelines within the hospital is not always easy, especially when tensions between families of sick patients and hospital staff are running high.
During a recent visit to Sheibani’s hospital, which is a coronavirus isolation center, Reuters reporters saw relatives of COVID-19 patients coming in and out of the ward without wearing full protective gear as they are supposed to.
Some were only wearing surgical face masks.
Iraq is fighting the pandemic with a depleted force of doctors and nurses.
In 2018, it had just 2.1 nurses and midwives per thousand people, compared with Jordan’s 3.2 and Lebanon’s 3.7, according to official estimates. It had 0.83 doctors per thousand people, while neighboring Jordan, for example, had 2.3.
There are also significant shortages of drugs, oxygen, and vital medical equipment, the result of years of underspending.
Many young doctors say they are overworked, putting in 12-16 hour shifts every day meaning they are more likely to make mistakes in prescriptions and treatment. Some take kickbacks for handing over certain drugs, physicians told Reuters.
The Health Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Government vows action
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has condemned the attacks against medical staff and promised to hold perpetrators to account.
The attacks have increased in recent months, said Medical Association president Abdul Ameer Hussein. He said his association could not keep track of all of them, but they include verbal and physical abuse and even stabbings.
Sheibani filed a complaint with police, but he said he had received threats from the people who beat him up to drop the case.




Tarik Sheibani, 47, an Iraqi doctor and director of Al-Amal Hospital, wears a protective suit as he walks at a quarantine ward at Al-Amal Hospital in Najaf, Iraq September 13, 2020. (Reuters)


“They might attack me or my family,” Sheibani said, adding that he no longer left his house alone.
Doctors say the government has not taken tough enough action to protect them from violence, which they have faced for years even before the pandemic.
The health ministry said in a statement on Saturday that it would assign its legal division to file lawsuits against those who attacked health workers, as well as those medics who fell short in treating patients.
According to the Medical Association, at least 320 doctors have been killed since 2003, when US-led forces toppled President Saddam Hussein, ushering in years of sectarian violence and extremist insurgencies.
Thousands more have been kidnapped or threatened.
Doctors and human rights activists say the state is so weak that it cannot bring doctor’s assailants to justice, especially if they come from a powerful tribe or belong to a militia.
“The government can’t protect doctors from tribes. Doctors end up dropping the cases because they receive threats,” said Hussein, adding that he often asks tribal leaders to mediate when a doctor is being threatened.
Doctors have gone on strike and protested in recent months over what they say is government inaction over the attacks.
Abbas Alaulddin, 27, a doctor in Baghdad who was assaulted last week by the family of a patient who died of COVID-19, said he was considering seeking asylum.
“The situation here is unbearable.”


Sirens warn of possible rocket attack near Israel’s Dimona reactor

Sirens warn of possible rocket attack near Israel’s Dimona reactor
Updated 15 min 58 sec ago

Sirens warn of possible rocket attack near Israel’s Dimona reactor

Sirens warn of possible rocket attack near Israel’s Dimona reactor

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said air raid sirens sounded early Thursday near Dimona, the desert town that is home to the country’s secretive nuclear reactor.

It gave no further details, but the sirens indicated a possible attack on the sensitive area.

Such siren alerts are generally activated by rocket attacks.

A Reuters reporter about 90 km (56 miles) away from Abu Qrenat heard the sound of an explosion minutes before the military’s text message.

The report comes amid heightened tensions between Israel and its archenemy Iran. The Iranians have blamed Israel for a series of incidents targeting Iran’s nuclear facilities and vowed revenge.

Israel has not openly commented on the incidents, but it has signaled possible involvement.


UN reiterates it is not involved in Syrian presidential election

A poster depicting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and his father and predecessor Hafez al-Assad hangs along an alley in Damascus on April 21, 2021. (AFP/LOUAI BESHARA)
A poster depicting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and his father and predecessor Hafez al-Assad hangs along an alley in Damascus on April 21, 2021. (AFP/LOUAI BESHARA)
Updated 22 April 2021

UN reiterates it is not involved in Syrian presidential election

A poster depicting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and his father and predecessor Hafez al-Assad hangs along an alley in Damascus on April 21, 2021. (AFP/LOUAI BESHARA)
  • Comments came after Syria’s parliament confirmed Bashar Assad will run for re-election in next month’s poll
  • Secretary-general’s spokesman said the vote is not part of the political process set by Security Council resolution

NEW YORK: The UN on Wednesday reiterated that it is not involved in the upcoming Syrian elections and has “no mandate to be.”

In came after the Syrian parliament announced on Wednesday that President Bashar Assad will run for re-election on May 26 in what will be the second presidential election held during the decade-long civil war in the country.

“(Syria’s) elections have been called under the auspices of the current constitution and they’re not part of the political process established under Resolution 2254,” said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “For our part, we will continue to stress the importance of a negotiated political solution to the conflict in Syria.

“Resolution 2254 mandates the UN to facilitate a political process that culminates in the holding of free and fair elections in accordance with a new constitution, administered under UN supervision to the highest international standards, and that are inclusive of all Syrians including members of the diaspora.”

Pressed on whether or not his comment means the UN does not consider the elections to be free and fair, Dujarric said: “I think my words on Syria were pretty clear,” and reiterated his previous comments.

Geir Pedersen, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, has been working to support efforts to draft a new constitution as part of the political process aimed at ending the war and ensuring free and fair elections, supervised by the UN, in which all Syrians can vote, including refugees.

During a Security Council briefing last month, however, he acknowledged that due to a lack of “true engagement” by the Syrian regime, the political process has not succeeded in bringing about any tangible changes as yet, nor has it led to the adoption of a vision of the future for Syrians.

He said “free and fair elections” based on the provisions of Security Council Resolution 2254 still “seem far into the future.”

Assad has been accused by Western countries, including members of the Security Council, of deliberately delaying the drafting of a new constitution to avoid UN-supervised elections.

Last month Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the permanent US representative to the UN, asked the international community to “not be fooled by upcoming Syrian presidential elections. These elections will neither be free nor fair. They will not legitimize the Assad regime. They do not meet the criteria laid out in Resolution 2254, including that they be supervised by the UN or conducted pursuant to a new constitution.”

Barbara Woodward, the British envoy to the UN, said the UK “stands with the Syrian people to deliver all the steps enshrined in Resolution 2254: a nationwide ceasefire; unhindered aid access; the release of those arbitrarily detained; conditions for safe refugee return; and free and fair elections pursuant to a new constitution — all of which represent the only way out of this conflict.”


Iran sets trial for two imprisoned dual nationals

Iran sets trial for two imprisoned dual nationals
Updated 21 April 2021

Iran sets trial for two imprisoned dual nationals

Iran sets trial for two imprisoned dual nationals
  • British-Iranian labor rights activist Raoof and German-Iranian national Taghavi are being held in solitary confinement and are due in court next Wednesday
  • Multiple reports suggest Tehran is using cases to increase pressure before next stage of Iran nuclear deal talks in Vienna

LONDON: Iran has set trial dates for British-Iranian labor rights activist Mehran Raoof and German-Iranian national Nahid Taghavi, who are due to appear before judges on Wednesday in separate cases, the UK-based newspaper The Guardian reported.

Raoof, 64, a former teacher in London, has been held in solitary confinement for more than five months in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison after he was secretly recorded talking about politics in a cafe, human rights campaigners have revealed.

Taghavi, 66, a retired architect who has diabetes, was arrested last October during a crackdown on women’s and labor rights campaigners. She has also been held in solitary confinement at Evin and will be tried before the revolutionary court, her daughter, Miriam, told The Guardian.

Multiple reports suggest that Tehran is using these two cases, in particular, to increase the pressure before the next stage of talks on the future of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna.

Both Germany and the UK are supposed to be involved in the nuclear deal talks in Vienna, which are due to resume next week. Both countries backed the 2015 deal with France, Russia, China and the US. Former US president Donald Trump pulled out of the pact three years later.

Amnesty International said Raoof is an arbitrarily detained “prisoner of conscience,” and expressed concern that he could be given a sentence of up to 16 years.

Taghavi appeared before a judge last week after six months in pretrial detention and the charges against her remain unclear.

Martin Lessenthin, of the International Society for Human Rights, said Taghavi is “innocent and has no chance to get a fair trial.” He said her lawyers have not accessed her files and that she is a victim of “political hostage-taking and the arbitrary judicial system of Iran.”


Iran adds advanced machines at underground enrichment plant - IAEA

Iran adds advanced machines at underground enrichment plant - IAEA
Updated 22 April 2021

Iran adds advanced machines at underground enrichment plant - IAEA

Iran adds advanced machines at underground enrichment plant - IAEA

VIENNA: Iran has installed extra advanced centrifuges at its underground uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and plans to add even more, a report by the UN atomic watchdog on Wednesday showed, deepening Iran’s breaches of its nuclear deal with major powers.
The report is the latest evidence that Iran is pressing ahead with the installation of the advanced machines, even though it is not allowed to use them to produce enriched uranium under the 2015 agreement.
The accord only lets Iran produce enriched uranium at its underground Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz with first-generation IR-1 centrifuges, which are far less efficient than the advanced models.
“On 21 April 2021, the Agency verified at FEP that: ... six cascades of up to 1,044 IR-2m centrifuges; and two cascades of up to 348 IR-4 centrifuges ... were installed, of which a number were being used,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report to member states said, referring to the underground Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz. The report was seen by Reuters.
According to a previous report, the IAEA verified on March 31 that Iran was using 696 IR-2m machines and 174 IR-4 machines at the FEP.
Wednesday’s report also said Iran informed the IAEA that it plans to install four more cascades, or clusters, of IR-4 centrifuges at the FEP, where both of the IR-4 cascades it had planned have now been installed.
Meanwhile, the European parties to the agreement have seen progress in the first two rounds of indirect US-Iran negotiations to revive the deal but said on Wednesday that there were still major hurdles to overcome. The United States withdrew from the accord in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions on Iran. (Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Grant McCool)


Lebanese judge continues to defy ban on currency-trading investigation

Lebanese judge continues to defy ban on currency-trading investigation
Updated 21 April 2021

Lebanese judge continues to defy ban on currency-trading investigation

Lebanese judge continues to defy ban on currency-trading investigation
  • Judge Ghada Aoun staged a third raid on the offices of Mecattaf, a day after the Supreme Judicial Council referred her to the Judicial Inspection Authority
  • If she persists in defying judicial decisions she could be referred to the Disciplinary Council and face prosecution, a source told Arab News

BEIRUT: A Lebanese judge on Wednesday raided the offices of Mecattaf money exchange company in Awkar for a third time, a day after the Supreme Judicial Council referred her to the Judicial Inspection Authority (JIA).

Judge Ghada Aoun, Mount Lebanon’s public prosecutor, was accompanied by supporters of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). She was previously dismissed from an investigation into possible breaches of currency export rules.

“What is happening is a rebellion that will duly be dealt with,” a judicial source told Arab News.

Other sources revealed that the head of the JIA, Judge Barkan Saad, called Aoun as she was forcing her way into the business’s premises and asked her to leave, but she refused to comply.

“What Judge Aoun is doing goes against the statements she made during her hearing before the Supreme Judicial Council and this is unacceptable,” the judicial source said.

“We will act accordingly and she could be referred to the Disciplinary Council, meaning that she could be prosecuted, because what she is doing falls under the judges’ crimes section. If the judiciary moves forward with this measure, she will be prosecuted by the prosecutor general.”

Mecattaf is one of the largest money and gold-trading companies in Lebanon. Aoun arrived at its offices in Awkar, Beirut, with her bodyguards, who are members of State Security, and broke the locks on metal gates at the entrance as her supporters cheers and shouted: “May God be with you, Ghada Aoun.”

They sat on the ground in the yard outside the building while Aoun entered it accompanied by a financial expert. The Internal Security Forces cleared the yard of protesters but allowed them to remain on the street outside.

Journalists were prevented from accompanying Aoun into the building but before she did so she told them: “I was prohibited from entering the company with my car, so I entered on foot. I was not allowed to enter because the company’s data exposes the people that smuggled their money abroad. I ask the judiciary to stand with me because these are the rights of the people, not my own.

“What was issued by the Supreme Judicial Council is just a statement, not a decision, and I have yet to be informed of it. Preventing me from entering with my car is a recognized crime and I call on the security forces and the president to intervene.”

Lebanon’s prosecutor general, Ghassan Oueidat, previously transferred the financial-transactions case that Aoun was handling to Judge Samer Lishaa. Aoun refused to abide by the decision and continued her investigation. She is backed politically by President Michel Aoun and his political bloc, represented by the FPM.

There are fears that the issue will become a political battle that will lead the international community to believe that while some officials are trying to fight corruption in Lebanon, others are attempting to prevent this.

“Judge Aoun is saying that Mecattaf Company possesses data with the names of all those who smuggled their money abroad before the decision to block deposits in dollars in Lebanese banks was issued in 2019,” a judicial source told Arab News. “However Michel Mecattaf, the director and one of the company’s shareholders, confirmed that his company is abiding by the Code of Money and Credit, meaning that it is subject to banking secrecy.”

Mecattaf has also stated that he is following the law “and a witness in this case, not a suspect.”

Groups of Judge Aoun’s supporters, using the names United Alliance and Cry of the Depositors, issued a statement in which they said: “Mecattaf’s representatives and the employees of his company are suspiciously refusing to hand over the remaining data, bearing in mind that the data extracted so far shows loopholes in the chains of (US dollar) transactions abroad during a crucial period from before the October Revolution in late 2019 to early 2020.

“This has pushed Judge Aoun to head to the company’s headquarters again, as the requests of the financial expert to obtain the accounting records and the documents related to money transactions were denied.”

In February last year, Mecattaf said that “shipping (of currency) is done under prior authorization from the Central Bank and under the supervision of the Banking Control Commission. The money we ship is ours, whether in dollars, pounds sterling or euros.

“So if we want to ship money abroad from Lebanon, we buy it as a commodity and transfer it aboard. Most importantly, money shipping is done exclusively from and to a banking or financial institution. There are no limits to shipping but we are not allowed to transfer money to a third party.”

Mecattaf also said: “Since the beginning of 2019, I have been receiving more than 100 calls daily from most of the politicians, bankers and rich people, asking me to transfer their money abroad. This went on for months.

“Carrying out such a thing is very difficult. It cannot be done unless a large majority of bank directors and employees are a part of it,” otherwise transactions that violate rules will not go unnoticed, he added.