US renews waiver for Iraq to import Iranian energy for 60 days

The United States said on Thursday it had renewed a waiver for Iraq to import Iranian electricity, this time for 60 days. (File/AFP)
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Updated 24 September 2020

US renews waiver for Iraq to import Iranian energy for 60 days

  • The Trump administration has said it is disappointed that Iraqi forces have failed to protect US forces stationed in Iraq
  • They have come under multiple rocket attacks this year alone

WASHINGTON: The United States said on Thursday it had renewed a waiver for Iraq to import Iranian electricity, this time for 60 days to enable Baghdad to take “meaningful actions” to reduce its energy dependence on neighboring Tehran.
The waiver will continue to exempt Iraq from US sanctions reimposed on Iran, hobbling its oil-dependent economy, after President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from world powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic.
Washington has repeatedly extended the waiver for Baghdad to use crucial Iranian energy supplies for its struggling power grid, usually for periods of 90 or 120 days.
Renewals for shorter periods, analysts said, could be one reflection of relations between the two countries that have been strained over repeated militant attacks on US forces stationed in Iraq that Washington has blamed on Iran, which denies this.
“The waiver ensures that Iraq is able to meet its short-term energy needs while it takes steps to reduce its dependence on Iranian energy imports,” a US State Department official said.
“We believe it is possible within the 60 days for the government of Iraq to take meaningful actions to promote energy self-sufficiency...,” he said.
The United States has insisted that oil-rich Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest producer, move toward self-sufficiency as a condition for its exemption for importing Iranian energy. Iraq relies heavily on Iranian gas to feed several power stations.
The Trump administration has said it is disappointed that Iraqi forces have failed to protect US forces stationed in Iraq. They have come under multiple rocket attacks this year alone, over which Washington has pointed the finger at Iranian-backed militia that also support Iraq’s Shiite-led government.
US-Iranian relations have been bitter since the Islamic Revolution toppled the US-backed Shah of Iran in 1979 and launched theocratic rule. Tensions worsened after Trump exited the nuclear deal approved by his predecessor Barack Obama.


A Lebanese nonprofit helps refugees develop confidence through the creative arts

Updated 56 min 53 sec ago

A Lebanese nonprofit helps refugees develop confidence through the creative arts

  • Seenaryo has brought imaginative new learning techniques to hundreds of classrooms across Jordan and Lebanon
  • Youngsters take the stage as part of drive to use drama and song to strengthen community ties

BEIRUT: Lebanese theatrical nonprofit Seenaryo teaches drama, dance and song to marginalized communities, building confidence and self-esteem through the creative arts, while its teacher-support app has brought imaginative new learning techniques to hundreds of classrooms across Jordan and Lebanon.

Founded in 2015 by British expat duo Victoria Lupton and Oscar Wood, Seenaryo’s five-day intensive theater workshops are still operating despite the coronavirus pandemic, with the group’s most recent — socially distanced — project staged at Beirut’s Dar Al-Aytam Al-Islamiya orphanage in September.

Up to 30 boys and girls, or even a group of adults, participate in each workshop where, through improvisation exercises, they brainstorm ideas to create a musical play, write a script and song lyrics, and master dance routines. Each play includes five original songs set to professionally made backing tracks. The group then performs its play to a local audience.

Up to 30 boys and girls, or even adults, participate in each workshop where, through improvisation exercises, they brainstorm ideas to create a musical play, write a script and song lyrics, and master dance routines. (Supplied)

“What we’re trying to do is support our participants to feel a sense of agency and ownership over their own lives, to feel that they can contribute to their communities and have an impact on their own lives and those around them,” Lupton said. “Play-based learning and theater does that by building life skills — that might be communication skills and empathy or building confidence and a sense of self-worth.”

Initially, Seenaryo worked solely with Syrian and Palestinian refugees. “Very quickly, within a year, we realized it was neither particularly helpful in terms of existing tensions between communities nor reaching the neediest beneficiaries if we just focused on refugees, so we widened the focus to work with all marginalized people regardless of nationality,” Lupton said.

“Theater has the power to bring a community together and feel like a family.”

In 2019 alone, Seenaryo staged 15 original theater productions in Jordan and Lebanon. Aside from the co-founders, most staff are from the local community. The non-profit also runs several choirs for children and women singing music from around the world as well as original songs written by participants in two-part harmony.

The influx of refugee children has strained the education systems of Lebanon and Jordan, with low quality teaching causing children to drop out of school, while stressed teachers often quit. In response, Seenaryo created a teacher training book that this year launched as an app, Playkit, to support educators teaching children aged three to eight.

“We fit into the national strategies of dealing with this new population by helping to increase teaching quality, Lupton said. “The Playkit is a shortcut to 21st century learning techniques. Just this small intervention can have a transformative impact on classrooms and helps keep children in school.”

On the app, there are hundreds of play-based activities available including games, songs, interactive stories and tools to help classroom management. These take the form of how-to videos, flashcards, music tracks and step-by-step teaching instructions. Among the subjects covered are languages, mathematics, health, the natural and human worlds, and social and emotional learning. The app is available in Arabic, English and French.

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As of early September, 113 schools were using the app along with 1,075 teachers and 28,875 children.

Usually, teachers would first undertake a three-day training course before incorporating the app into their classroom activities, but the coronavirus pandemic has halted in-person instruction as schools shut. So, Seenaryo created short, instructive three-minute videos that it sends to parents and caregivers via WhatsApp to help them home school children.

This distance-learning program, “I Learn from Home,” dispatches three new videos each week to around 2,500 families. “These lesson plans needed to be accessible to even people who are illiterate or have low educational attainment, which is why we went for video,” said Lupton. “These are a very engaging set of instructions as to how to teach that day’s lesson, whether it’s on health or maths or whatever was in the curriculum that day.”

Seenaryo is funded through various government and non-government agencies, while the organization hopes subscriptions to Playkit will enable it to provide the app to schools. Now, with Lebanon facing new hardships and traumas, Seenaryo’s community-building projects are needed more than ever and Lupton’s team is ready and determined to help.

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This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.