Sailing Baghdad’s river bends, young Iraqis rock the boat

Sailing Baghdad’s river bends, young Iraqis rock the boat
Members of the Iraqi Water Sports Federation place a sail boat on the banks of the river Tigris, in the Adhamiya district of Iraq’s capital Baghdad, on Oct. 15, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 25 November 2020

Sailing Baghdad’s river bends, young Iraqis rock the boat

Sailing Baghdad’s river bends, young Iraqis rock the boat
  • The water sports are also revolutionizing how Iraqis interact with the historic Tigris and Euphrates

BAGHDAD: Mariam Khaled squinted her eyes, drew in her sail against the wind and set her white dinghy toward a point on the riverbank: Adhamiya, to be precise, in central Baghdad.
With the orange sunset saturating the sky, a cluster of mostly teenage sailors, windsurfers and jet-skiers were making waves along the river Tigris.
“It’s a difficult sport that requires a lot of effort, and plenty of patience and perseverance,” 16-year-old Khaled, a former junior swimming champion, told AFP.
“But I want to show everyone that we, Iraqi women, can succeed,” she added, after pulling her dinghy up the muddy bank.
The water sports are also revolutionizing how Iraqis interact with the historic Tigris and Euphrates, which gave the country its byname of the “land between the two rivers” millennia ago.
Water levels in the twin rivers have dropped by half because of dams upstream in neighboring Turkey and Iran.
One year in Baghdad, the levels drew so low that residents could squelch between the banks of the Tigris on foot.
Following the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, Adhamiya became the heart of a Sunni insurrection and one of the most dangerous places in Baghdad.
The dark years of Iraq’s sectarian fighting from 2006 until 2008 pitted it against the Shiite district of Kadhimiya, just across the Tigris.
The remains of victims who were thrown into the river back then still sometimes wash ashore — but today, Baghdad’s river bends see much more life than death.
Along the waterfront, restaurants and small funfairs are teeming with families who gaze out at the young athletes.
“It’s now a place of leisure and relaxation,” said Ghazi Al-Shayaa, a sports journalist.
“It’s a joy to see Baghdadis gathering here nearly every day to watch the swimmers or the boats go by,” he said.
The latest major round of violence in Iraq ended in 2017, when the government declared victory in its years-long fight against the Islamic State jihadist group.
The next year, Ahmad Mazlum came up with a crazy idea: setting up Iraq’s first water sports federation.
Its riverside headquarters in Adhamiya is identifiable by the rows of white dinghies and bright windsurfing sails.
Half of the 10 dinghies are Iraqi-made, at around $600 each.
“An (imported) sailboat can cost $10,000. So we had to build our own in a workshop we set up with the club members,” said Mazlum, the federation’s deputy head.
The around 100 mostly teenage members — eight of them girls — wear matching fluorescent athletics clothes, as bathing suits would likely contravene Iraq’s widely conservative norms.
Boys and girls train together under Anmar Salman, a regional rowing champion who recruited from fellow rowers and Iraqi swimmers to launch the sailing club.
Aboard a motorized boat one late afternoon, he advised the young sailors on how to tack and deal with wind conditions.
“Turn now!” called out the instructor with the neatly-trimmed beard.
The stretch of river where they practice has surprisingly robust winds of up to 15 knots, likely because the buildings on either side create a tunnel.
Salman is planning to take his young trainees to qualifiers next year in Abu Dhabi for the Tokyo Olympics.
But since they can only train up and down the river, they may not have the same versatility as sea sailors.
The team also suffers from a lack of funding, Salman said.
“The problem is that athletic institutions in the country aren’t interested in sailing — but the Olympic Committee has backed us with some meagre means,” he told AFP.
Still, the federation is proud to nurture a culture of sailing in Iraq, where navigating the Tigris and Euphrates has been done for several millennia — but usually on circular “quffa” rowboats.
For the youth in Adhamiya, the spirit of camaraderie and discovery seems to be enough, Salman said.
“Luckily, our athletes adore the sport and like to train for the joy of doing it, without demanding much else.”


Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation

Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation
A military vehicle is stationed on the tarmac of Yemen’s Aden airport. Yemen says the Stockholm Agreement has failed to bring peace to the country. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 January 2021

Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation

Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation
  • International community urged not to surrender to ‘blackmailing and intimidation’ 
  • Stockholm Agreement has failed to bring peace, Yemen PM said

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s prime minister has vowed to address any impact on humanitarian assistance or the remittances of citizens abroad following the US move to designate the Iran-backed Houthis as a terrorist organization.

Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed also urged the international community not to surrender to “Houthi blackmailing” and intimidation.
Saeed defended his government’s strong support of the designation during a virtual interview with foreign journalists sponsored by the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies.
He said that his government had formed a committee to handle any effects on the delivery of humanitarian assistance inside Houthi-controlled areas and the remittances of Yemenis abroad.
“We are determined to prevent any impact of the decision on the Yemenis. We have formed a committee to mitigate effects of the decision,” he said.
When the US announced its intention to designate the Houthi movement as a terrorist organization last week, Yemen’s government quickly urged the US administration to put the decision in place, predicting it would stop Houthi crimes and their looting of humanitarian assistance, and would smoothe the way for peace.
Referring to the impact of the US designation on peace talks between the Yemeni government and the Houthis, Saeed said that the decision would not undermine peace efforts. He said that the Houthis would be accepted as part of the Yemeni political and social spectrum when they abandoned hard-line ideologies and embraced equality and justice.

The Yemeni government agreed to go to Stockholm for reaching a solution to stop fighting and saving the city. This model has failed.

Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed, Yemen’s prime minister

“This is an important pressure card on them and a real definition of them,” he said, adding that the Yemenis would not allow the Houthi movement to rule them.
“Yemen would not be ruled by a racist and terrorist group,” he said.
Formed under the Riyadh Agreement, Yemen’s new government’s ministers narrowly escaped death on Dec. 30 when three precision-guided missiles ripped through Aden airport shortly after their plane touched down.
The government accused the Houthis of staging the attack, saying that missile fragments collected from the airport showed that they were similar to missiles that targeted Marib city in the past.
The prime minister said that the Yemeni government had offered many concessions to reach an agreement to end the war. It had agreed to engage in direct talks with the Houthis in Stockholm in 2018 despite the fact that the Yemeni government forces were about to seize control of the Red Sea city of Hodeidah. However, the Stockholm Agreement had failed to bring peace to Yemen, he said.
“The government forces were about to capture the city within five days maximum. The Yemeni government agreed to go to Stockholm for reaching a solution to stop fighting and saving the city. This model has failed,” Saeed said.
In Riyadh, Yemen’s president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi on Friday appointed Ahmed Obeid bin Daghar, a former prime minister and a senior adviser to the president, as president of the Shoura Council.
Hadi also appointed Ahmed Ahmed Al-Mousai as the country’s new attorney general.
Fighting continues
Heavy fighting between Yemeni government forces and the Houthis broke out on Sunday for the third consecutive day in contested areas in the districts of Hays and Durihimi in the western province of Hodeidah. Official media said that dozens of Houthi rebels and several government troops were killed in the fighting and loyalists pushed back three assaults by Houthis in Durihimi district.
In neighboring Hays, the Joint Forces media said on Sunday that the Houthis hit government forces with heavy weapons before launching a ground attack in an attempt to seize control of new areas in the district.
The Houthis failed to make any gains and lost dozens of fighters along with several military vehicles that were burnt in the fighting, the same media outlets said. Heavy artillery shelling and land mines planted by the Houthis have killed more than 500 civilians since late 2018, local rights groups said.