Twin suicide bombings rock central Baghdad; 32 dead, 110 injured

Twin suicide bombings rock central Baghdad; 32 dead, 110 injured
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Above, the scene of a twin suicide bombing which killed nearly 30 people on a bustling commercial street in the heart of Baghdad on January 21, 2021. (AFP)
Twin suicide bombings rock central Baghdad; 32 dead, 110 injured
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Iraqi security forces guard the site of a suicide attack in Baghdad, Iraq January 21, 2021. (Reuters)
 A man wounded during a twin suicide bombing attack in a central Baghdad market, receives treatment. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 January 2021

Twin suicide bombings rock central Baghdad; 32 dead, 110 injured

Twin suicide bombings rock central Baghdad; 32 dead, 110 injured
  • Open-air market for second-hand clothes in the Iraqi capital’s Tayaran Square was teeming with people

JEDDAH: Twin suicide bombings ripped through a busy market in the Iraqi capital on Thursday, killing at least 32 people and wounding dozens, officials said in what was the first massive bombing in years, harkening back to darker days of rampant militant attacks.

The rare suicide bombing hit the Bab Al-Sharqi commercial area in central Baghdad amid heightened political tensions over planned early elections and a severe economic crisis. Blood was splattered on the pavement of the busy market amid piles of clothes and shoes as survivors took stock of the disarray in the aftermath.The Health Ministry announced that all of its hospitals in the capital were mobilized to treat the wounded.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry said the Kingdom rejects all forms of terrorism and stands by Iraq against anything that threatens its security or stability. It expressed condolences to the families of the victims and the government and people of Iraq, wishing the injured a speedy recovery.

Condemning the attack, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) expressed solidarity with Iraq in combating terrorism and enhancing its security and stability.

Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf, GCC secretary-general, sent condolences to the families of the victims and wished the injured a speedy recovery.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis denounced the terror strike as a “senseless act of brutality” and urged Iraqis to keep working to replace violence with fraternity and peace. The telegram of condolences sent to the Iraqi president was particularly heartfelt, given Francis is due to visit Iraq in early March to try to encourage the country’s Christian communities that have been devastated by Daesh persecution, reported The Associated Press.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but Iraqi military officials said it was the work of Daesh terrorists.

Iraq’s Health Minister Hassan Mohammed Al-Tamimi said at least 32 people were killed and 110 were wounded in the attack.

He said some of the wounded were in serious condition. Iraq’s military previously put the number of dead at 28. The Health Ministry announced that all of its hospitals in the capital were mobilized to treat the wounded.

Maj. Gen. Tahsin Al-Khafaji, spokesman for the Joint Operations Command, which includes an array of Iraqi forces, said the first suicide bomber cried out loudly that he was ill in the middle of the bustling market, prompting a crowd to gather around him — and that’s when he detonated his explosive belt.

The second detonated his belt shortly after, he said. “This is a terrorist act perpetrated by a sleeper cell of Daesh,” Al-Khafaji said. He said Daesh “wanted to prove its existence” after suffering many blows in military operations to root out the militants.

The style of Thursday’s assault was similar to those Daesh has conducted in the past. But the group has rarely been able to penetrate the capital since being dislodged by Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition in 2017. For some, it brought back painful memories from the height of Iraq’s sectarian street wars, when suicide bombings were a near-daily occurrence.

The twin bombings Thursday came days after Iraq’s government unanimously agreed to hold early elections in October. Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi had announced in July that early polls would be held to meet the demands of anti-government protesters.

Iraq is also grappling with a severe economic crisis brought on by low oil prices that has led the government to borrow internally and risk depleting its foreign currency reserves. The Central Bank of Iraq devalued Iraq’s dinar by nearly 20 percent last year to meet spending obligations.

Iraqi security forces are frequently ambushed and targeted with IEDs in rural areas of Kirkuk and Diyala. An increase in attacks was seen last summer as militants took advantage of the government's focus on tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
The twin bombings Thursday came days after Iraq's government unanimously agreed to hold early elections in October. Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi had announced in July that early polls would be held to meet the demands of anti-government protesters.
Demonstrators took to the streets in the tens of thousands last year to demand political change, and an end to rampant corruption and poor services. More than 500 people were killed in mass demonstrations as security forces used live rounds and tear gas to disperse crowds.
Iraq is also grappling with a severe economic crisis brought on by low oil prices that has led the government to borrow internally and risk depleting its foreign currency reserves. The Central Bank of Iraq devalued Iraq's dinar by nearly 20% last year to meet spending obligations.


Turkey’s top Islamic cleric moves center stage, irking secularists

Turkey’s top Islamic cleric moves center stage, irking secularists
Updated 35 sec ago

Turkey’s top Islamic cleric moves center stage, irking secularists

Turkey’s top Islamic cleric moves center stage, irking secularists
  • Political foes says Ali Erbas’s growing profile is at odds with the Turkish Republic’s secular constitution
ISTANBUL: When President Tayyip Erdogan opened a new court complex this month, Turkey’s senior cleric sealed the ceremony with a Muslim prayer, triggering protests from critics who said his actions contravened the secular constitution.
“Make this wonderful work beneficial and blessed for our nation, my God,” Ali Erbas said in his address, adding that many judges had “worked to bring the justice which (God) ordered.”
Erbas’s appearance at the Sept. 1 ceremony in Ankara, and the wave of opposition criticism over his comments, reflect his rising profile at the head of a state-run religious organization and the growing influence it has attained under Erdogan.
The president, whose ruling AK Party is rooted in political Islam, has overturned decades-old restrictions imposed on religion by modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, placing Islam center-stage in political life.
Last year Erbas delivered the first sermon in Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia after the Byzantine church-turned-museum was reconverted into a mosque. He did so while clutching a sword, saying this was traditional for preachers in mosques taken by conquest. The church was captured by Ottoman forces in 1453.
His state-run Diyanet organization, or Religious Affairs Directorate, has its own television channel which is recruiting 30 new staff. Its budget, which already matches that of an average ministry, will rise by a quarter next year to 16.1 billion lira ($1.86 billion), government data shows.
Erdogan further endorsed Erbas last week by extending his term at the Diyanet. He was with Erdogan again on Monday in New York, reciting a prayer at the opening of a skyscraper that will house Turkish diplomats based there.
Erdogan’s political foes says Erbas’s growing profile is at odds with the Turkish Republic’s secular constitution, and shows the president is using religion to boost his waning ratings ahead of an election scheduled for 2023.
“It is completely unacceptable for the Religious Affairs Directorate to be used politically by the AKP,” said Bahadir Erdem, deputy chairman of the opposition Iyi Party.
“The reason for Ali Erbas repeatedly making statements that polarize the nation is very clearly the government using religious sensitivities of those whose votes it thinks it can win,” he said.
Apart from the Diyanet’s growing prominence, secularists also fret over a sharp increase in religious ‘Imam Hatip’ schools, a 10 percent rise in mosque numbers in the last decade, the lifting of a ban on Muslim headscarves in state institutions and the taming of Turkey’s powerful military, once a bastion of secularism, all during Erdogan’s rule.
Responding to the criticism over the Diyanet, the presidency shared a picture of Ataturk standing in prayer beside a Muslim cleric at a ceremony outside Turkey’s new parliament 100 years ago, suggesting that even the founder of the secular republic gave space to religion alongside politics.
The secularist main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) accuse Erdogan of deliberately using Erbas to distract public attention from Turkey’s mounting economic woes.
“He has put the Religious Affairs Directorate chairman on the field like a pawn,” CHP spokesman Faik Oztrak said.
Turkey’s constitution says the Diyanet must act in line with the principles of secularism, without expressing political views.
Erbas, a former theology professor who took office in 2017, has not addressed the criticism directly but says his role is limited to religious guidance.
“In line with the duty set out in the constitution to ‘enlighten society regarding religion’, our directorate is working to convey to our people in the most correct way the principles of Islam,” he said in a speech last week.
That message does not reassure secularist critics.
Erbas’s frequent presence at Erdogan’s side reveals a “very significant elevation of the role of Sunni Islam in government in Turkey,” said Soner Cagaptay, a director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“The secularist firewall of the 20th century, established by Ataturk and guarded by his successors, that has separated religion and government, and religion and education, has completely collapsed,” he said.
Erbas has courted controversy in the past. Last year his suggestion that homosexuality causes illness triggered a clash between Erdogan’s AKP and Turkey’s lawyers’ associations over freedom of expression.
But he has won support from Erdogan’s nationalist ally Devlet Bahceli.
“Turkey is a Muslim country,” he said. “The allergy against the Islamic religion of those wicked people who have broken off ties with our national and spiritual values is an incurable clinical case.”

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Kuwait condemn failed coup attempt in Sudan

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Kuwait condemn failed coup attempt in Sudan
Updated 44 min 54 sec ago

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Kuwait condemn failed coup attempt in Sudan

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Kuwait condemn failed coup attempt in Sudan

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia condemned the failed coup attempt in Sudan, Al-Arabiya TV reported on Wednesday, citing the kingdom's foreign ministry.

The United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Kuwait also condemned the failed coup attempt in Sudan and renewed their support for the Sudanese people.

Egypt, in a statement issued by its foreign ministry, also affirmed support for the transitional Sudanese government and condemned any attempt to obstruct development efforts there.

Sudanese authorities reported a coup attempt on Tuesday by a group of soldiers but said the attempt failed and that the military remains in control. 

It said the plotters were loyal to ousted president Omar Al-Bashir.  


UAE government eases face mask rules in some public places

UAE government eases face mask rules in some public places
Updated 22 September 2021

UAE government eases face mask rules in some public places

UAE government eases face mask rules in some public places

DUBAI: The UAE government has removed the mandatory requirement to wear face masks in some public places, the country’s health ministry announced Wednesday. 

The decision means it is no longer obligatory to wear masks while exercising outdoors, sitting at the beach, or by the pool.

Individuals driving in a private car alone or with members of the same household will also not be required to wear them.

Masks will also not be required in indoor places such as hair salons when people are alone. 

The decision came after the number of daily Covid-19 cases decreased by 60 per cent in August this year as compared to the same period last year.


Syrian rebel stronghold Idlib struggles with coronavirus surge

Syrian rebel stronghold Idlib struggles with coronavirus surge
Updated 22 September 2021

Syrian rebel stronghold Idlib struggles with coronavirus surge

Syrian rebel stronghold Idlib struggles with coronavirus surge
  • The total number of cases seen in Idlib province has more than doubled since the beginning of August
  • Extreme poverty and the ravages of Syria’s civil war have made the situation in Idlib uniquely terrible

BEIRUT: Coronavirus cases are surging to the worst levels of the pandemic in a rebel stronghold in Syria — a particularly devastating development in a region where scores of hospitals have been bombed and that doctors and nurses have fled in droves during a decade of war.
The total number of cases seen in Idlib province — an overcrowded enclave with a population of 4 million, many of them internally displaced — has more than doubled since the beginning of August to more than 61,000. In recent weeks, daily new infections have repeatedly shot past 1,500, and authorities reported 34 deaths on Sunday alone — figures that are still believed to be undercounts because many infected people don’t report to authorities.
The situation has become so dire in the northwestern province that rescue workers known as the White Helmets who became famous for digging through the rubble of bombings to find victims now mostly ferry coronavirus patients to the hospital or the dead to burials.
“What is happening is a medical catastrophe,” the Idlib Doctors Syndicate said this week as it issued a plea for support from international aid groups.
Idlib faces all the challenges that places the world over have during the pandemic: Its intensive care units are largely full, there are severe shortages of oxygen and tests, and the vaccination rollout has been slow.
But extreme poverty and the ravages of Syria’s civil war have made the situation in Idlib uniquely terrible. Half of its hospitals and health centers have been damaged by bombing, and the health system was close to collapse even before the pandemic. A large number of medical personnel have fled the country seeking safety and opportunities abroad. Tens of thousands of its residents live in crowded tent settlements, where social distancing and even regular hand-washing are all but impossible. And increasing violence in the region is now threatening to make matters worse.
Large parts of Idlib and neighboring Aleppo province remain in the hands of Syria’s armed opposition, dominated by radical groups including Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants who have struggled to respond to the outbreak, which intensified in August, apparently driven by the more contagious delta variant and gatherings for the Muslim feast of Eid Al-Adha.
Cases and deaths have also been increasing in recent weeks in government-held areas and those under the control of US-backed Kurdish-led fighters in the east, but the situation appears to be worse in Idlib, though it’s hard to measure the true toll anywhere.
In response, the political arm of the insurgent group that runs Idlib has closed some markets, forced restaurants to serve outdoor meals only, and delayed the opening of schools by a week.
But most residents are daily laborers who could not survive if they stopped working, making full lockdowns impossible.
“If they don’t work, they cannot eat,” said Idlib resident Ahmad Said, who added that most people cannot even afford to buy masks.
What’s more, a population that has suffered through so much already is often too weary to follow restrictions that have tested people even in easier circumstances.
“It is as if people have gotten used to death,” said Salwa Abdul-Rahman, an opposition activist who reports on events in Idlib. “Those who were not killed by regime and Russian airstrikes are being killed now by coronavirus.”
The vaccination campaign meanwhile, has been slow, though the arrival of some 350,000 doses of a Chinese vaccine earlier this month could help. According to the World Health Organization, only about 2.5 percent of Idlib’s population has received at least one shot.
The new virus outbreak also comes amid the most serious increase in violence in Idlib, 18 months after a truce reached between Turkey and Russia who support rival sides in Syria’s conflict brought relative calm. In recent weeks, airstrikes and artillery shelling by government forces have left scores of people dead or wounded.
At Al-Ziraa hospital, Dr. Muhammad Abdullah says there is no sign that the outbreak has reached its peak yet.
But for some Idlib residents, getting infected is the least of their worries.
“We have gone through more difficult situations than coronavirus,” said resident Ali Dalati, walking through a market without wearing a mask. “We are not afraid of coronavirus.”


Houthis not willing to make peace, Yemen’s parliament leader tells US envoy

Houthis not willing to make peace, Yemen’s parliament leader tells US envoy
Updated 22 September 2021

Houthis not willing to make peace, Yemen’s parliament leader tells US envoy

Houthis not willing to make peace, Yemen’s parliament leader tells US envoy

DUBAI: The Iran-backed Houthi militia are unwilling to make peace in Yemen and are actually undermining efforts for hostilities to cease in the conflict-ridden country, a senior Yemeni politician said.

“We’re ready to achieve peace, but the Houthi militia has not yet agreed to do so, it has continued to deliberately undermine peace efforts and proposals, going on fighting. These indicators show they have never been willing to make peace,” Parliament speaker, Sultan Al-Barakani said as he met US envoy to Yemen Timothy Lenderking to discuss peace initiatives for Yemen.

The Houthis are to blame for blocking peace efforts and initiative and escalating military actions targeting civilians and facilities including Mocha port, state news agency SABA quoted the parliament leader as saying.

Al-Barakani pointed to the recent public execution of nine people, who were accused of being involved in the killing of Houthi leader Saleh Al-Samad in 2018, as an example of the militia’s crimes against the Yemeni people.

Meanwhile, the Yemeni Network for Rights and Freedoms claimed it had documented 6,476  violations committed by the Houthis against women in more than five years, involving mostly deaths and injuries caused be artillery shelling, as well as mines and other explosive devices detonating.

The rights group also said there had been 770 cases of arrests and kidnapping, 195 cases of enforced disappearance and 70 cases of torture of women in Yemen during the period from Jan. 1, 2015 to June 1, 2021.

It also confirmed cases of torture and degrading treatment against 70 women who were detained in secret and public prisons of the Houthi militia.

This amounted to false charges against their honor, as well as trafficking in their honor – according to what was reported – in the testimonies of some of the released women, the group said, leading to some of them to commit suicide.