Turkish defense chief’s Iraqi visit: What to expect? 

Turkish Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar, center, at Army Command Control Center in Ankara during the military operation dubbed Claw-Tiger against PKK elements in Iraqi Kurdistan, June 17, 2020. (AFP)
Turkish Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar, center, at Army Command Control Center in Ankara during the military operation dubbed Claw-Tiger against PKK elements in Iraqi Kurdistan, June 17, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 22 January 2021

Turkish defense chief’s Iraqi visit: What to expect? 

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar’s recent visit to Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan has sparked speculation about an imminent joint military operation between Ankara, Baghdad and Irbil inside Iraqi territory against the Kurds. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Turkey’s President Erdogan hinted at a looming operation against the PKK in Iraq’s Sinjar, saying, “We can come suddenly one night”
  • Ankara’s military action against PKK elements in 2020 was widely condemned by Baghdad because of aerial bombardment of border villages

ANKARA: Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar’s recent visit to Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan has sparked speculation about an imminent joint military operation between Ankara, Baghdad and Irbil inside Iraqi territory against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). 

On Friday, Turkey’s President Erdogan hinted at the looming operation against PKK in Iraq’s Sinjar, saying, “We can come suddenly one night,” using the same sentence he used during previous Syria offensives. 

Ankara’s military action against the PKK in summertime both from air and ground was widely condemned by Baghdad because of the aerial bombardment of the border villages and the death of two senior Iraqi border officials. Both sides had to spend months on restoring good terms.  

Since the early 1990s, Turkey has conducted several cross-border operations against the PKK in northern Iraq after its military targets were hit from PKK’s Iraqi bases. 

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On Monday, Akar visited Baghdad and met Iraqi officials before heading to Irbil where he talked with Kurdish officials, including Kurdistan Prime Minister Masrour Barzani and Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani on Tuesday. 

Ankara is aiming to conduct an extensive offensive in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar to target hideouts of the PKK, but this time on a tripartite basis rather than a go-it-alone one. 

This issue was also raised during Akar’s meeting with Iraqi officials. Akar told Anadolu Agency that Baghdad pledged to remove the terrorists from Sinjar soon, while Turkey was also ready to assist it to do so if asked. 

The Turkish defense chief also said they would maintain “mutual exchange of information and form suitable mechanisms to exchange information.” 

He also thanked Irbil and Baghdad for their assumed disposition to exchange information on the PKK. 

To secure its strategic interests, Turkey also intends to build more temporary military bases in northern Iraq in addition to the existing 10 in the region. 

Yerevan Saeed, a Washington-based Middle Eastern affairs analyst, thinks that this could indicate preparations for massive military operations by Turkey in spring. 

“At the moment, the weather and the topography is too treacherous for any successful military actions,” he told Arab News. 

In the past, the PKK has often blamed the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for sharing intelligence reports with Ankara about the group’s location and moves in the region, although the KDP, which is opposed to the presence of the PKK in northern Iraq, has firmly denied these allegations. 

The KRG faces a balancing act because on one hand it refuses Ankara’s request for joining forces against the PKK, while on the other it has concerns about any intra-Kurdish fighting in the region. 

PKK-affiliated groups, namely the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) that fought Daesh in Sinjar in 2014, are still active in the area, especially around Mount Sinjar and its surrounding areas. Ankara has targeted YBS’s members several times in the past. 

While the PKK is listed as a terrorist movement by Washington, the YBS is not. 

Bilgay Duman, coordinator of Iraq Studies at Ankara-based think-tank ORSAM, doesn’t expect an imminent tripartite operation in Iraq due to the disagreements between the parties about what constitutes a “terror group.” 

“They still disagree about how to consider the PKK-affiliated groups in Iraq. On the other hand, realities on the ground are different. Therefore, I expect tripartite coordination with to-the-point operations against the zones where the PKK fighters are concentrated. It will be the best option for now,” he told Arab News. 

According to Duman, Baghdad and Irbil have differentiated between the threats and they do not target those groups who do not pose domestic security challenges to them. 

“The YBS is widely involved with the Iran-backed Hashd Al-Shaabi militia group, which funds and arms it,” he said. 

Experts also note that the regional policies of the new US administration under Joe Biden will be a determinant for the dynamics within Iraq and the shape of the potential Turkish operation. 

National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk’s partnership with local Kurdish groups in the region will also affect calculations. 

Although Ankara considers any partnership involving the Kurds, be it in Iraq or Syria, as a menace, McGurk was against the Iraqi Kurds’ referendum on independence in 2017. 

“The US is currently trying to eliminate the PKK, which it considers a terror group, and to strengthen the local Kurdish groups instead. On the other hand, as long as the PKK challenges the KDP’s authority and legitimacy in northern Iraq and targets big cities, we can expect a more aligned approach between Ankara, Baghdad Irbil,” Duman said. 

However, for Saeed, it unlikely that the Iraqi or the Kurdish side becomes part of any Turkish military operations in the Kurdistan region. 

“But sharing intelligence could be an element of such coordination and cooperation,” he said. 


Nine Turkish soldiers killed in military helicopter crash: Defence ministry

Nine Turkish soldiers killed in military helicopter crash: Defence ministry
Updated 38 min 1 sec ago

Nine Turkish soldiers killed in military helicopter crash: Defence ministry

Nine Turkish soldiers killed in military helicopter crash: Defence ministry

ISTANBUL: A military helicopter crashed in southeast Turkey, killing nine soldiers and injuring four, the defence ministry said on Thursday.
The helicopter took off from the Bingol province at 1055 GMT, it said in a statement, adding that search operations were launched after it lost contact at 1125 GMT.
It described the crash as accidental, but did not elaborate. The four injured soldiers were being taken to hospital, the ministry added.


Sudan to start vaccine rollout next week after getting COVAX doses

Sudan to start vaccine rollout next week after getting COVAX doses
Updated 04 March 2021

Sudan to start vaccine rollout next week after getting COVAX doses

Sudan to start vaccine rollout next week after getting COVAX doses
  • Sudan received 828,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-produced vaccine on Wednesday at Khartoum airport
  • The delivery follows that of 4.5 metric tons of syringes and disposal boxes through COVAX in late February

KHARTOUM: Sudan will begin vaccinating health care workers followed by people aged 45 or older with chronic conditions for free next week after becoming the first country in the Middle East and North Africa to benefit from COVAX facility vaccines.
Sudan received 828,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-produced vaccine on Wednesday at Khartoum airport, a health ministry official said. The delivery follows that of 4.5 metric tons of syringes and disposal boxes through COVAX in late February.
Sudan says it expects to receive the remainder of a total 3.4 million doses through COVAX, a vaccine-sharing program co-led by the World Health Organization, in the second quarter of this year.
It aims to cover 20% of its population of 44 million through COVAX by September, health ministry officials said.
“This is an essential part of our battle against coronavirus,” Health Minister Omer Elnageib said.
Sudan was also in initial discussions to produce the vaccine domestically, Elnageib added.
Sudan is a young country, with only about 4% of its population over the age of 65, according to UN statistics.
It has been suffering from a long economic crisis that has left it unable to import some basic medicines and its health care system suffered from decades of neglect and sanctions under former President Omar Al-Bashir before his overthrow in 2019.
As of March 1, Sudan had officially recorded 28,545 cases of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic one year ago, including 1,895 deaths.


Iran accepts ‘technical meetings’ with IAEA from early April

Iran accepts ‘technical meetings’ with IAEA from early April
Updated 04 March 2021

Iran accepts ‘technical meetings’ with IAEA from early April

Iran accepts ‘technical meetings’ with IAEA from early April
  • France, Britain and Germany planned to introduce a resolution at a meeting of the IAEA’s board of governors criticizing Iran’s suspension of some IAEA inspections
  • Diplomats said the resolution will now not be put forward

VIENNA: Iran has accepted holding a series of meetings with the UN nuclear watchdog in order to “clarify a number of outstanding issues,” the body’s Director General Rafael Grossi said Thursday.

“We are going to be starting this process... with a technical meeting which will take place in Iran at the beginning of April, which I hope will be followed by other technical or political meetings,” Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told reporters at a press conference.

The new process will be aimed at clarifying queries the IAEA has raised about the possible previous presence of nuclear material at undeclared sites.

Meanwhile, The European nations will not go ahead with a planned resolution criticising Iran at this week’s meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog, diplomatic sources said on Thursday.

France, Britain and Germany had planned to introduce a resolution at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors, with the support of the United States, criticising Iran’s suspension of some IAEA inspections.

However, diplomats said the resolution, which had not yet been formally submitted, will now not be put forward.

The decision to hold off was taken “to give time to diplomacy,” one diplomatic source said, pointing to “initiatives undertaken by (IAEA Director General Rafael) Grossi” and signs of “good faith” on the Iranian side.

The latest moves come at a delicate moment for diplomacy on the Iranian nuclear issue, with fragile efforts underway to revive the ailing 2015 deal between Iran and world powers on its nuclear programme.

The Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA Kazem Gharib Abadi, tweeted on Thursday that “due to extensive diplomatic consultations” at the IAEA, “a glimpse of hope is looming to prevent unnecessary tension.”

“Wisdom prevails,” he added.

The US told IAEA that Iran has been given a chance to address the concerns on uranium particles found at undeclared, old sites and Washington will watch closely.

“Iran has now been given another opportunity by the Director General to offer up the necessary cooperation before this Board next meets,” the US statement to the board said, shortly after diplomats said plans for a resolution criticizing Iran had been scrapped.

“The United States, like all Board members, will calibrate our views on the Board’s next steps according to whether Iran seizes the opportunity now before it to finally and credibly address the IAEA's concerns,” it added.

US President Joe Biden has said he is willing to bring the United States back to the landmark 2015 deal, known as the JCPOA.

It has been unravelling since Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump pulled the US out of the agreement in 2018.

Earlier this week, a report in the Iranian Vatan-e-Emrouz newspaper said Tehran had “temporarily suspended the production of uranium metal on the order of the President (Hassan Rouhani).”

The government in Tehran has not disputed the accuracy of the report.

The production of uranium metal goes against a 15-year ban in the JCPOA on “producing or acquiring plutonium or uranium metals or their alloys”

However, Iran says it has the right to breach this and a series of other constraints on its nuclear activities laid down in the deal in retaliation for the US withdrawal from the accord and subsequent imposition of sanctions.

Iran says the uranium metal production is part of its plans to provide advanced fuel for a research reactor in Tehran.

But the topic is sensitive because uranium metal can be used as a component in nuclear weapons.

Late last month Iran suspended some IAEA inspections as US sanctions had not yet been lifted, described by Grossi as a “huge loss” for the agency.

However, after two days of talks with Iranian officials in Tehran, a three-month arrangement was agreed under which Iran pledged to keep recordings “of some activities and monitoring equipment” and hand them over to the IAEA as and when US sanctions are lifted.

Iran had threatened to suspend that arrangement in the event of a critical resolution at the IAEA.

European states and the US criticised Iran’s suspension of inspections in their statements to the IAEA's board this week.

“How does ending such monitoring serve Iran’s goal of re-establishing confidence in its nuclear programmes and intentions?” asked US Charge d'Affaires Louis L Bono.

“These steps are counterproductive, and Iran should reverse them,” he added.


US blasts ICC decision to probe Israel over war crimes

US blasts ICC decision to probe Israel over war crimes
Updated 04 March 2021

US blasts ICC decision to probe Israel over war crimes

US blasts ICC decision to probe Israel over war crimes
  • Secretary of state: International Criminal Court ‘has no jurisdiction over this matter’
  • ICC prosecutor: Decision to investigate ‘followed painstaking preliminary examination that lasted close to five years’

CHICAGO: US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken condemned the decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open a formal investigation into war crimes committed by both Israel’s military and Palestinian militants.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who will be replaced by Karim Khan on June 16, said in December 2019: “War crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.”

She named both the Israel Defense Forces and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas as possible perpetrators.

Blinken said: “The ICC has no jurisdiction over this matter. Israel is not a party to the ICC and has not consented to the court’s jurisdiction, and we have serious concerns about the ICC’s attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel.”

The Biden administration “firmly opposes and is deeply disappointed” by this decision, he added. “The Palestinians do not qualify as a sovereign state and therefore are not qualified to obtain membership as a state in, participate as a state in, or delegate jurisdiction to the ICC.”

Despite his denunciation, Blinken said the US “remains deeply committed to ensuring justice and accountability for international atrocity crimes. We recognize the role that international tribunals such as the ICC can play — within their respective mandates — in the pursuit of those important objectives.”

The US “believes a peaceful, secure and more prosperous future for the people of the Middle East depends on building bridges and creating new avenues for dialogue and exchange, not unilateral judicial actions that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution,” he added.

“We will continue to uphold our strong commitment to Israel and its security, including by opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly.”

Israel also denounced the ICC decision, while the Palestinian Authority welcomed it. Bensouda said the decision to open an investigation “followed a painstaking preliminary examination undertaken by my office that lasted close to five years.”

She added: “In the end, our central concern must be for the victims of crimes, both Palestinian and Israeli, arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides.”

Ned Price, State Department press secretary, said despite opposing an ICC investigation, the Biden administration “would always stand up for human rights.”

He added: “We are thoroughly reviewing sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13928 as we determine our next steps.”

Executive Order 13928, issued by former US President Donald Trump in June 2020, “blocks property of certain parties associated with the International Criminal Court.”


UAE reports 2,742 new coronavirus cases, 17 deaths

UAE reports 2,742 new coronavirus cases, 17 deaths
Updated 04 March 2021

UAE reports 2,742 new coronavirus cases, 17 deaths

UAE reports 2,742 new coronavirus cases, 17 deaths
  • An additional 1,691 individuals have recovered from the contagious disease

DUBAI: UAE health officials reported 2,742 new coronavirus infections and a further 17 deaths overnight as the country further expanded its testing protocols with an additional 235,797 COVID-19 tests done in the past 24 hours.
The Ministry of Health and Prevention said that recorded COVID-19 cases now stand at 402,205 while the total number of fatalities was at 1,286.
An additional 1,691 people have recovered from the disease, state news agency WAM reported, bringing the total number of recoveries to 387,278.
The UAE has implemented stringent protocols to curb the spread of coronavirus to complement its widespread inoculation campaign.
In Sharjah, security inspection teams apprehended 13 people who were playing cricket which violated measures to combat COVID-19, a separate WAM report said.
Neighboring Ajman emirate meanwhile has mandated workers employed in businesses including restaurants, cafes, supermarkets, gyms, men’s and women’s salons, and food and meal delivery companies to undergo weekly PCR examinations.
Employees who have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are exempted from the latest regulation.