Despite three rocket attacks in a week on US targets in Iraq, Washington yet to respond

Despite three rocket attacks in a week on US targets in Iraq, Washington yet to respond
Iraqi forces search the area in Tarmiyah, 35 kilometres (20 miles) north of Baghdad on February 20, 2021, following clashes with Daesh fighters. (AFP)
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Updated 23 February 2021

Despite three rocket attacks in a week on US targets in Iraq, Washington yet to respond

Despite three rocket attacks in a week on US targets in Iraq, Washington yet to respond
  • Tensions in Iraq heightened in January last year when Trump ordered the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, who was considered the second-most powerful person Iran after Ali Khamenei

CHICAGO: A week after five Americans were injured and a foreign contractor working for the US was killed during a rocket attack on a military base near Erbil International Airport in northern Iraq, Washington has yet to decide how to respond to the escalation of violence.
In the meantime there have been two additional attacks on US-linked targets in country: at least four missiles hit Balad Air Base, north of Baghdad on Feb. 20, leaving one person wounded, and on Monday two rockets landed in the Green Zone near the US embassy in Baghdad. There were no reports of casualties in the latest attack.
It is widely suspected that Iran is behind the attacks but the Biden administration has so far been hesitant to assign blame, stating after the Feb. 15 attack in Erbil that it is “assessing” who is responsible and will respond “at a time and place of our choosing.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that President Joe Biden has not given up on pressuring Iran on the issue of nuclear weapons, as he addressed Iran’s disruptive activity in the region.
“Iran has been not standing down but acting up in the region with various destabilizing actions, attacks on our own forces in Iraq and elsewhere, (and) on our partners,” Blinken said when he was asked whether the US had surrendered its leverage on Tehran by agreeing to enter into negotiations for a return to 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal. President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the agreement in 2018.
“So the problem has gotten worse, not better. And President Biden believes strongly that strong, principled diplomacy is the best way to try to deal with these issues, to put the nuclear problem back in the box and to push back on Iran in other areas.” Earlier White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki reiterated that the priority with Iran remains preventing the regime obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“We don’t anticipate taking additional steps, as in snapback — snapping back of sanctions in advance of that,” she said. “This is about having a conversation about the path forward. “And, yes, part of that, as we look ahead, would be a desire to have a conversation about their role in the region, their use of ballistic missiles, and that certainly is the administration’s objective.”
Last week Blinken joined French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, and UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in issuing a joint warning about the attacks.
“We the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America condemn in the strongest terms the Feb. 15 rocket attack in the Iraqi Kurdistan region,” they said.
“We offer our condolences to the victims, their families and the Iraqi people. Together, our governments will support the Government of Iraq’s investigation into the attack with a view to holding accountable those responsible. We are united in our view that attacks on US and coalition personnel and facilities will not be tolerated.”
No one has claimed responsibility for the recent attacks and the militants have been identified only as “Iraqi armed groups.”
However many analysts, and Iranian dissident groups, believe the blame lies squarely with Tehran.

“There is no question that the Iranian regime is behind the recent spate of rocket attacks on the US military bases and the Baghdad embassy,” said Ali Safavi, an official with the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran. “It has coined phony names for its terrorist proxy groups in fear of a harsh response. “These attacks are an attempt by Tehran to raise the stakes in the nuclear negotiations, as the ball is in its court because both the Europeans and the US have predicated any new talks on the Iran nuclear deal on the regime halting its violations and strictly abiding by the terms of the JCPOA.
“The international community should not blink and should adopt a firm approach because the ruling clerics understand only the language of decisiveness and power. Any concessions will be construed as weakness and will only embolden the regime.”
Tensions in Iraq heightened in January last year when Trump ordered the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, who was considered the second-most powerful person Iran after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Iranian officials vowed to extract “severe revenge.” The situation in northern Iraq is further complicated by the uneasy relationship between the US and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has criticized Washington for protecting Kurdish forces. Erbil is the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region. Shortly before the Feb. 15 missile strikes there, Kurdish militants executed 13 Turkish hostages, including soldiers and police officers. Ankara argues that the build-up of Kurdish forces in northern Iraq represents a threat to Turkish security.
Blinken previously said he called Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Khadimi on Feb. 16 to reassure him that Washington remains committed to the safety of Iraq, and to express his “outrage” at the attack on Erbil. He also spoke with Masrour Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government. He added that he had encouraged Al-Kadhimi to continue to work closely with the regional government to address violent extremism.


Egypt’s supply minister says new price for bread ‘will take time’

Egypt’s supply minister says new price for bread ‘will take time’
Updated 13 sec ago

Egypt’s supply minister says new price for bread ‘will take time’

Egypt’s supply minister says new price for bread ‘will take time’
  • Subsidized loaf has been sold since for 5 Egyptian piasters

CAIRO: Egypt’s supply minister Ali Moselhy said on Thursday deciding a new price for subsidized bread “will take time.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in August said it was time to increase the price of the country’s subsidized bread, revisiting the issue for the first time since 1977 when then president Anwar Sadat reversed a price rise in the face of riots.

The subsidized loaf has been sold since then for 5 Egyptian piasters ($0.0032).

“The prices of commodities have been increasing since January, across vegetable oils markets, sugar and lately wheat,” Moselhy told a news conference in Cairo.

“The wheat price set by suppliers will take into account inflation,” he said, adding that the country’s strategic reserves of wheat were sufficient for five months and those of sugar until mid-February.


Death toll of Sudan anti-coup protesters rises to 7

Death toll of Sudan anti-coup protesters rises to 7
Updated 28 October 2021

Death toll of Sudan anti-coup protesters rises to 7

Death toll of Sudan anti-coup protesters rises to 7
  • Gen Abdel-Fattah Buran meanwhile fires at least six ambassadors

KHARTOUM: Seven protesters have been killed in Sudan since a military coup four days ago, a health official said Thursday, adding that other bodies had since arrived without giving an exact number.

Four protesters were already reported killed on Monday, hours after the military coup was announced.

“On Monday, morgues in Khartoum and Omdurman received the bodies of seven civilians,” Hisham Fagiri, head of the health ministry’s forensic authority, said. Some corpses showed wounds caused by “sharp tools,” he added.

Meanwhile, Gen Abdel-Fattah Buran fired at least six ambassadors, including the envoys to the US, the European Union and France, after they condemned the military’s takeover of the country, a military official said Thursday.

The diplomats pledged their support for the now-deposed government of Prime Minister Abddalla Hamdok.

Also fired by the strongman late Wednesday were the Sudanese ambassadors to Qatar, China and the UN mission in Geneva, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media.

The state-run Sudan TV also reported the dismissals.

The ambassadors were fired two days after Burhan dissolved the transitional government and detained the prime minister, many government officials and political leaders in a coup condemned by the US and the West. The military allowed Hamdok to return home Tuesday after international pressure for his release.

Burhan said the military forces were compelled to take over because of quarrels between political parties that he claimed could lead to civil war. However, the coup also comes just weeks before Burhan would have had to hand over the leadership of the Sovereign Council, the ultimate decision-maker in Sudan, to a civilian, in a step that would reduce the military’s hold on the country. The council has military and civilian members. Hamdok’s government ran Sudan’s daily affairs.

The coup threatens to halt Sudan’s fitful transition to democracy, which began after the 2019 ouster of long-time ruler Omar Al-Bashir and his Islamist government in a popular uprising.

The takeover came after weeks of mounting tensions between military and civilian leaders over the course and pace of that process.

Ali bin Yahia, Sudan’s envoy in Geneva, was defiant after his dismissal.

“I will spare no efforts to reverse the situation, explain facts and resist the blackout imposed by coup officials on what is happened my beloved country,” he said in video comments posted online.

Nureldin Satti, the Sudanese envoy to the US, said Tuesday he was working with Sudanese diplomats in Brussels, Paris, Geneva and New York to “resist the military coup in support of the heroic struggle of the Sudanese people” to achieve the aims of the uprising against Al-Bashir.

In another development, Burhan fired Adlan Ibrahim, head of the country’s Civil Aviation Authority, according to the official. Adlan’s dismissal came after the resumption of flights in and out of Khartoum’s international airport resumed Wednesday.


Lebanon’s Beirut blast probe judge suspends hearing for former PM Diab – legal source

Lebanon’s Beirut blast probe judge suspends hearing for former PM Diab – legal source
Updated 28 October 2021

Lebanon’s Beirut blast probe judge suspends hearing for former PM Diab – legal source

Lebanon’s Beirut blast probe judge suspends hearing for former PM Diab – legal source
  • Prime Minister Hassan filed a suit over his prosecution on Wednesday

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Beirut blast probe judge Tarek Bitar suspended on Thursday the interrogation of for former Prime Minister Hassan Diab after Diab filed a suit, a legal source said.
The suit was filed by Diab over his prosecution by Bitar on Wednesday. Diab, who has been charged over the Aug. 4, 2020 blast that killed over 215 people, had already missed at least two interrogation sessions.
Bitar was officially notified of the legal suit arguing that he did not have the authority to interrogate the former prime minister which automatically forces him to suspend the session, the legal source said.
“The suspension of questioning relates only to Diab in this case,” the source told Reuters.
Judge Bitar has sought to question top politicians, including former ministers and members of parliament, since July but nearly all have spurned him with some raising legal complaints against him questioning his impartiality.
Bitar has in the past issued arrest warrants for ministers who failed to show up for interrogation, and Diab’s lawsuit was likely an 11th-hour attempt to prevent a similar scenario after his interrogation scheduled for Thursday.


Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes

Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes
Updated 27 October 2021

Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes

Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes
  • Decision came into effect Oct. 21 and stipulates that Moroccans must provide proof of vaccination to enter workplaces
  • The pass is also required to access indoor services such as restaurants, banks and travel

RABAT, Morocco: Demonstrators took to the streets in cities around Morocco on Wednesday, some clashing with police as they denounced the country’s decision to require coronavirus vaccination passes to be allowed to work and enter public venues.
The decision came into effect Oct. 21 and stipulates that Moroccans must provide proof of vaccination in order to enter their workplaces. In a statement, the government has said employers have “direct legal responsibility” to enforce the decision.
The pass is also required to access indoor services such as restaurants and banks as well as domestic and international travel.
The North African kingdom of 36 million people has Africa’s highest vaccination rate, with more than 50 percent of the population fully inoculated. Earlier this month, the government also started administering booster shots.
But the abrupt and unusually widespread vaccine requirements have also prompted opposition, and led to big crowds at vaccination centers as people rushed to get shots.
In the capital, Rabat, protesters gathered outside the parliament building and chanted slogans against the rule, arguing that it goes against fundamental human rights and civil liberties. Police formed a line to prevent the angry demonstrators from getting inside the legislature.
A few protesters clashed with police as they were pushed away down Mohammed V Avenue that leads to the parliament building.
Among protesters was Nabila Mounib, a member of parliament and the secretary general of the opposition Unified Socialist Party. She joined the protest after being barred from entering the parliament building for showing up without a vaccination pass.
Similar scenes unfolded in other Moroccan cities, with dozens of protesters taking to the streets in the country’s most populous city, Casablanca, as well as tourist hotspots of Marrakech and Agadir. They shouted “United against the pass!” as police pushed and swung batons at some of the demonstrators in an attempt to disperse them.


Lebanese PM distances self from minister’s Houthi Yemen ‘self-defense’ claim

Lebanese PM distances self from minister’s Houthi Yemen ‘self-defense’ claim
Updated 28 October 2021

Lebanese PM distances self from minister’s Houthi Yemen ‘self-defense’ claim

Lebanese PM distances self from minister’s Houthi Yemen ‘self-defense’ claim
  • The Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council said in a statement he rejected Kordahi’s comments
  • Najib Mikati said George Kordahi’s comments on TV did not reflect government’s, president’s position on Yemen

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Wednesday distanced himself from comments made by the country’s Information Minister George Kordahi suggesting that the Iran-backed Houthis were “defending themselves” in Yemen.

Kordahi had been responding to a question from the host of “Barlamanasha3b,” an Al Jazeera-affiliated youth TV show, asking about his position on the conflict in the war-torn country.

During the interview recorded on Aug. 5, one month before being appointed information minister, Kordahi said: “The Houthis in Yemen are a resistance movement, defending themselves and not attacking anyone.” He added that the group was acting in self-defense against the “Saudi-UAE attack on Yemen.”

Mikati said: “Kordahi’s statement reflects his personal opinion which we do not accept. These comments do not express the government nor the president’s (Michel Aoun) position on the Yemeni issue. Lebanon is committed to its ties with Arab countries.”

When Kordahi’s remarks later surfaced in a video posted online, they sparked a frenzy on social media and an official protest to the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs from Yemen’s Ambassador to Lebanon Abdullah Al-Deais.

Kordahi replied by saying he had not intended “in any way, to offend the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or the Emirates,” and expressed his “love and loyalty to the leaders and people of the two countries.”

He added: “What I said about the war in Yemen being an absurd war that needs to stop, I said it with conviction, not in defense of Yemen, but also out of love for Saudi Arabia and the UAE.”

Lebanon's Information Minister George Kordahi speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon on Sept.  13, 2021. (REUTERS File Photo)

But Al-Deais said Kordahi had only “added insult to injury, as he did not apologize, but rather confirmed what he had said.”

The Yemeni envoy added: “Kordahi’s remarks go against Lebanon’s clear position toward Yemen and its condemnation of the Houthi coup and its support for all relevant Arab and UN resolutions.”

Following a meeting with Aoun on Wednesday, Mikati added: “It is true that we distance ourselves from conflicts, but we do not distance ourselves from any Arab position in solidarity with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

This position is a constant position, and we look forward to the best relations.

“Kordahi’s comments will not affect the general course, especially since the constants of the Lebanese position on relations with Arab countries were stated in its ministerial declaration. The interview with Kordahi took place before he was appointed minister and was broadcast yesterday,” Mikati said.

Separately, Lebanon’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs pointed out that Kordahi’s comments reflected his “personal stand” and “do not reflect the government’s position.”

In a statement, it said: “The ministry has repeatedly condemned the terrorist attacks on Saudi Arabia and maintains its position in defending the security and safety of its Gulf brothers, for whom it holds love, respect, and appreciation, and refrains from interfering in their internal and external policies.”

The Gulf Cooperation Council noted that Kordahi’s remarks showed his limited knowledge and lack of understanding of the situation in Yemen.

GCC Secretary-General Dr. Nayef bin Falah Al-Hajraf condemned, “the Lebanese minister of information’s defense of the Houthi coup group, while ignoring the intransigence of the Houthi movement against all international efforts to end the Yemeni crisis, and at a time when the Saudi Houthi group is targeting missiles and marches, targeting the defenseless Yemeni people, and preventing relief aid from reaching the stricken areas.”

Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid Al-Bukhari on Wednesday met with Al-Deais.

In a statement issued by the Saudi embassy, Al-Bukhari reaffirmed “the Kingdom’s position on supporting legitimacy in Yemen, reaching a political solution, in accordance with the terms of reference represented by the Gulf Initiative and its executive mechanism, the outcomes of the Comprehensive National Dialogue Conference and the resolution 2216, in order to preserve Yemen’s unity, integrity, respect its sovereignty and independence, and reject any interference in its internal affairs.

“The Iranian-backed Houthis continue hostilities and terrorist operations by firing ballistic missiles and booby-trapped drones to target civilians and civilian objects in Saudi Arabia, violating international and humanitarian law by using civilian populations in Yemeni civilian areas as human shields, and launching booby-trapped boats and remotely marching, posing a serious threat to regional and international security,” he said.

The Saudi envoy highlighted, “the legitimate right of the Saudi-led coalition to restore legitimacy in Yemen, to take and implement the necessary measures to deal with these hostilities and terrorist attacks, and to prevent the smuggling of weapons into these militias that poses a threat to the freedom of maritime navigation and global trade in the Bab Al-Mandab Strait and the Red Sea.”

Al-Bukhari praised “the efficiency” of Saudi air defenses in intercepting and responding to more than 400 ballistic missiles, 791 drones, and at least 205 naval mines.