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.


Israeli gunfire kills Palestinian in West Bank – ministry

Israeli gunfire kills Palestinian in West Bank – ministry
Updated 7 sec ago

Israeli gunfire kills Palestinian in West Bank – ministry

Israeli gunfire kills Palestinian in West Bank – ministry
JENIN, Palestinian Territories: A Palestinian was killed Sunday by Israeli gunfire near Jenin in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said, amid reports of heavy clashes in the area.
The ministry said a Palestinian man from the village of Borqin west of Jenin who had been shot with a live bullet died from his injuries after reaching a hospital.
Israeli and Palestinian media have reported that clashes that began late Saturday in the area were continuing on Sunday.

Yemen’s civilians paying the price for delisting of Houthis from US terror list

Newly recruited Houthi fighters take part in a gathering in the capital Sanaa. (AFP/File Photo)
Newly recruited Houthi fighters take part in a gathering in the capital Sanaa. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 26 September 2021

Yemen’s civilians paying the price for delisting of Houthis from US terror list

Newly recruited Houthi fighters take part in a gathering in the capital Sanaa. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Conflict mapping shows militia has killed more people since the Biden administration revoked its FTO designation
  • Saudi diplomat says the Kingdom will continue to use UN mechanisms to expose the Houthis’ true terrorist face

LONDON: Seven months after the US removed the Houthis from its list of designated foreign terrorist organizations, the militia is killing more people than before and intensifying its efforts to bring the entire country of Yemen under its extremist doctrine, according to experts.

Within days of their removal, the Houthis escalated their assault on Yemen’s Marib, a province that provides temporary shelter to thousands of internally displaced people and acts as a bastion of the UN-backed government’s pushback against the Houthis’ religious tyranny.

Six months later, the siege of Marib continues to claim lives daily — on both sides — and perpetuates Yemen’s twin humanitarian and economic crises.

If these developments in Yemen are anything to go by, one of Joe Biden’s first acts as US president has backfired badly.

“I am revoking the designations of Ansar Allah, sometimes referred to as the Houthis, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization,” Biden said on Feb. 12.

Citing the “dire humanitarian situation in Yemen,” he said the group’s inclusion on the list would only obstruct the delivery of aid.

“By focusing on alleviating the humanitarian situation in Yemen, we hope the Yemeni parties can also focus on engaging in dialogue.”

Granted, hindsight is always 20/20 but the Biden team never really tried to defend the rationale behind the move with evidence.

“The delisting gave the Houthis and, more importantly, their Iranian sponsors a sense of impunity,” Michael Rubin, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told Arab News. “The delisting also eviscerated international efforts to prevent Houthi supply and finance.”

In fact, Rubin says, the Biden administration’s justification for the delisting of the Houthis — to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid — never made sense in the first place.

“There was already an inspection regime” in place, Rubin said. “The UN had repeatedly reported on the delivery of humanitarian goods. Ironically, it was often the Houthis which prevented the delivery of goods to cities like Taiz not under Houthi control.”

In Rubin’s view, Biden’s decision to delist the Houthis may have had more to do with domestic American politics than what was best for the Yemeni people — and it may have emboldened other regional terrorist groups in the process.

“The Biden administration’s delisting had more to do with reversing what (former president Donald) Trump had done than any consideration of the realities on the ground,” he said.

“As such, Biden’s delisting for purely political reasons undermined the legitimacy of US listings and also encouraged other terrorist groups to demand delisting as a diplomatic concession.”

Drone missiles used by Houthis in Yemen in battles against the coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia and UAE. (AFP/File Photo)

Not only has the delisting failed to concretely resolve the humanitarian situation in Yemen, but it may also have cost more people their lives.

Alexander Jalil is a Middle East and North Africa analyst at the Armed Conflict Location Event Data Project, a highly specialized organization dedicated to recording instances of fatal and non-fatal violence in conflicts or politically unstable locations across the world.

Jalil told Arab News that ACLED’s data, painstakingly collected and verified based on local sources, suggests that not only were the Houthis involved in a higher proportion of the fighting in Yemen after they were removed from the terror list, but they were actually responsible for the deaths of more people.

“The events in the six months after the group was removed from the US terror designation list were also deadlier, as our fatalities count saw an increase between Feb. 12, 2021, and Aug. 12, 2021, compared to Aug. 12, 2020, and Feb. 12, 2021,” Jalil said.

INNUMBERS

* 7,998 - Number of fatalities attributed to Houthis in the 6 months prior to delisting.

* 9,312 - Number of fatalities attributed to Houthis in the 6 months since delisting.

(Source: ACLED)

ACLED’s data shows that in the six months preceding the Houthis’ removal from the terror blacklist, they were responsible for 7,998 fatalities. In the six months after they were removed, they killed 9,312 people — a rise of more than 1,314.

It is not clear exactly what caused this jump in fatalities, but Asif Shuja, a senior research fellow who specializes in Iran at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute, told Arab News “the delisting of the Houthis by the Biden administration tilted the balance in favor of Iran.”

Iran has long supported the Houthis, who are ideologically aligned with Tehran’s doctrine of velayat-e faqih — or guardianship of the Islamic jurist. This ideology places supreme control of the state in the hands of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the basis of a religious worldview prescribed by his revolutionary predecessor Ruhollah Khomeini.

Saudi Arabia’s 2015 intervention in Yemen was launched in order to uphold the legitimate Yemeni government, which was forced from the capital Sanaa by the Houthis earlier that year, and to prevent further attacks on the Kingdom.

Tehran now provides funding, arms, training, and ballistic missiles to the Houthis — many of which have been turned against Saudi Arabia, its citizens, and its allies.

The Houthis unleashed a wave of ballistic missile and drone attacks against the Kingdom on Sept. 4, defying calls by the international community for a return to the negotiating table.

All of the missiles and drones were intercepted and destroyed, but falling debris from a missile shot down over Eastern Province injured a boy and a girl in Dammam city.

Falling debris also caused damage to 14 residential houses, coalition spokesman Brig. Gen. Turki Al-Maliki said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency.

A second missile targeted the southwestern region of Najran followed by a third on the adjacent region of Jazan. Earlier that same day, coalition air defenses intercepted three booby-trapped drones launched by the Houthis.

Houthi attempts to target civilians and civilian objects are not only hostile and barbaric but also “incompatible with heavenly values ​​and humanitarian principles,” Al-Maliki told SPA.

Another attack at the end of August struck an airport in Abha, wounding eight civilians and damaging a commercial airliner.

A speech by Shiite Houthi leader Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi is screened as supporters take part in a rally. (AFP/File Photo)

“Houthi attacks are perpetuating the conflict, prolonging the suffering of the Yemeni people, and jeopardizing peace efforts at a critical moment,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement at the time.

Abdullah Al-Mouallimi, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the UN, told Arab News the Kingdom is actively working to expose the Houthi militia’s true nature as a terrorist organization through the UN Security Council.

“When we send letters to the UNSC or to the secretary-general regarding the various attacks that the Houthis try to launch against Saudi Arabia, our main objective is simply to record the fact,” he said.

Al-Mouallimi added: “We are repulsing these attacks, foiling them well before they hit targets in most cases, and we are exposing them to the international community. We are making them well known to the international community and the world at large.”

Saudi Arabia has confronted the Houthis with force but has also consistently pushed for a peaceful resolution to the war in Yemen that places the people at the heart of any political settlement. But a peaceful end to the conflict is not a goal shared by the Houthi militia.

In his speech to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, King Salman of Saudi Arabia said: “The peace initiative in Yemen tabled by the Kingdom last March ought to end the bloodshed and conflict. It ought to put an end to the suffering of the Yemeni people. Unfortunately, the terrorist Houthi militia rejects peaceful solutions.”

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Twitter: @CHamillStewart


Interim PM outlines ambitions, challenges for newly free Sudan

Interim PM outlines ambitions, challenges for newly free Sudan
Updated 26 September 2021

Interim PM outlines ambitions, challenges for newly free Sudan

Interim PM outlines ambitions, challenges for newly free Sudan
  • Abdalla Hamdok: Aim is to build ‘safe, stable’ country ‘where everyone lives in peace, prosperity, freedom, justice’
  • He thanked international partners, such as Saudi Arabia, who have provided assistance to Sudan’s fledgling government

NEW YORK: The prime minister of Sudan’s transitional government has outlined its plans for a “safe and stable” nation, and urged world leaders to work together to deliver more COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries.
“The transitional government in Sudan continues to implement policies aiming to lay the foundations for democracy and rule of law, and to promote human rights,” Abdalla Hamdok told UN General Assembly delegates.
“At the same time, it aims to tackle the chronic structural problems beleaguering our economy,” he said.
“These programs and these policies underpin a common goal — that is, building a safe and stable Sudan where everyone lives in peace, prosperity, freedom and justice, as expressed in the slogans of the glorious revolution of December.”
At the end of 2018 and into 2019, the Sudanese people overthrew Omar Bashir, bringing to an end 30 years of autocratic rule.
Since then, Hamdok said, “the reforms undertaken have had an effect on the most vulnerable people in our society. We’ve launched social protection programs … with the aid of regional and international partners.”
Among those international supporters is Saudi Arabia, which in May provided a $20 million grant to assist Sudan with servicing its debts to the International Monetary Fund. More investment by the Kingdom is expected.
But while Sudan’s revolution achieved its initial goal of establishing a civilian government, the country faces a plethora of systemic and economic challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic.
Hamdok said Sudan has witnessed an influx of refugees from neighboring countries, and it does not have the resources to effectively manage this.
“Host communities are the first providers of protection and solidarity to these people. They share their scant resources and don’t, unfortunately, receive the support they require,” he added.
“Conditions in refugee camps are better than those in many host communities. The international community needs to effectively contribute to the development of these communities as part of distributing the burden involved. More money is needed.”
Hamdok also urged regional countries to reach a lasting agreement on Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam, which has fueled tensions between Addis Ababa on one hand and Egypt and Sudan on the other because of the Nile’s critical importance to each country.
He commended the role of the World Health Organization in combating the pandemic, which he said has hit poor nations particularly hard.
“International cooperation and multilateral action” are required to ensure people in poor countries are able to access COVID-19 vaccines, he said.
A cooperative and global approach to ending the pandemic is “the only way to give true meaning to the slogan ‘no one is safe until everyone is safe’,” he added.

(With AP)

 


Tunisia’s Islamist party falling apart as over 100 key members resign amid crisis

Tunisia’s Islamist party falling apart as over 100 key members resign amid crisis
Updated 26 September 2021

Tunisia’s Islamist party falling apart as over 100 key members resign amid crisis

Tunisia’s Islamist party falling apart as over 100 key members resign amid crisis
  • Party leader Rached Ghannouchi chided for making “bad political choices” and forming “inappropriate alliances”

TUNIS/JEDDAH: Tunisia’s main Islamist political party was on the verge of collapse on Saturday after more than 100 key members resigned in protest against their leader.

Among the 113 members who resigned from the Ennahda party were key figures from the party leadership, including members of parliament and former ministers.

They directed their anger at veteran party leader Rached Ghannouchi, 80, who co-founded the party in 1981 inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood and has led it ever since. “The current party leadership is responsible for Ennahdha’s isolation and largely for the deteriorating situation in the country,” the former members said.

They blamed Ghannouchi for making “bad political choices” and forming “inappropriate alliances” with other movements that “undermined Ennahdha’s credibility.”

Ghannouchi had “failed” and “refused all the advice” that was given to him, they said.

Former Minister of Health Abdellatif Mekki, one of those who resigned, said: “I feel deeply sad ... I feel the pain of separation ... but I have no choice after I tried for a long time, especially in recent months ... I take responsibility for the decision that I made for my country.”

Ghannouchi was Tunisia’s parliamentary speaker until July, when President Kais Saied sacked the government, suspended parliament, removed the immunity of lawmakers and put himself in charge of prosecutions.

On Wednesday, Saied announced decrees that strengthen the powers of his office at the expense of the government and parliament, and said he would rule by decree.

Ennahdha, the largest bloc in parliament, claimed the president had carried out a coup, but Saied’s actions remain overwhelmingly popular with Tunisians. They blame Ennahda for the country’s political and economic paralysis since the removal of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, and for the failure to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Fractious coalitions and short-lived governments since the uprising have failed to resolve mounting social and economic crises. Ennahda officials have demanded that Ghannouchi resign over the party’s response to the crisis, and strategic choices he has made since elections in 2019. Last month Ghannouchi dismissed the party’s executive committee in an effort to calm the protests against him.

Ennahda has been the most powerful party in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution, and has played a role in backing successive coalition governments. However, it has lost support as the economy stagnated and public services declined.

Ghannouchi admitted last week that his party was in part responsible for Saied taking executive power. “Ennahdha is not in power but it backed the government, despite some criticism we had,” he said.

(With Reuters)

 


Sudanese protesters block key pipelines, says oil minister

Sudanese protesters block key pipelines, says oil minister
Updated 26 September 2021

Sudanese protesters block key pipelines, says oil minister

Sudanese protesters block key pipelines, says oil minister
  • Port Sudan is the country’s main seaport and a vital trade hub for its export-dependent economy

KHARTOUM: Sudanese protesters on Saturday blocked two key oil pipelines in Port Sudan, the main seaport on the Red Sea, over a peace deal with rebel groups, the oil minister said.

Warning of “an extremely grave situation,” Oil Minister Gadein Ali Obeid told AFP one pipeline transports oil exports from South Sudan while the other handles Sudanese crude imports.

“Entrances and exits at the port’s export terminal have been completely shuttered” since early Saturday, he said.

Last October, several rebel groups signed a peace deal with Sudan’s transitional government which came to power shortly after the April 2019 ouster of longtime President Omar Bashir.

The protesters, from Sudan’s Beja minority, say that the deal, with rebels from the Darfur region and Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, ignored their interests.

Beja rebels agreed on a peace deal with the Bashir regime in 2006 after a decade of low-level conflict in Port Sudan and the east.

Port Sudan is the country’s main seaport and a vital trade hub for its export-dependent economy.

The Khartoum government receives around $25 for every barrel of oil sold from South Sudan, according to official figures.

South Sudan produces around 162,000 barrels per day, which is transported by pipeline to Port Sudan and then shipped to global markets.

“There are enough (oil) reserves to last the country’s needs for up to 10 days,” Sudan’s oil ministry said in a statement.

It warned the export pipeline could sustain damage after demonstrators prevented a vessel from loading crude.

Protests against the October 2020 deal have rocked east Sudan since last week.

On Sept. 17, demonstrators impeded access to the docks in Port Sudan.

On Friday, demonstrators blocked the entrance to the airport and a bridge linking Kassala state with the rest of the country.

The unrest comes as Sudan grapples with chronic economic problems inherited from the Bashir regime.

Shortly after it began, the transitional government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said it had foiled a coup attempt by supporters of the ousted president.