Turkey, Iran at odds over operations on Iraqi soil

Turkey, Iran at odds over operations on Iraqi soil
Turkey has deployed several military outposts deep inside Iraqi territories for decades. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 01 March 2021

Turkey, Iran at odds over operations on Iraqi soil

Turkey, Iran at odds over operations on Iraqi soil
  • Rhetorical tensions will escalate, but direct or proxy conflict highly unlikely: Oxford academic

ANKARA: The diplomatic crisis between Ankara and Tehran has escalated following the latest statement from Iran’s Ambassador to Baghdad Iraj Masjedi, who reiterated an opposition to Turkish military intervention in Iraq, a new move that highlights a broader rivalry between the two countries in the region.

“Turkish forces should not pose a threat or violate Iraqi soil,” Masjedi said on Sunday.
“We do not accept at all, be it Turkey or any other country, to intervene in Iraq militarily or advance or have a military presence in Iraq,” he said, calling on Ankara to withdraw its troops from Iraq and respect international borders.
“The security of the Iraqi area should be maintained by Iraqi forces and (Kurdistan) region forces in their area,” he said.
Turkey has deployed several military outposts deep inside Iraqi territories for decades to eradicate the presence of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Its forces conduct aerial and ground cross-border operations, which have increased in recent years.
These operations have recently drawn anger from Baghdad over territorial violations of Turkish forces and aircraft. But Ankara has continued airstrikes in the Kurdistan region of Iraq to kill senior members of the PKK.
The latest Turkish operation on Feb. 19 to free 13 nationals held captive by the PKK for many years failed in the Gara mountains in northern Iraq.
While Ankara accused the PKK of killing the prisoners during the operation, the PKK asserted that Turkey fortuitously bombed the cave where the captives were held.
The Iran-backed Iraqi militia, the Popular Mobilization Units also known as Hashd Al-Shabi, has deployed three brigades to Sinjar along the Syrian border to counter Turkish moves in the region.
Ankara summoned the Iranian envoy on Sunday following his remarks on Iraq operations. “Ankara expects Iran to support, not oppose, Turkey’s fight against terrorism,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry reportedly told the ambassador.
“The Ambassador of Iran would be the last person to lecture Turkey about respecting the borders of Iraq,” said the Turkish Ambassador to Iraq Fatih Yildiz.
Turkey recently arrested an Iranian official Mohammad Reza Naserzadeh over the killing of an Iranian dissident, Masoud Molavi Vardanjani, who was murdered in Istanbul in November 2019. This move further strained ties between Turkey and Iran.
“Turkish-Iranian relations are set to become more turbulent,” Galip Dalay, an associate fellow at Chatham House in London, told Arab News.
“Iraq still stands as the most important Middle Eastern country for Iran. The increased military presence and political leverage of Turkey in northern Iraq increasingly disturbs Iran, while the Iraqi central government would not welcome any Turkish operation into Sinjar,” Dalay added.
According to Samuel Ramani, an academic and analyst at Oxford University, Turkey-Iran relations are volatile, as phases of escalated competition and cooperation quickly follow each other.
Ramani told Arab News: “Right now, we are entering a phase of heightened competition, as Turkey sees a rising security threat from the PKK in Iraq, while Iran’s relationship with Iraqi Kurdistan has a positive moment following Iran’s most-senior commander Qassem Soleimani’s death last year.”
He added that Turkey’s expanded bilateral engagement with Iraq threatens Iran’s aspirations for hegemony, and that Iran is trying to capitalize on latent discontent in Baghdad with expansive Turkish military operations that violate Iraqi sovereignty.
“There is a broader context of tension between Turkey and Iran. Russia-Iran relations are growing in the Caspian region to counter Turkey, Ankara has arrested alleged Iranian spies and both countries are disagreeing over the situation in northern Syria, especially Ayn Issa,” he said.
Given the broader state of tensions, Ramani expects Turkey and Iran to continue having a rhetorical war of words about the legitimacy of Ankara’s anti-PKK operations and of Iran’s interference in Iraq, but direct conflict between Iranian and Turkish forces or local allies is unlikely.
But Dalay expects that a US-supported Turkish operation into Sinjar is highly likely. He said that if the ongoing crisis between Hashd Al-Shabi and Ankara escalates, Iran is likely to be drawn into this regional equation.
“Hashd Al-Shabi provides a cover to the PKK in the region, while the presence of Shingal Resistance Units, a Yazidi militia that collaborates with Hashd Al-Shabi, could trigger an international awareness about the Yazidi religious minority,” he said.


Defiant Lebanese judge faces crunch meeting on Tuesday

Defiant Lebanese judge faces crunch meeting on Tuesday
An opponent of Judge Ghada Aoun grabs the weapon of a soldier, after he hit the protester with it, during a sit-in outside the Justice Palace in Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, April 19, 2021. (AP)
Updated 2 min 10 sec ago

Defiant Lebanese judge faces crunch meeting on Tuesday

Defiant Lebanese judge faces crunch meeting on Tuesday
  • She staged two raids on a currency exchange earlier this month in defiance of the decision from Public Prosecutor Judge Ghassan Oweidat to dismiss her

BEIRUT: A Lebanese judge who defied a decision dismissing her from an investigation into possible currency export breaches has been summoned for a meeting on Tuesday with the country’s Supreme Judicial Council.
Judge Ghada Aoun, who was referred to the Judicial Inspection Authority because of more than 20 complaints against her, can be deemed incompetent by the vote of five council members and five authority members.
Aoun had been investigating the Mecattaf money exchange company and Societe Generale Bank for allegedly withdrawing US dollars from the market and shipping the funds abroad.
She staged two raids on a currency exchange earlier this month in defiance of the decision from Public Prosecutor Judge Ghassan Oweidat to dismiss her.
In one of the raids she was accompanied by supporters of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), the political party led by the president’s son-in-law MP Gebran Bassil.
In the event that Aoun agrees during Tuesday’s meeting to comply with Oweidat’s decision, she will be dismissed from matters related to important financial crimes but will remain in her position as an appellate public prosecutor in Mount Lebanon.Two protests were held outside the Beirut Justice Palace on Monday.
One was by Aoun’s supporters from the FPM. The other was by supporters of Oweidat from the Future Movement, the political party led by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri.
The rival protests turned into a clash, with people shoving and beating each other, and one person was wounded.
The army and riot police intervened to separate the protesters and end their sit-ins.
According to one judge, there was a judicial hierarchy that must be respected: “Judge Oweidat requested the dismissal of a judge who is his subordinate, so how could she not comply?”
Aoun, who has become controversial in her handling of judicial files, has become a matter of public and political debate.
Some support the judge in her conduct to expose the corruption of authority, while others consider her to be a tool for the FPM through which it chooses which issues to attack its opponents with.
The Future parliamentary bloc said that what happened with Aoun reflected “contempt for the constitutional institutions and the incitement of some judges to usurp powers” that were not theirs.
Attorney Imad Al-Saba, who is the central coordinator of the lawyers’ sector in the Future Movement, said the party rejected the politicization of the judiciary. “It is our duty to restore the judiciary’s credibility and prestige,” he added.
Systemic corruption in Lebanon has angered the public, with people taking to the streets to protest and saying that graft has devastated the country’s economy.   
The former president of the Constitutional Council, Issam Sleiman, said that what Oweidat did was against the law. “We are in an unacceptable state of chaos. The judiciary is asleep, several public prosecution offices have not done anything in any of the corruption files, and no corrupt person has been arrested or held accountable. The plundering of public money will not be exposed except through a forensic audit.”
President Michel Aoun has insisted on a financial audit into the accounts of the Banque du Liban. But his opponents are demanding the audit include all state institutions, especially the Ministry of Energy, which is run by ministers affiliated with the FPM.


GCC official and Swedish envoy discuss developments in Yemen

GCC official and Swedish envoy discuss developments in Yemen
Updated 20 April 2021

GCC official and Swedish envoy discuss developments in Yemen

GCC official and Swedish envoy discuss developments in Yemen
  • They discussed the GCC’s efforts to support a political solution to the crisis

RIYADH: Abdulaziz Hamad Al-Owaishek, the assistant secretary general for political affairs and negotiations at the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), has met with Sweden’s envoy to Yemen Peter Semneby.
During the meeting, they discussed the latest developments in Yemen, and reviewed the GCC’s efforts to support a political solution to the crisis, according to the three references represented by the Gulf Initiative and its implementation mechanism, the outcomes of the comprehensive national dialogue, and UN Security Council Resolution 2216.
They also discussed the peace initiative that was announced by Saudi Arabia in March to end the war in Yemen, implement a comprehensive cease-fire, and begin consultations between the Yemeni parties to reach a political solution to the Yemeni crisis under the auspices of the UN.
Semneby briefed the GCC official on Sweden’s political and humanitarian efforts in following up with the Yemeni issue, and said he praised cooperation with the bloc in this regard.


Russian army says killed 'up to 200 militants' in Syria bombing

 Russian army says killed 'up to 200 militants' in Syria bombing
Updated 19 April 2021

Russian army says killed 'up to 200 militants' in Syria bombing

 Russian army says killed 'up to 200 militants' in Syria bombing

MOSCOW: Russia's defence ministry said Monday that it had killed "up to 200 fighters" in Syria during an air strike on a "terrorist" base northeast of Palmyra.
"After confirming data through multiple channels on the location of terrorist facilities, Russian Aerospace Forces aircraft carried out airstrikes," the ministry said in a statement, adding that they "eliminated two hideouts" and "up to 200 militants".


Syria’s upcoming presidential election stirs bitterness, disappointment in refugees

Syria’s upcoming presidential election stirs bitterness, disappointment in refugees
Updated 19 April 2021

Syria’s upcoming presidential election stirs bitterness, disappointment in refugees

Syria’s upcoming presidential election stirs bitterness, disappointment in refugees
  • News that Syria’s embassies had opened for voter registration was met with disappointment by refugees in Lebanon
  • Syrian refugees in Lebanon have been distributed in the Bekaa Valley and on the country’s northern borders since arriving in Lebanon

BEIRUT: Syrian refugees in Lebanon have expressed bitterness and disappointment ahead of elections that are expected to keep President Bashar Assad in office.

The Syrian Parliament has set May 26 as the date for the poll.

Assad won in 2014 with more than 88 percent of the Syrian vote. He has not officially announced his candidacy to run in next month’s election.

News that Syria’s embassies had opened for voter registration was met with disappointment by refugees in Lebanon, who also expressed their frustration with the international community.

Abu Ahmad Souaiba, speaking on behalf of the Voice of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, said the revolution was launched to “achieve freedom and dignity.”

“Our disappointment today is great because of the failure to implement (UN) Security Council resolutions, which call for power transition not the re-election of Bashar Assad one more time,” he told Arab News.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon have been distributed in the Bekaa Valley and on the country’s northern borders since arriving in Lebanon, with the majority of those who took part in the revolution against Assad concentrated in the Arsal area.

“There are three segments of Syrians in Lebanon,” said Souaiba. “One segment includes families who have been living in Lebanon since before the revolution and those who are not affiliated with the opposition. The second includes the opposition, and these migrated to Lebanon in 2013 and 2014 because of the barrels of death (barrel bombs). The third includes those who are neither with the opposition nor with the regime, and those (people) came to Lebanon because of the economic crisis and are concerned about obtaining their livelihood and the sustenance of their families.”

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon decreased to 865,500 by the end of Dec. 2020.

Lebanon called on the UNHCR to suspend new registrations at the beginning of 2015. 

About 55,000 have returned to Syria in recent years as part of repatriation efforts by Lebanese General Security and as part of a reconciliation program sponsored by Hezbollah in some Syrian towns.

Rumors are circulating that Hezbollah has set up committees to fill out census forms with the number of Syrian refugees present in certain areas ahead of taking them to voting stations on polling day.

Talk of a Hezbollah census has coincided with information that the Ministry of Interior is waiting for UNHCR data in order to prepare a mechanism for calculating the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

The ministry has been assigned this task in coordination with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Lebanese General Security and the UNHCR.

Arab News contacted UNHCR spokesperson Lisa Abu Khaled, but she refused to comment and only said there was “currently no refugee census.”

Souaiba believed there was no need to recount the refugees because, around six weeks ago, a census was carried out by NGOs under the supervision of Lebanese military intelligence for refugees in camps and settlements, specifically in the Arsal area which is open to the land connecting Lebanese and Syrian territories.

He also said there was news from inside Syria of hunger, even in Damascus, and painted a bleak picture of people’s desperation to escape.

“There is no fuel and no electricity,” he added. “A woman who fled to Lebanon with her children told me that her husband was arrested by Syrian authorities and his fate is still unknown. She is almost dying of starvation with her children. She preferred to flee to Lebanon with her children and borrowed $100 to pay the smuggler. She thought that in Lebanon she would receive some food, and this is better than hunger in Syria.”

A UNHCR study estimated that 89 percent of Syrian refugee families were living below the extreme poverty line in Lebanon in 2020, compared to 55 percent in 2019.


Iran, IAEA start talks on unexplained uranium traces

Iran, IAEA start talks on unexplained uranium traces
Updated 19 April 2021

Iran, IAEA start talks on unexplained uranium traces

Iran, IAEA start talks on unexplained uranium traces
  • Failure to make progress on explaining the uranium traces could mean world powers would push for a resolution by June

VIENNA: The UN nuclear watchdog and Iran on Monday started talks aimed at obtaining explanations from Tehran on the origin of uranium traces at found at undeclared locations in Iran, an issue which could affect efforts to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal.
An agreement to hold the talks helped persuade European powers to hold off of seeking a resolution criticizing Iran at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors last month.
That avoided an escalation between Iran and the West that could have hurt efforts to bring Washington and Tehran back into full compliance with the 2015 deal, under which Iran agreed to curbs to its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.
Failure to make progress on explaining the uranium traces in the IAEA’s talks with Tehran could mean France, Britain and Germany would push for a resolution with US backing by the next IAEA board meeting in June.
“The IAEA and Iran began today to engage in a focused process aimed at clarifying outstanding safeguards issues,” the IAEA said in a statement, adding that the meeting was at the level of experts.
The Iran nuclear deal effectively drew a line under what the IAEA and US intelligence agencies believe was a secret, coordinated nuclear weapons program that Iran halted in 2003. Iran denies ever seeking nuclear weapons.
In the past two years, however, IAEA inspectors have found traces of processed uranium at three sites Iran never declared to the watchdog, suggesting that Tehran had nuclear material connected to old activities that remains unaccounted for.
The IAEA must track that material down to be sure Iran is not diverting any to make nuclear weapons.
The issue has been a complicating factor in the diplomatic effort to resurrect the 2015 deal, which then-US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 prompting Iran to violate some of its limits. President Joe Biden aims to resurrect the deal, but Washington and Tehran are at odds over how to do that.
A first IAEA-Iran meeting to discuss the uranium traces had been due to take place in Tehran in early April, but that was delayed just as talks to rescue the deal, involving its remaining parties and shuttle diplomacy with the United States, were being arranged in Vienna.
“Today’s meeting took place in Vienna, as participating Iranian experts are also involved in separate meetings on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action at another location in the Austrian capital,” the IAEA said, using the deal’s full name.