Pope Francis’ visit to put history and fragility of Iraq’s Christian community into sharp relief

Pope Francis’ visit to put history and fragility of Iraq’s Christian community into sharp relief
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Iraqi Christians gather at the Sayidat Al-Nejat (Our Lady of Salvation) church in Baghdad on December 10, 2010. (AFP/File Photo)
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Iraqi Christians gather at the Sayidat Al-Nejat (Our Lady of Salvation) church in Baghdad on December 10, 2010. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 04 March 2021

Pope Francis’ visit to put history and fragility of Iraq’s Christian community into sharp relief

Pope Francis’ visit to put history and fragility of Iraq’s Christian community into sharp relief
  • First ever papal visit to biblical nation will highlight stark choice facing members of indigenous Christian community
  • More sites mentioned in the Bible are located in Iraq than anywhere else other than the Holy Land

LONDON/ROME: No one knows how many Iraqi Christians will flock to witness the historic visit of Pope Francis to Iraq, for the simple reason that no one knows exactly how many of the faithful remain in a country that can trace its Christian roots back to the earliest days of the faith.

Plagued by years of internal strife following the US-led invasion in 2003, Iraq has not conducted a census of its population since 1997.

One planned for 2020, the year the coronavirus pandemic struck the world, was not carried out. But while estimates of the number of Christians in Iraq have varied over the years, they have all agreed on one thing — that in modern times, the population of one of the oldest Christian communities in the world has steadily dwindled in the face of increasing insecurity and persecution.

Charlemagne (742-814), crowned Emperor by pope Leon III, December 25, 800. (Photo by Photo12/UIG/Getty Images)

Mesopotamia, the fertile plain between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates in what is today Iraq, is where modern civilization first put down roots.

This is the land where more than 6,000 years ago writing, agriculture and the world’s first great cities flourished. But the land of Iraq is also steeped in the heritage of Christianity — more sites mentioned in the Bible are located in Iraq than anywhere else other than the Holy Land.

In the tradition of the three great Abrahamic religions — Christianity, Islam and Judaism — the patriarch Abraham hailed from Ur, the ancient city of the Sumer, one of the world’s oldest known civilizations. Today some remains of the world’s first great city can still be seen, near the modern-day city of Nasiriyah on the banks of the Euphrates.

Iraq is even associated with the creation narrative of the Christian faith as the scene of the fall from innocence of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman. Many Christian scholars believe that the Garden of Eden described in the Book of Genesis was located in southern Iraq, where the two great rivers of Mesopotamia empty into the Gulf.

Other biblical characters, saints and prophets are associated with sites throughout Mesopotamia. Rebecca, the wife of Isaac, is believed to have come from ancient Carrhae in upper Mesopotamia, now the Turkish city of Harran on the border with Iraq.

The tomb of the Hebrew Prophet Ezekiel is held to be in the town of Al-Kifl, between Najaf and Hillah on the east bank of the Euphrates. But it was the destruction by Daesh of the tombs of Al-Nabi Danyal (the biblical Prophet Daniel) and Yunus (Jonah) in Mosul in 2014 that underlined both the history and the fragility of the Christian community in modern Iraq.

According to the Annuario Statistico, the Vatican’s annual publication tracking the number of Christians in the world, the faithful in Iraq numbered about 1.5 million in 2003, on the eve of the US-led invasion. Life for Christians and other minorities under the dictator Saddam Hussein and his essentially secular Baathist regime, hostile to Islamist extremism, was relatively stable.

First Council of Nicaea, First Half of 16th century. Found in the collection of Stavronikita monastery, Mount Athos. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Indeed, one of Saddam’s closest allies, Tariq Aziz, who became his deputy prime minister and foreign minister, was a Christian. Aziz was born Mikhail Yuhanna, the son of a Chaldean Christian family in the town of Tel Keppe, northeast of Mosul.

Not that there was not discrimination. Under Saddam, Christian schools were nationalized, and a law passed dictating that the religion’s history could be taught in state schools only if at least a quarter of the pupils were Christian. The presence of a single Muslim pupil, on the other hand, was sufficient to oblige all to study the Qur’an.

Christian communities have also found themselves caught in the crossfire of Iraqi politics. Between 1978 and 1980, Kurdish rebels hit numerous Christian villages, seeing them as aligned with Saddam’s regime. But things took a significant turn for the worse after the 2003 invasion.

The overthrow of Saddam, accompanied by the enforced disbanding of the Baath Party and the Iraqi military, unleashed years of chaos, insurgency and sectarian terror on the country — with Christians often in the line of fire.

Kurdish rebels mounted a large campaign during the early 1980s against Iran, Iraq, and Turkey in an attempt to regain sovereignty over their homeland. (Photo by michel Setboun/Corbis via Getty Images)

Between 2003 and 2008, the Christian population of Iraq halved as more than 65 churches were attacked, with those who fled seeking sanctuary in countries including Jordan and Syria, or in Europe or North America.

The record of the attacks on Christians in this period, recorded in the Annuario Statistico, is a litany of horror and suffering. On Aug. 1, 2004, 18 people died and 60 were injured in car bomb attacks on five churches — four in Baghdad and one in Mosul.

On Jan. 29, 2006, a series of blasts near Christian churches in Kirkuk and Baghdad killed three. On Oct. 9, 2006, Syrian Orthodox Priest Paulos Iskandar was kidnapped in Mosul and found beheaded two days later.

On Nov. 26, 2006, Monther Saqa, pastor of an evangelical Christian church in Mosul, was kidnapped and murdered. On June 3, 2007, Ragheed Aziz Ghanni’s car was stopped by armed men who murdered the priest and his three companions, all sub-deacons.

On Feb. 29, 2008, Paulos Faraj Rahho, the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, was kidnapped. His three companions were murdered on the spot, and the archbishop’s body was found two weeks later. On April 5, 2008, Syrian Orthodox Priest Youssef Adel was shot dead in Baghdad. 

A Christian militiaman stands near the broken body of a statue of Christ in the 13th century St. Jacob's Church on November 4, 2015 near the frontline with Daesh fighters in Telskuf, northern Iraq. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

In all, according to Cardinal Louis Sako, the archbishop of Kirkuk, since 2003 there have been 710 Christian martyrs in Iraq.

In one of the worst incidents, 58 men, women and children died when militants of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq attacked the Syrian Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad during Sunday Mass on Oct. 31, 2010. 

“What happened was more than a catastrophic and tragic event,” said Iraqi Human Rights Minister Wijdan Michael, himself a Christian, at the time.

“In my opinion, it is an attempt to force Iraqi Christians to leave Iraq and to empty Iraq of Christians.”

St. Thomas, from Apostles, n.d., Martin Schongauer, German, c. 1450-1491, Germany, Engraving on paper, 90 × 50 mm (plate), 91 × 53 mm (sheet). (Photo by: Sepia Times/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The church had been attacked before. In August 2004, it was one of five churches hit in Baghdad and Mosul, in which 12 people died. Commemorating the anniversary of the 2010 massacre in 2018, the Assyrian Policy Institute said there had “yet to be any meaningful change in how Iraq’s indigenous Christian Assyrian population is viewed and treated.”

In the years since the massacre, it added, “Assyrians in Iraq have faced threats to their existence in the emergence of ISIS (Daesh) in 2014 and the scuppering of any hope to fair representation in both the Iraqi and Kurdistan Region Parliaments.” Pope Francis will remember all of Iraq’s Christian martyrs when he visits Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad.

The emergence of Daesh brought fresh horror for Iraq’s Christians. In June 2014, Daesh seized Mosul and thousands of Christians fled for their lives, first to nearby Qaraqosh and, when that seemed certain to fall, to Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The monastery of St. Elijah, founded by the Church of the East near Mosul in the late sixth century, closed in 1743 after the monks were killed by soldiers of the shah of Iran for refusing to convert to Islam. The building, although damaged by US troops during the 2003 invasion, remained a destination for Christian pilgrims until it was reduced to a pile of rubble by Daesh in 2014.

A report in the New York Times the following year spelt out the choice faced by the Christians in Mosul and Qaraqosh: “They could either convert or pay the jizya, the head tax levied against all ‘People of the Book’ — Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews. If they refused, they would be killed, raped or enslaved, their wealth taken as spoils of war.”

Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Tarek Aziz speaks to a gathering of the United Nations Security Concil 14 June 1988. Aziz is attending the third special session on disarmament. (AFP/File Photo)

Unsurprisingly, research by the EU into the fate of minorities in Iraq at the height of Daesh’s terror concluded that by 2015 just 500,000 Christians remained in the country, living mainly in Baghdad, Mosul, the Nineveh Plains and the autonomous Kurdistan region.

Today, there could be as few as 150,000. One of the most poignant moments of the pope’s visit will be when he visits the Qaraqosh community at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Iraq’s largest church, which was badly damaged during the occupation of the city by Daesh.

Tradition holds that Iraq’s association with Christianity dates back to the first century AD, when following the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, his disciple Thomas traveled east to preach in Mesopotamia.

The Syriac Orthodox Church of St. Thomas in Mosul is said to have been built on the site of the house in which Thomas lived, and in 1964 workmen discovered what were believed to be his finger bones. After the fall of Mosul to Daesh in 2014, these relics were transferred for safekeeping to the Syriac Orthodox Monastery of St. Matthew near Bartella, on the Nineveh Plains, founded in the fourth century.

Thomas — later canonized as St. Thomas the Apostle — had two disciples, Thaddeus of Edessa, also known as Mar Addai, and Mar Mari (mar is a Syriac title of respect, meaning lord.) To these two is credited the foundation of the Christian Church in Mesopotamia.

This was what became known as the Church of the East, also known as the Persian Church and — because of its support in the fifth century of the theologically controversial Nestorius, the archbishop of Constantinople — as the Nestorian Church.

The story of Christianity in Mesopotamia is one of frequent schism. In 410, at the Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, all the Christians of the Persian Sassanid Empire gathered together in the capital city, near modern-day Baghdad, to form a single church — the Church of the East, which in 424 broke with the Roman Empire.

Even after the rise of Islam and the Muslim conquest of the Sassanid Empire, the Christians — tolerated as a dhimmi, or protected non-Muslim community — thrived.

Iraqi Christians fleeing the violence in the towns of Qaraqush and Bartala, both east of the city of Mosul in the northern province of Nineveh, pray at the Saint George church on July 1, 2014 in the Kurdish autonomous region's capital Arbil. (AFP/File Photo)

Between the eighth and 13th centuries, the Church of the East expanded dramatically, spreading the gospel from its base in Mesopotamia and establishing more than 100 dioceses, from the Mediterranean coast through Iraq and Iran and India, and as far afield as the Mongol Empire and China. 

Decline began in the 13th century as the Mongols turned their backs on Christianity and embraced Islam, and in the 14th century Tamerlane, ruler of the Turco-Mongol Timurid Empire, set about purging his territories of all non-Muslims.

From then on, the Church of the East was confined to the land where it had all began — northern Mesopotamia, where, despite all the trials and challenges of modern-day Iraq, its descendant Christian churches and their dwindling band of parishioners continue to stand by their faith.

Over the centuries internal schisms have followed, rifts reflected in the diverse denominations to which Iraqi Christians belong today, including the Assyrians (or Nestorians, members of the Syriac Orthodox Church) and the Armenian, Chaldean and Syriac eastern Catholic churches.

But whatever their doctrinal differences, all Iraq’s Christians will see the historic arrival of the pontiff in their midst as a sign that their courage and persistence in the face of shocking adversity has not been in vain.

“We are trying to heal this wound created by ISIS,” Father Karam Shamasha, one of two priests at St. George Chaldean Catholic Church in Telskuf — a Christian village about 20 miles north of Mosul — told the Catholic News Agency in November 2020.

“Our families are strong; they have defended the faith. But they need someone who says, ‘You have done very well, but you must continue your mission’.”

That someone will be Pope Francis. Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil told Aid to the Church in Need, a charity that works on behalf of persecuted Catholics in Syria and Iraq, in December: “We are a people that have been marginalized to the very edge of existence. To have His Holiness come to visit us now may very well be the thing that saves us.”

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UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines

UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines
Updated 21 April 2021

UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines

UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines
  • The UAE reports 1,903 new coronavirus cases and three fatalities
  • Abu Dhabi earlier approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

DUBAI: The UAE is considering imposing movement restrictions on individuals who remain hesitant to have themselves vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Dr. Saif Al-Dhaheri, spokesman for the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority.

“The vaccine is our best means to recover and return to a normal life … Delaying or refraining from taking the vaccine poses a threat to the safety of society and puts all groups, especially those most vulnerable to infection, at risk,” Dr. Al-Dhaheri said in reports from local media.

“Strict measures are being considered to restrict the movement of unvaccinated individuals and to implement preventive measures, such as restricting entry to some places and having access to some services, to ensure the health and safety of everyone,” he added, as he urged residents aged 16 and above to get vaccinated.

The UAE reported 1,903 new coronavirus cases and three fatalities related to the highly transmissible disease overnight, amid the government’s continued inoculation program for citizens and residents.

The country’s COVID-19 caseload now stands at 500,860 while total fatality count is at 1,559, a report from state news agency WAM said.

Health officials said that 113,621 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the past 24 hours, bringing the number of jabs given provided to 9,788,826 for a distribution rate of 98.97 doses per 100 people.

Abu Dhabi earlier approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the second COVID-19 shot to be made available in the emirate after beginning a mass campaign using the Sinopharm vaccine that was trialed in the country.

Pfizer obtained emergency approval in the UAE in December and Dubai rolled out the vaccine during that month.

Libyan factions face international call to step up peace process

Libyan factions face international call to step up peace process
Updated 21 April 2021

Libyan factions face international call to step up peace process

Libyan factions face international call to step up peace process
  • Arab League, African Union, EU and UN call for accelerated efforts to improve security and fully implement ceasefire
  • UN chief Antonio Guterres says urgent and immediate action is needed or window of opportunity might be lost

The international Libya Quartet on Tuesday urged authorities in the country to step up their efforts to improve the security situation and build confidence, to help bring peace to the country and fully implement the ceasefire agreement.
The members of the Quartet — the League of Arab States, the African Union (AU), the EU and the UN — said they are ready to help with the 5+5 Joint Military Commission’s plans for a “robust, credible and effective” ceasefire monitoring mechanism.
On Friday the UN Security Council unanimously voted to send up to 60 international monitors to Libya to oversee the ceasefire, which was agreed in October between the two rival factions in the East and West of the country. Operational and logistical preparations for the mission are under way.
Speaking at the sixth meeting of the Libya Quartet, which was convened on Tuesday by the League of Arab States, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the monitoring team will initially be a “nimble” presence in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, but expand over time.
He also made it clear that after years of violence and suffering there is a window of opportunity for peace “but urgent and immediate actions are needed to make use of this narrow window.”
In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the Quartet members called for the “immediate and unconditional” withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from the country as a prerequisite for fully restoring Libyan sovereignty and preserving national unity.
They also condemned continual violations of the UN arms embargo on Libya, and the threat posed by armed groups and militias. They called for “the sustained implementation of measures to fully identify and dismantle these groups, and ensure the subsequent reintegration of those individuals meeting the requirements into national institutions as outlined in the ceasefire agreement … without delay.”
The meeting also included discussion of the possible deployment of AU, EU and Arab League observer missions, “at the request of Libya’s authorities, and if the requisite conditions on the ground permit,” to assist the National Elections Commission in its preparations for the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for December.
The importance of the elections taking place in “a favorable political and security environment, so that they are held in an inclusive, transparent and credible manner and where all Libyans commit to respect their results and integrity” was emphasized.
Participants also encouraged Libya’s new Government of National Unity, and other relevant institutions, to uphold their commitment to appoint women to at least 30 percent of senior executive positions, and to promote a national, rights-based reconciliation across the country.

Yemen launches first round of COVID-19 vaccination campaign

Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF’s representative in Yemen, receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a medical center in Aden, Yemen April 20, 2021. (Reuters)
Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF’s representative in Yemen, receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a medical center in Aden, Yemen April 20, 2021. (Reuters)
Updated 21 April 2021

Yemen launches first round of COVID-19 vaccination campaign

Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF’s representative in Yemen, receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a medical center in Aden, Yemen April 20, 2021. (Reuters)
  • The 12-day campaign was launched in the temporary capital Aden and 13 Yemeni governorates
  • The campaign aims to reach 317,363 people in 133 districts

RIYADH: Yemen launched the first round of its COVID-19 inoculation campaign on Tuesday in the temporary capital, Aden.
The campaign is supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief).
Yemeni Minister of Public Health and Population Qasim Buhaibeh, Minister of Civil Service and Insurance Abdul Nasser Al-Wali, Governor of Aden Ahmed Hamed Lamlas, Yemen’s representative for UNICEF Philippe Duamelle, and director of the WHO office in Aden Noha Mahmoud all received the vaccine in a show of support, Saba News Agency reported.
Yemen received 360,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine on March 31, part of a consignment from COVAX expected to total 1.9 million doses this year.
Buhaibeh said this was the first step toward reaching the ministry’s goal of administering 12 million vaccines by the end of the year, urging doctors, the elderly and those with chronic diseases to register to receive the jab.
Duamelle said frontline workers, the elderly and those with certain health problems would be prioritized.
“The launch of the campaign against the coronavirus is an important day in Yemen’s history,” he said, adding that the health minister and other ministers have taken the vaccination confirming its safety.
The 12-day campaign aims to reach 317,363 people in 133 districts across 13 Yemeni governorates under the control of the internationally recognized government.
There has been a dramatic spike in coronavirus infections in Yemen since mid-February, further straining a health system battered by the conflict.
The government’s health ministry has previously said the COVAX vaccines will be free, and distributed across the country. COVAX is co-led by the Gavi Vaccine Alliance and the WHO to provide COVID vaccines to low-income countries.
Tuesday’s rollout covered only government-held parts of the country, said Ishraq Al-Seba’ei who is with the government’s emergency coronavirus committee. But she said 10,000 doses were being sent to Sanaa via the WHO.
Yemen’s emergency coronavirus committee registered 42 confirmed cases and six deaths on Tuesday. It has recorded 5,858 coronavirus infections and 1,132 deaths so far though the true figure is widely thought to be much higher as the war has restricted COVID-19 testing.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia, which controls the capital Sanaa and much of the north have provided no figures since a couple of cases last May.
Meanwhile, KSrelief said it has provided support for protection projects within Saudi Arabia’s grant for the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan 2020. 
The center cooperated with UNICEF to provide protection services by enabling children and their families to access psychosocial support and mental health services, totaling $4 million.
(With Reuters)

Shadow war no more: The tussle between Iran and Israeli spy agency Mossad

A grab of a videoconference screen of an engineer inside Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment plant, shown during a ceremony headed by the country's president on Iran's National Nuclear Technology Day, in the capital Tehran. (AFP/File Photo)
A grab of a videoconference screen of an engineer inside Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment plant, shown during a ceremony headed by the country's president on Iran's National Nuclear Technology Day, in the capital Tehran. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 21 April 2021

Shadow war no more: The tussle between Iran and Israeli spy agency Mossad

A grab of a videoconference screen of an engineer inside Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment plant, shown during a ceremony headed by the country's president on Iran's National Nuclear Technology Day, in the capital Tehran. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Natanz nuclear plant sabotage lays bare vulnerability to betrayal at the hands of own population
  • Analysts say Tehran’s tepid response is a sign of its desperation for sanctions relief above all else

LONDON: Analysts have said that the blast that struck Iran’s most critical nuclear facility on April 11 is another significant event in a decades-long shadow war between Tehran and its regional adversary Israel.

They say the sabotage has not only exposed Iran’s vulnerability to betrayal at the hands of its own population, but its tepid response has revealed its desperation for sanctions relief above all else.

Unnamed intelligence officials from Mossad told Israeli media and the New York Times last week that the mysterious Natanz explosion was their handiwork. And, according to Yossi Mekelberg, associate fellow with the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, it is a continuation of the spate of blasts, blackouts, and fires that swept across the Islamic Republic last year — but with one major difference.

“What has changed from last year is how public it is. (Israel) is ready to take responsibility. From a shadow war it has moved to the forefront,” Mekelberg told Arab News.

“This confrontation has been taking place for two decades now, at least. Cyberattacks, assassinations of scientists, attacks on ships — this is something that is ongoing. What you have seen in the last year or so is that it is becoming open, from covert to overt.”

In the past year alone, Iran has been rocked by a relentless series of attacks, assassinations, and sabotages. The country’s top nuclear scientist was killed in a sophisticated attack.

Their entire nuclear archives were stolen and smuggled out of the country, and nuclear, military, and logistics sites across the country have suffered from a series of mysterious setbacks.

An image grab from footage obtained from Iranian State TV IRIB on April 17, 2021 shows the portrait of a man identified as 43-year-old Reza Karimi, saying the intelligence ministry had established his role in last week's "sabotage" on the Natanz nuclear facility. (AFP/File Photo)

According to Mekelberg, these incidents have not only hindered Iran’s economy and nuclear program, but also exposed a fundamental weakness in the regime.

“They have a real issue inside their nuclear program,” he said. “The idea that their top scientist, they couldn’t protect him, and that someone managed to take your nuclear archives out of the country — that is not something you can simply put in your pocket.”

Iranian state television named 43-year-old Iranian national Reza Karimi as the prime suspect in the April sabotage — but said he had already fled the country in the hours before the blast occurred.

Mekelberg and other experts believe the involvement of an Iranian national is indicative of the regime’s core vulnerability: Turncoats within its population, and even within the nuclear program itself.


Iranian oil

* $40 - Price per barrel of oil used in Iran’s budget calculations.

* 300,000 - Estimated oil exports in barrels per day (bpd) in 2020.

* 2.8m - Iranian oil exports in bpd in 2018.

“They have a real issue with security. I assume that the more things like this happen, the more paranoid they become about who they can trust, who is working with foreign agencies. Obviously, someone is,” Mekelberg said.

Olli Heinonen, a non-proliferation expert and distinguished fellow at the Washington-based Stimson Center, believes the sophistication of the Natanz attack means there is little doubt that local collaborators from within the regime enabled it.

“Those who have designed and executed these actions have insider information and highly likely local contributors,” Heinonen told Arab News.

This handout satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies on January 8, 2020 shows an overview of Iran's Natanz nuclear facility, south of the capital Tehran. (AFP/Maxar/File Photo)

Like Mekelberg, Heinonen highlighted Iran’s apparent ineptitude in defending even its most critical nuclear facilities and pointed to the stark contrast between the country’s record and another global pariah state’s nuclear program.

“It is worth noting that we have not heard about similar incidents in North Korea,” he said. “It is evident that the (Iranian) security forces have not been able to protect the assets as the leadership had expected.

“This does not come as a surprise. Not all Iranians, including technical professionals, buy the reasonability of the enrichment efforts, the investments for which could be used better elsewhere, even within the nuclear program.”

Tehran has admitted that the attacks caused serious damage at the Natanz facility. Last week, Alireza Zakani, a regime hardliner who heads the Iranian parliament’s research center, referred to “several thousand centrifuges damaged and destroyed” in an interview on state television.

A handout picture released by the official website of Iran's Revolutionary Guard on August 25, 2014, shows an alleged Israeli drone that was shot down above the Natanz uranium enrichment site. (AFP/File Photo)

“From a technical standpoint, the enemy’s plan was rather beautiful,” the head of the Iranian parliament’s energy committee said. “They thought about this and used their experts and planned the explosion so both the central power and the emergency power cable would be damaged.”

Heinonen said the attacks have “certainly slowed production” of 20 percent enriched uranium, which is above the enrichment level needed for nuclear power, but far below the 90 percent required for weapons-grade uranium.

However, he cautioned that production could begin to ramp up again within three months of the attack, and Tehran’s promise to begin enriching uranium to 60 percent in response to the attack could act as a springboard toward rapid development of a nuclear bomb.

“In a short term (60 percent enrichment) does not contribute much to breakout time, but it demonstrates the fact that uranium enrichment is mainly designed to build a nuclear latency; to be in a position to relaunch in short interval a full nuclear weapon acquisition program, if such a decision is made,” he said.

The response to the attacks is part of a delicate balancing act by Tehran, according to Nader Di Michele, an Iran-focused analyst at political risk consultancy Prelia.

This handout powerpoint slide provided by U.S. Central Command damage shows an explosion (L) and a likely limpet mine can be seen on the hull of the civilian vessel M/V Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019. (AFP/File Photo)

“They do not want escalations but the government has to show a response in terms of its foreign policy. That could be aimed at international actors or even its domestic population,” he told Arab News.

Beyond increasing uranium enrichment, it was reported that unknown actors targeted an Israeli-owned cargo ship in the following days. However, Di Michele thinks the damage caused by that attack was, by design, minimal compared with the devastation caused by the Natanz attack.

“There always has to be a response to these attacks, but I think the Iranian delegation understands that there is a limit to what they can do if they want sanctions relief.”

Di Michele said if the ongoing negotiations in Vienna prompt a lifting of sanctions and release of various assets that, in turn, deliver a financial boost to the regime, “we can never be sure what proportion of that would go to support which activities.”

He added: “It can be assumed that a proportion of those assets released would go toward foreign policy activities. What those entail, I couldn’t speculate on.”


Twitter: @CHamillStewart

Turkey logs highest daily COVID-19 deaths since pandemic started – data

Turkey logs highest daily COVID-19 deaths since pandemic started – data
Updated 36 min 20 sec ago

Turkey logs highest daily COVID-19 deaths since pandemic started – data

Turkey logs highest daily COVID-19 deaths since pandemic started – data
  • Turkey registered its highest daily toll of 346 deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday
  • Total cases stood at 4,384,624 while the total death toll rose to 36,613

ISTANBUL: Turkey recorded 346 deaths from COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed on Tuesday, registering the highest daily death toll since the beginning of the pandemic.
The data also showed the country recorded 61,028 new coronavirus cases in the same period.
The total number of cases stood at 4,384,624 while the total death toll rose to 36,613, according to the data.
Turkey currently ranks fourth globally in the number of daily cases based on a seven-day average, according to a Reuters tally.