A growing challenge for Iraq: Iran-aligned Shiite militias

A growing challenge for Iraq: Iran-aligned Shiite militias
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In this June 8, 2018 file photo, Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces march as they hold their flag and posters of Iraqi and Iranian Shiites spiritual leaders during "al-Quds" or Jerusalem Day, in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)
A growing challenge for Iraq: Iran-aligned Shiite militias
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In this Jan. 4, 2020 file photo, mourners at the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, Iraq pray near the coffins of Iran's Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, during their funeral in Najaf, Iraq. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil, File)
A growing challenge for Iraq: Iran-aligned Shiite militias
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In this Oct. 17, 2020 file photo, the headquarters of Kurdish Democratic Party burn during a protest by pro-Iranian militiamen and their supporters in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed, File)
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Updated 31 March 2021

A growing challenge for Iraq: Iran-aligned Shiite militias

A growing challenge for Iraq: Iran-aligned Shiite militias

BAGHDAD: It was a stark message: A convoy of masked Shiite militiamen, armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, drove openly through central Baghdad denouncing the US presence in Iraq and threatening to cut off the prime minister’s ear.
The ominous display underscored the growing threat that rogue militias loyal to Tehran pose for Iraq. It came at a time when Baghdad seeks to bolster relations with its Arab neighbors and is gearing up for early elections, scheduled for October, amid a worsening economic crisis and a global pandemic.
Last week’s procession also sought to undermine Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s credibility, with Iran-aligned militias driving down a major highway and passing near ministries as Iraqi security forces looked on. Ahead of a new round of talks between the US government and Iraq, it sent a stark warning that the militias will not be curbed.
A fourth round of so-called strategic Iraq-US talks is scheduled for next week after the Iraqi government requested it, partly in response to pressure from Shiite political factions and militias loyal to Iran that have lobbied for the remaining US troops to leave Iraq.
The talks, which began in June under the Trump administration, would be the first under President Joe Biden. On the agenda is an array of issues, including the presence of US combat forces in the country and the issue of Iraqi militias acting outside of state authority. The discussions are meant to shape the future of the US-Iraq relationship, a senior US official recently said.
It is a tightrope for Al-Kadhimi, who has said that bringing armed groups under state control is a goal of his administration but finds himself increasingly helpless in reining in the groups. US officials have said Washington will use the meetings to clarify that US forces remain in Iraq for the sole purpose of ensuring the Daesh group “cannot reconstitute” itself — a signal that the US seeks to keep the 2,500 remaining American soldiers in Iraq.
Political analyst Ihsan Alshamary said the militias’ military-style parade sought to weaken Al-Kadhimi’s government and project strength.
“It also aims at sending a message to Washington: We are the decision makers, not the government,” he added.
The militiamen in the parade were mostly from a shadowy Shiite group known as Rabaallah — one of about a dozen that surfaced after the Washington-directed drone strike that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis in Baghdad in January 2020.
Both Soleimani and Al-Muhandis were key in commanding and controlling a wide array of Iran-backed groups operating in Iraq, and their deaths in the US airstrike outraged Iraqi lawmakers, prompting them to approve a non-binding resolution to oust US-led coalition forces from the country.
Since then, militias have also become increasingly unruly and disparate. Some Washington and Iraq-based observers argue the militias have splintered into new, previously unknown groups, allowing them to claim attacks under different names to mask the extent of their involvement.
“They are tools used for negotiating purposes and putting pressure on Washington when it comes to (Iran’s) nuclear file,” Alshamary said, referring to efforts under Biden to resurrect the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers that former President Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018.
Rabaallah, for instance, is believed to be a front for one of the most powerful Iran-backed factions in Iraq, which the US has blamed for rocket attacks targeting the American Embassy in Baghdad and military bases that house US troops.
Last October, the group attacked the offices of a political party in the northern, semiautonomous Kurdish region in Iraq, and set fire to the Kurdish party’s office and media headquarters in Baghdad. It has also been blamed for assaults on liquor stores and an Asian spa center in the Iraqi capital.
Rabaallah went so far as to try and dictate the exchange rate of the Iraqi dinar to the dollar, demanded the approval of a budget and denounced what it said was US “occupation” of Iraq. It displayed posters of Al-Kadhimi with a shoe printed across his forehead and a pair of scissors on the side of his face, with the words: “It’s time to cut his ear off.”
Iraq lies on the fault line between the Shiite power Iran and the mostly Sunni Arab world and has long been a theater for settling regional scores. It has also been dragged into the US-Iran proxy war. And though its relations with the US took a hit following the airstrike that killed Soleimani, ties have improved since Al-Kadhimi — approved by both Iran and the US — became prime minister.
Political analyst Tamer Badawi said the Shiite militias aim to send a dual message to Al-Khadimi’s administration. The first is a warning against any attempt at curbing the militias’ influence under the banner of fighting corruption. The other is to pressure the government to push the US to scale down the number of coalition forces in Iraq.
For his part, Al-Kadhimi has tried to curb the militias’ money-making border activities, including smuggling and bribery, and show his American interlocutors that he is capable of keeping domestic adversaries in check.
Badawi said the pressure from the militias will likely increase ahead of the strategic talks with the US on April 7.
In the days after the Rabaallah parade, Iraqi security forces fanned out in the streets and main squares of the capital Baghdad in what a senior Iraqi security official described as a “reassuring message.”
But for Baghdad shopkeeper Aqeel Al-Rubai, who watched the February militia parade from the street, the militia show was a terrifying sight that reflects a powerless government.
“I saw that this country is insecure and unfit to live in peace,” he said.


Iran uses death penalty to target protesters, human rights expert tells UN

The report highlighted a number of other key human rights concerns in Iran. (Reuters/File Photo)
The report highlighted a number of other key human rights concerns in Iran. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 25 October 2021

Iran uses death penalty to target protesters, human rights expert tells UN

The report highlighted a number of other key human rights concerns in Iran. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Javaid Rehman said he is particularly disturbed that authorities continue to sentence children to death, in violation of international law
  • The UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, he was briefing the General Assembly on the latest annual report on the issue

NEW YORK: A human rights expert described executions carried out in Iran as “an arbitrary deprivation of life,” as he called on Tehran to reform its laws and abolish the death penalty. He said the punishment is often used as a political tool.

Javaid Rehman, the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, told the General Assembly on Monday that the death sentence in the country is often imposed on “vague and arbitrary grounds.” He highlighted in particular three criminal charges used to target peaceful demonstrators and political opponents: waging war against God, corruption on earth, and armed rebellion.

“The entrenched flaws in law and in the administration of the death penalty in Iran mean that most, if not all, executions are an arbitrary deprivation of life,” Rehman said.

“The structural flaws of the justice system are so deep and at odds with the notion of rule of law that one can barely speak of a justice system.”

As he briefed the assembly on the fourth annual report on human rights in Iran, the independent expert said that in particular he was “extremely disturbed” by the practice in Iran of sentencing children to death.

“Iran remains one of very countries that continues this practice despite the absolute prohibition under international law,” he said.

The report highlighted a number of other key human rights concerns in Iran, including the repression of civic space, discrimination against religious, ethnic and sexual minorities, and the dire conditions inside prisons.


EU says to hold nuclear talks with Iran in Brussels ‘this week’

EU says to hold nuclear talks with Iran in Brussels ‘this week’
Updated 25 October 2021

EU says to hold nuclear talks with Iran in Brussels ‘this week’

EU says to hold nuclear talks with Iran in Brussels ‘this week’
  • Iran’s chief negotiator on the deal says he would be in Brussels on Wednesday ‘to continue our talks on result-oriented negotiations’

BRUSSELS: The EU’s top negotiator will meet his counterpart from Tehran this week in Brussels for talks on restarting negotiations over Iran’s nuclear deal, a spokesman for the bloc said on Monday.
The EU and world powers are scrambling to try to get negotiations in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 accord back on track after the election of a hard-liner in Tehran.
Iran’s chief negotiator on the deal, Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri, wrote on Twitter that he would be in Brussels on Wednesday “to continue our talks on result-oriented negotiations.”
EU spokesman Peter Stano said the meeting would involve the bloc’s lead negotiator Enrique Mora, who visited Tehran earlier this month to push Iran to restart full negotiations.
Stano said the EU’s diplomatic service was “sparing no efforts to resume talks of all parties in Vienna.”
The agreement between Iran and world powers to find a long-term solution to the now two-decade-old crisis over its controversial nuclear program has been moribund since former US president Donald Trump walked out of the deal in May 2018.
His successor Joe Biden has said he is ready to re-enter the agreement, so long as Iran meets key preconditions including full compliance with the deal whose terms it has repeatedly violated by ramping up nuclear activities since the US left the pact.
But the Vienna-based talks through intermediaries made little headway, before being interrupted by the election of hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s president and suspended for the last four months.
The EU acts as coordinator for the deal that also involves Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia.


Houthis abduct dozens of civilians in wake of deadly Marib siege

Houthis abduct dozens of civilians in wake of deadly Marib siege
Updated 25 October 2021

Houthis abduct dozens of civilians in wake of deadly Marib siege

Houthis abduct dozens of civilians in wake of deadly Marib siege
  • Militia abducted and questioned relatives of fighters, including some children, and intimidated them into revealing information about the whereabouts of their relatives
  • Local activists believe that the Houthis have abducted and forcibly disappeared more than 100 people in Abedia, blown up houses of government officials and looted property

AL-MUKALLA: The Iran-backed Houthis have raided homes in Abedia district, south of Marib district, abducting dozens of civilians and transporting them to undisclosed locations, a Yemeni rights group said.

The Mothers of Abductees Association, an umbrella organization for thousands of female relatives of war prisoners, documented the abduction of 47 civilians in Abedia as the Houthis broke into the houses of residents, searching for Yemeni army soldiers and tribesmen who resisted their occupation of the district.

The militia abducted and questioned relatives of the fighters, including some children, and intimidated them into revealing information about the whereabouts of their relatives.

They also abducted wounded civilians and turned public facilities such as schools into detention centers, the organization said.

“We hold the Houthi armed group fully responsible for the lives and safety of all its captives, and demand that they immediately stop all abduction operations, and release all captives,” the organization said in the statement, urging international rights groups to exercise pressure on the militia.

“We call upon the UN and its special envoy for Yemen, the Office of the High Commissioner Office for Human Rights and the international community to mount the needed pressure upon the Houthi armed group in order to release all captives and forcibly disappeared persons from Abedia.”

Last week, the Houthis seized control of most of Abedia after laying siege on more than 35,000 civilians and government troops who took up arms and fought off incursions into the district.

The Houthi siege of Abedia pushed trapped civilians into starvation as the rebels obstructed the distribution of humanitarian aid and banned people from entering or leaving the district.

The siege sparked outrage inside and outside Yemen as activists and international bodies, including the UN Security Council, demanded that the Houthis allow aid workers and humanitarian assistance to reach trapped citizens.

However, the militia ignored the appeals and intensified missile and ground attacks until they forced a breakthrough last week and managed to storm the district’s center.

Local activists believe that the Houthis have abducted and forcibly disappeared more than 100 people in Abedia, blown up houses of government officials and looted property.

“The Houthi militia has committed brutal crimes in Abedia, far from the eyes of the media and local and international human rights organizations,” Mohammed Al-Salehi, editor of news website Marib Press, told Arab News on Monday.

In Sanaa, meanwhile, local and international rights groups and government officials said that the Houthis have expelled the families of two dozen dead academics at Sanaa University from their homes.

Ordered by the Houthi-allied president of Sanaa University Al-Qassem Abbas, armed militia members on Sunday stormed the houses of the families in Sanaa and asked them to leave voluntarily, threatening eviction by force.

In the past, the Houthis asked families of dead and pensioned professors to leave homes and flats given to them by Sanaa University as the movement sought to replace them with new academics.

The families said that they would be forced to sleep in the streets if they left the rent-free homes as the Houthis have not paid the salaries of their dead relatives and other public servants since late 2016.

The Geneva-based SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties warned that the Houthis prevented some families of dead professors from entering homes and looted furniture and valuables, demanding the group stop raids on the houses of Sanaa academics.

Yemeni Information Minister Muammar Al-Eryani condemned the raids and urged the international community and rights groups to pressure the Houthis into ending evictions.

“This terrorist crime is part of a series of abuses by Houthi militia against the elite of society, including academics, scholars and intellectuals, restricting them in their livelihoods and pushing them to emigrate,” he said on Twitter.


Egypt, Greek air forces complete training exercise

Egypt, Greek air forces complete training exercise
Updated 25 October 2021

Egypt, Greek air forces complete training exercise

Egypt, Greek air forces complete training exercise
  • Training included a number of joint flights, training on long-range air operations, experience exchanges and training in managing air operations
  • Egyptian paratroopers and Russian air landing forces also carried out a number of activities and events as part of joint military training

The Egyptian and Greek air forces completed a training exercise using combat aircraft at a Greek air base.

According to a statement by Egypt’s military spokesman, the training included a number of joint flights, training on long-range air operations, experience exchanges and training in managing air operations.

It came as part of large-scale joint exercises between the armed forces of both countries and efforts to improve military cooperation.

Egyptian paratroopers and Russian air landing forces also carried out a number of activities and events as part of joint military training, which will continue until Oct. 29.

Weapons and jump training took place during the exercise, which comes within the framework of joint cooperation between the Egyptian and Russian armed forces.

Egyptian border guards and Sudanese infantry elements are also taking part in training, which will continue until Oct. 29 at the Mohamed Naguib Military Base.

The commander of the Egyptian border guards said that the exercise represented “a rich environment for exchanging experiences” in border security. He also conveyed the greetings of Lt. Gen. Mohammad Zaki, commander-in-chief of the Egyptian armed forces, minister of defense and military production, and Lt. Gen. Mohammad Farid, chief of staff of the Sudanese armed forces.

The training activities included lectures and practical exercises that are aimed at enhancing border protection and the combating of smuggling, infiltration and illegal immigration.


Arab coalition says more than 105 Houthis killed near Yemen’s Marib

Arab coalition says more than 105 Houthis killed near Yemen’s Marib
Updated 25 October 2021

Arab coalition says more than 105 Houthis killed near Yemen’s Marib

Arab coalition says more than 105 Houthis killed near Yemen’s Marib
  • Arab coalition says airstrikes hit 29 Houthi targets, also destroying 13 military vehicles

RIYADH: The Arab coalition in Yemen said on Monday it carried out 29 attacks targeting “mechanisms and elements” of the Houthi militia in two districts near the strategic city of Marib in the last 24 hours.
The coalition said more than 105 Houthi militants have been killed and 13 military vehicles were destroyed in the military operations in Al-Jawba and Al-Kassara.
The coalition added in a statement that it will continue to provide support to the Yemeni National Army to protect civilians from Houthi violations.
This is the tenth consecutive day that the coalition has announced strikes 
The coalition has reported heavy strikes around Marib in recent weeks.
Al-Jawba lies about 50 kilometers south of the city and Al-Kassara is about 30 kilometers northwest.
According to a government military official on Wednesday, the Houthis have made “small advances” in Al-Jawba amid clashes with loyalist troops.
The Houthis began a major push to seize Marib in February and have renewed their offensive since September after a lull.
(With AFP)