A growing challenge for Iraq: Iran-aligned Shiite militias

A growing challenge for Iraq: Iran-aligned Shiite militias
1 / 3
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
2 / 3
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
3 / 3
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)
Short Url
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.


Parliament session on Lebanon cabinet begins late after power cut

Parliament session on Lebanon cabinet begins late after power cut
Updated 4 sec ago

Parliament session on Lebanon cabinet begins late after power cut

Parliament session on Lebanon cabinet begins late after power cut
  • Lebanon is battling a deep depression, with worsening fuel shortages translating into few or any hours of state-backed power a day
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s parliament began a session on Monday that is scheduled to discuss the new cabinet’s policy program and hold a vote of confidence, after a nearly one-hour delay caused by a power cut.
Lebanon is battling a deep depression, with worsening fuel shortages translating into few or any hours of state-backed power a day and most Lebanese relying on private generators for electricity.
The session had been scheduled to start at 11a.m. local time (0800 GMT) but the lights went out in the building now housing the parliament. When it began, Prime Minister Najib Mikati read out the cabinet’s draft policy program.
“From the heart of the suffering of Beirut ... our cabinet was born to light a candle in this hopeless darkness,” Mikati told parliament.
Mikati’s government was cobbled together after a year of political deadlock that has compounded Lebanon’s economic malaise.
The new government has promised action to address the country’s crisis, including talks with the International Monetary Fund and a start to reforms.
Its draft policy program said it would renew and develop a previous financial recovery plan, which set out a shortfall in the financial system of some $90 billion — a figure endorsed by the IMF.
But Mikati faces a tricky path to solid economic ground as the plan risks hitting resistance from officials and bankers though the gravity of the crisis could encourage many to make decisions they had previously resisted.
Lebanon’s financial system unraveled in late 2019. The root cause was decades of profligate spending by the state and the unsustainable way in which it was financed.

Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home

Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home
Updated 44 min 1 sec ago

Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home

Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home
  • Lebanon’s economy has collapsed under a long-running political class accused of incompetence and corruption
  • Lebanon is running out of fuel and gas to medicine and bread
DUBAI: Lebanese expats in the wealthy UAE, many of them riven with guilt, are scrambling to ship essential goods and medicine to family and friends in their crisis-stricken home country.
“How can I sit in the comfort of my home in air-conditioning and a full fridge knowing that my people, my friends and family, are struggling back home?” asked Jennifer Houchaime.
“Oh, the guilt is very, very real,” said the 33-year-old resident of Dubai, a member of the United Arab Emirates which is home to tens of thousands of Lebanese.
“It’s guilt, shame and nostalgia.”
Lebanon’s economy has collapsed under a long-running political class accused of incompetence and corruption.
Its currency has plunged to an all-time low, sparking inflation and eroding the purchasing power of a population denied free access to their own savings by stringent banking controls.
Lebanon is running out of everything, from fuel and gas to medicine and bread, and more than three-quarters of its population is now considered to be living under the poverty line.
Social media platforms are filled with posts by Lebanese appealing for contacts abroad to send basic goods such as baby formula, diapers, painkillers, coffee and sanitary pads.

Aya Majzoub, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said trust in the Lebanese government is at an all-time low.
“It is unsurprising that local and grassroots initiatives have sprung up to fill this gap while bypassing the government that they view as corrupt, inefficient and incompetent,” she told AFP.
With no faith in the Lebanese authorities, expats have taken it upon themselves to transport aid.
Houchaime and a number of her Lebanese friends fill their bags with over-the-counter medication and food items every time they travel home.
The Dubai-based airline Emirates is allowing an extra 10 kilos (22 pounds) of baggage for passengers to Beirut from certain destinations until the end of this month.
For Dima Hage Hassan, 33, a trip to Lebanon opened her eyes to the unfolding disaster.
“I was in Lebanon, and I had money, and I had a car with fuel, and I went around from pharmacy to pharmacy unable to find medicine for my mother’s ear infection,” she said.

A fellow Lebanese, Sarah Hassan, packed for her second trip home in less than two months, taking only a few personal items while the rest was supplies for family and friends.
This time, the 26-year-old was taking a couple of battery-operated fans, painkillers, sanitary pads, skin creams, and cold and flu medication.
“A couple of my friends are going as well to Lebanon, so all of us are doing our part.”
It’s the same story in other parts of the Gulf, where Lebanese have long resided, fleeing from decades of conflict and instability in their own country.
“It’s hard not to feel guilty. When I went to Lebanon a month ago, I hadn’t been for two years. When I stepped out into the city, I was so shocked,” said Hassan.
“Then you come back here to the comfort of your home and everything is at your fingertips... it’s such an overwhelming feeling of guilt.”

East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2

East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2
Updated 20 September 2021

East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2

East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2
  • The self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces said the helicopters collided in the air over the village of Msus
  • The crash came as they have been battling Chadian fighters in Libya’s southern areas on the border with Chad

CAIRO: Forces loyal to a powerful Libyan commander said two military planes crashed on Sunday over a village in eastern Libya, killing at least two officers.
The self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces, led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, said the helicopters collided in the air over the village of Msus, 130 kilometers (81 miles) southeast of the city of Benghazi.
A two-officer crew, including Brig. Gen. Bouzied Al-Barrasi, was killed in the crash, while the second helicopter crew survived, the forces said in a brief statement. It did not give the cause of the crash and said the helicopters were on a military mission.
Mohammad Younes Menfi, head of Libya’s Presidential Council, mourned the two officers.
Haftar’s forces control eastern and most of southern Libya. The crash came as they have been battling Chadian fighters in Libya’s southern areas on the border with Chad.
The clashes erupted last week and could further destabilize the wider Sahel region, after Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno was killed in April in battels between his government and Chadian rebels.


Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week

Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week
Updated 20 September 2021

Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week

Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week
  • Regional rivals have been at odds over a host of maritime issues in the Mediterranean and migration

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that he would meet Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly next week in New York.

The NATO members and regional rivals have been at odds over a host of maritime issues in the Mediterranean and migration.
Mitsotakis said on Friday that Turkey was an important partner in tackling any new migration challenge to Europe and needed support.
Speaking at a news conference before departing for New York, Erdogan said Turkey, which hosts some 4 million refugees — most of whom are Syrians — was “suffering the biggest burden and the heaviest downsides” of migration, adding that Turkey would take the necessary steps if its counterparts did not.
The Turkey’s president also said his country was ready for talks with Armenia but added Yerevan needed to take steps toward opening a controversial transport link through its territory.
Armenia and Turkey never established diplomatic relations and their shared border has been closed since the 1990s.
The ties have deteriorated due to Turkey’s support for its regional ally Azerbaijan, which fought with Armenia last year for control of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
But earlier this month, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Yerevan was prepared to hold discussions on repairing relations with Ankara.
“If he (Pashinyan) would like to meet with Tayyip Erdogan, then certain steps should be taken,” Erdogan said.
He was referring to the creation of a transit corridor that would have to go through Armenia to connect Azerbaijan to its Nakchivan enclave that borders Turkey and Iran.
“We are not closed to talks (with Armenia), we will hold the talks,” Erdogan said.
“I hope that not a negative but a positive approach will prevail there,” he said. “God willing, the problem between Azerbaijan and Armenia will be overcome with the opening of the corridors.”


Morocco’s Justice and Development Party decries ‘violations’ at polls

Abdellatif Ouahbi, president of Morocco's Authenticity and Modernity party (C), gives a speech after his party came in second in parliamentary and local elections, in Rabat on September 9, 2021. (AFP)
Abdellatif Ouahbi, president of Morocco's Authenticity and Modernity party (C), gives a speech after his party came in second in parliamentary and local elections, in Rabat on September 9, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 20 September 2021

Morocco’s Justice and Development Party decries ‘violations’ at polls

Abdellatif Ouahbi, president of Morocco's Authenticity and Modernity party (C), gives a speech after his party came in second in parliamentary and local elections, in Rabat on September 9, 2021. (AFP)
  • Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has named businessman Aziz Akhannouch to lead a new government after his National Rally of Independents, considered close to the palace, thrashed the Justice and Development Party, winning 102 seats

RABAT: Morocco’s moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party, which was thrashed at last week’s elections, on Sunday denounced “violations and irregularities” at the polls.
The party had headed Morocco’s governing coalition for a decade but saw its support collapse at the Sept. 8 vote, dropping from 125 of parliament’s 395 seats to just 13.
Local elections held the same day confirmed the party’s crushing defeat.
The party “denounces the violations and irregularities” at the polls, including “massive use of money,” “manipulation of reports” and “names crossed off the electoral lists or appearing twice,” it said in a statement following Saturday’s extraordinary session of the party’s national council.
These “forms of electoral corruption ... led to the announcement of results that do not reflect the substance of the political map and the free will of the voters,” the statement added.
Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit has said the voting process took “under normal circumstances” apart from isolated incidents.

SPEEDREAD

• Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit says the voting process took ‘under normal circumstances’ apart from isolated incidents.

• On voting day, the Islamists had alleged ‘serious irregularities,’ including ‘obscene cash handouts’ near polling stations and ‘confusion’ on some electoral rolls, with some voters finding they were not listed.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has named businessman Aziz Akhannouch to lead a new government after his National Rally of Independents, considered close to the palace, thrashed the Justice and Development Party, winning 102 seats.
On voting day, the Islamists had alleged “serious irregularities,” including “obscene cash handouts” near polling stations and “confusion” on some electoral rolls, with some voters finding they were not listed.
The National Rally of Independents has started coalition talks, but the Justice and Development Party has announced that it would switch to its “natural” position as the opposition.
The party “is at an important turning point,” outgoing secretary-general Saad-Eddine El-Othmani said Saturday at the party’s closed-door meeting.