UN reiterates it is not involved in Syrian presidential election

A poster depicting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and his father and predecessor Hafez al-Assad hangs along an alley in Damascus on April 21, 2021. (AFP/LOUAI BESHARA)
A poster depicting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and his father and predecessor Hafez al-Assad hangs along an alley in Damascus on April 21, 2021. (AFP/LOUAI BESHARA)
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Updated 22 April 2021

UN reiterates it is not involved in Syrian presidential election

A poster depicting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and his father and predecessor Hafez al-Assad hangs along an alley in Damascus on April 21, 2021. (AFP/LOUAI BESHARA)
  • Comments came after Syria’s parliament confirmed Bashar Assad will run for re-election in next month’s poll
  • Secretary-general’s spokesman said the vote is not part of the political process set by Security Council resolution

NEW YORK: The UN on Wednesday reiterated that it is not involved in the upcoming Syrian elections and has “no mandate to be.”

In came after the Syrian parliament announced on Wednesday that President Bashar Assad will run for re-election on May 26 in what will be the second presidential election held during the decade-long civil war in the country.

“(Syria’s) elections have been called under the auspices of the current constitution and they’re not part of the political process established under Resolution 2254,” said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “For our part, we will continue to stress the importance of a negotiated political solution to the conflict in Syria.

“Resolution 2254 mandates the UN to facilitate a political process that culminates in the holding of free and fair elections in accordance with a new constitution, administered under UN supervision to the highest international standards, and that are inclusive of all Syrians including members of the diaspora.”

Pressed on whether or not his comment means the UN does not consider the elections to be free and fair, Dujarric said: “I think my words on Syria were pretty clear,” and reiterated his previous comments.

Geir Pedersen, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, has been working to support efforts to draft a new constitution as part of the political process aimed at ending the war and ensuring free and fair elections, supervised by the UN, in which all Syrians can vote, including refugees.

During a Security Council briefing last month, however, he acknowledged that due to a lack of “true engagement” by the Syrian regime, the political process has not succeeded in bringing about any tangible changes as yet, nor has it led to the adoption of a vision of the future for Syrians.

He said “free and fair elections” based on the provisions of Security Council Resolution 2254 still “seem far into the future.”

Assad has been accused by Western countries, including members of the Security Council, of deliberately delaying the drafting of a new constitution to avoid UN-supervised elections.

Last month Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the permanent US representative to the UN, asked the international community to “not be fooled by upcoming Syrian presidential elections. These elections will neither be free nor fair. They will not legitimize the Assad regime. They do not meet the criteria laid out in Resolution 2254, including that they be supervised by the UN or conducted pursuant to a new constitution.”

Barbara Woodward, the British envoy to the UN, said the UK “stands with the Syrian people to deliver all the steps enshrined in Resolution 2254: a nationwide ceasefire; unhindered aid access; the release of those arbitrarily detained; conditions for safe refugee return; and free and fair elections pursuant to a new constitution — all of which represent the only way out of this conflict.”


Iraq records 12,000 COVID-19 infections in new daily high

Iraq records 12,000 COVID-19 infections in new daily high
Updated 26 July 2021

Iraq records 12,000 COVID-19 infections in new daily high

Iraq records 12,000 COVID-19 infections in new daily high
  • Much of the 40-million-strong population remains skeptical of vaccines
  • More than 1.5 million people have now tested positive and 18,347 have officially died of Covid-19 in Iraq

BAGHDAD: Iraq has recorded 12,180 Covid infections over the past 24 hours, the health ministry said on Monday, the highest number detected in a single day so far in the pandemic.
More than 1.5 million people have now tested positive and 18,347 have officially died of Covid-19 in Iraq, where the health infrastructure is dilapidated.
Much of the 40-million-strong population remains skeptical of vaccines, with only 1.3 million having been inoculated, the health ministry says.
It is not clear how many of those have received two jabs.
Monday’s record “unfortunately, does not surprise us because of a lack of respect for mandatory hygiene measures such as a ban on gatherings and mask wearing,” ministry spokesman Saif Al-Badr said.
“This increase is probably due to the large number of gatherings during the Eid” Al-Adha festival marking the end of the annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage, he said.
The authorities have struggled to persuade people to get vaccinated and to abide by measures such as wearing face masks in public.
Earlier this month, Sarmad Al-Qarlousi, who heads Baghdad’s Al-Kindi Hospital, warned that unless more people get jabbed, Iraq will spiral toward “an epidemiological catastrophe.”
The ministry spokesman has blamed a reluctance to get inoculated on a “misinformation campaign which preceded the arrival of the vaccine.”
On Monday Badr renewed his appeal to Iraqis to get vaccinated, saying the spike in infections is putting pressure on the country’s fragile health infrastructure.
Two huge fires at Covid-19 hospital wards in April and in mid-July killed more than 120 people, sparking anger and defiance among Iraqis who blame corruption for the failing health system.


UAE reports 1,549 new COVID-19 cases, 7 deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,549 new COVID-19 cases, 7 deaths in last 24 hours
Updated 26 July 2021

UAE reports 1,549 new COVID-19 cases, 7 deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,549 new COVID-19 cases, 7 deaths in last 24 hours
  • 1,510 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing patient recoveries to 650,683

DUBAI: The UAE on Monday reported 1,549 new COVID-19 cases and seven deaths overnight, bringing the total number of recorded cases to 673,185 with 1,927 fatalities related to the highly contagious disease.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention also said that 1,510 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing patient recoveries to 650,683.

An 232,389 additional COVID-19 tests were also over the past 24 hours, the ministry added in a statement published by state news agency WAM.

The UAE’s aggressive vaccination drive has resulted into a 77.85 percent of the population receiving a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 68.75 percent have been fully vaccinated.

The total number of doses provided stands at 16,495,917 with a rate of vaccine distribution of 166.79 doses per 100 people, the ministry reported.


Biden, Iraqi PM to announce end of US combat mission in Iraq

Biden, Iraqi PM to announce end of US combat mission in Iraq
Updated 26 July 2021

Biden, Iraqi PM to announce end of US combat mission in Iraq

Biden, Iraqi PM to announce end of US combat mission in Iraq
  • Plan to shift the American military mission will be spelled out in a broader
  • The Daesh is a shell of its former self since it was largely routed on the battlefield in 2017

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi are expected to announce on Monday that they’ve come to an agreement to end the US military’s combat mission in Iraq by the end of the year, according to a senior Biden administration official.
The plan to shift the American military mission, whose stated purpose is to help Iraq defeat the Daesh group, to a strictly advisory and training role by year’s end — with no US troops in a combat role — will be spelled out in a broader communique to be issued by the two leaders following their White House meeting on Monday afternoon, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the yet to be announced plan.
The official said the Iraqi security forces are “battle tested” and have proved themselves “capable” of protecting their country. Still, the Biden administration recognizes that Daesh remains a considerable threat, the official said.
Indeed, the Daesh terror organization is a shell of its former self since it was largely routed on the battlefield in 2017. Still, it has shown it can still carry out high-casualty attacks. Last week, the group claimed responsibility for a roadside bombing that killed at least 30 people and wounded dozens in a busy suburban Baghdad market.
The US and Iraq agreed in April that the US transition to a train-and-advise mission meant the US combat role would end, but they didn’t settle on a timetable for completing that transition. The announcement comes less than three months before parliamentary elections slated for Oct. 10.
Al-Kadhimi faces no shortage of problems. Iranian-backed militias operating inside Iraq have stepped up attacks against US forces in recent months, and a series of devastating hospital fires that left dozens of people dead and soaring coronavirus infections have added fresh layers of frustration for the nation.
For Al-Kadhimi, the ability to offer the Iraqi public a date for the end of the US combat presence could be a feather in his cap ahead of the election.
Biden administration officials say Al-Kadhimi also deserves credit for improving Iraq’s standing in the Mideast.
Last month, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi visited Baghdad for joint meetings — the first time an Egyptian president has made an official visit since the 1990s, when ties were severed after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
In March, Pope Francis made a historic visit to Iraq, praying among ruined churches in Mosul, a former IS stronghold, and meeting with the influential Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani in the holy city of Najaf.
The US and Iraq have been widely expected to use the face-to-face meeting to announce plans for the end of the combat mission, and Al-Kadhimi before his trip to Washington made clear that he believes it’s time for the US to wind down the combat mission.
“There is no need for any foreign combat forces on Iraqi soil,” Al-Kadhimi said.
The US troop presence has stood at about 2,500 since late last year when former President Donald Trump ordered a reduction from 3,000.
The announcement to end the US combat mission in Iraq comes as the US is in the final stages of ending its war in Afghanistan, nearly 20 years after President George W. Bush launched the war in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
The US mission of training and advising Iraqi forces has its most recent origins in former President Barack Obama’s decision in 2014 to send troops back to Iraq. The move was made in response to the Daesh group’s takeover of large portions of western and northern Iraq and a collapse of Iraqi security forces that appeared to threaten Baghdad. Obama had fully withdrawn US forces from Iraq in 2011, eight years after the US invasion.
The distinction between combat troops and those involved in training and advising can be blurry, given that the US troops are under threat of attack. But it is clear that US ground forces have not been on the offensive in Iraq in years, other than largely unpublicized special operations missions aimed at Daesh group militants.
Pentagon officials for years have tried to balance what they see as a necessary military presence to support the Iraqi government’s fight against IS with domestic political sensitivities in Iraq to a foreign troop presence. A major complication for both sides is the periodic attacks on bases housing US and coalition troops by Iraqi militia groups aligned with Iran.
The vulnerability of US troops was demonstrated most dramatically in January 2020 when Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Al-Asad air base in western Iraq. No Americans were killed, but dozens suffered traumatic brain injury from the blasts. That attack came shortly after a US drone strike killed Iranian military commander Qassim Soleimani and senior Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis at Baghdad International Airport.
The US military mission since 2014 has been largely focused on training and advising Iraqi forces. In April, in a joint statement following a US-Iraqi meeting in Washington, they declared, “the mission of US and coalition forces has now transitioned to one focused on training and advisory tasks, thereby allowing for the redeployment of any remaining combat forces from Iraq” at a time to be determined later.
Monday’s communique is also expected to detail US efforts to assist the Iraqi government’s COVID-19 response, education system and energy sector.


Lebanese PM-designate Mikati aims to form gov't to implement reform plan

Lebanese PM-designate Mikati aims to form gov't to implement reform plan
Updated 31 min 42 sec ago

Lebanese PM-designate Mikati aims to form gov't to implement reform plan

Lebanese PM-designate Mikati aims to form gov't to implement reform plan
  • Veteran politician Hariri gave up on cabinet formation
  • Mikati says no magic wand but has international guarantees

BEIRUT: Lebanese businessman Najib Mikati secured enough votes in parliamentary consultations on Monday to be designated the next prime minister, and now faces the difficult challenge of forming a viable government to tackle a financial crisis.
Mikati has been prime minister twice before and, unlike many Lebanese leaders, does not represent a political bloc or hail from a dynasty. He received 72 votes out of a total of 118 members of parliament.
Like previous nominee Saad Al-Hariri, he must navigate the sectarian, power-sharing structure and secure agreement on a cabinet equipped to address the financial meltdown in Lebanon, one of the world's most heavily indebted states.
"I don't have a magic wand and I can't work miracles," Mikati said after his nomination, but added that he had been studying the situation and had "the necessary international guarantees". Mikati is the third person to be nominated since Hassan Diab's government resigned after an explosion at Beirut's port area on Aug. 4 last year that killed more than 200 people and flattened large areas of the city.
Diab's government has stayed on in a caretaker capacity since then, but Lebanon's currency has collapsed, jobs have vanished and banks have frozen accounts in the country's worst crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
Mikati said he was confident he could form a government, and its first priority would be to implement a reform plan by former colonial power France.
The French roadmap envisioned a government of specialists capable of implementing reforms and engaging the International Monetary Fund.
Hezbollah, the heavily armed Shi'ite Islamist movement that the United States deems a terrorist group, nominated Mikati in Monday's consultations. Most of the main parliamentary blocs endorsed the choice.
Muhammad Raad, the leader of Hezbollah's parliamentary bloc, told reporters there were signs hinting at the possibility of forming a government and "that's why we named Mikati, to give an extra boost to facilitate forming a government."
Hezbollah is an ally of President Michel Aoun.
Among Mikati's endorsers was Hariri who, after nearly 10 months, abandoned efforts to form a government last week after failing to agree its composition with Aoun.
Hariri told reporters after meeting Aoun that he hoped Mikati, a telecoms tycoon, would be chosen and succeed in forming a cabinet, adding: "The country has a chance today."
The news of Mikati's likely designation boosted the Lebanese pound earlier on Monday on the unofficial parallel market, where dollars changed hands at around 16,500 pounds, compared to over 22,000 at the height of the deadlock over the government.
In Lebanon's political system, the post of prime minister has to be held by a Sunni Muslim, while the presidency is held by a Maronite Christian.
Western governments have been piling pressure on Lebanon to form a government that can set about reforming the corruption-marred state. They have threatened to impose sanctions and said financial support will not flow before reforms begin.


Tunisians celebrate government ousting with cheers, fireworks

Tunisians celebrate government ousting with cheers, fireworks
Updated 26 July 2021

Tunisians celebrate government ousting with cheers, fireworks

Tunisians celebrate government ousting with cheers, fireworks
  • Tunisia’s military stop Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi from entering the parliament building early on Monday
  • ‘The president was very brave ... we know this is not a coup’

Soon after Tunisia’s President Kais Saied said he had ousted the government, tens of thousands of people poured into city streets to applaud a move decried by his critics as a coup.
As they cheered, ululated, honked car horns and let off fireworks, Said’s supporters revelled in his decision and in the perceived downfall of the moderate Islamist Ennahda, the biggest party in parliament and his main political opponent.
It showed how a decade after Tunisia’s 2011 revolution that introduced democracy, street activism remains a potentially powerful force — and one that could lead to confrontation after Ennahda called for people to protest against Saied.
Tunisia’s military stopped Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi from entering the parliament building early on Monday, a witness said, after Saied declared he had frozen the body’s activities.
The crowds late on Sunday were defying a COVID-19 curfew as they gathered in local neighborhoods and cities throughout the North African country and along the main Habib Bourguiba avenue in Tunis that has long served as the epicenter of any protests in the capital.

A military vehicle drives on a street as supporters of Tunisia's President Kais Saied gather after he dismissed the government and froze parliament, in Tunis, Tunisia July 25, 2021. (Reuters)

 

Thousands of people including many families walked along the tree-lined avenue, raising national flags, dancing and lighting red flares.

“The president was very brave... we know this is not a coup,” said Amira Abid, a woman in Tunis’ town center as she kissed a Tunisian flag.


Soon afterwards, Saied himself arrived to meet jubilant supporters in the very street where the biggest protests took place in 2011 during a revolution whose own democratic legacy now hangs in the balance.
Saied’s critics fear his move to dismiss the government and freeze parliament is part of a shift away from democracy and a return to the autocratic rule of the past — concerns he rejected in public statements as he denied conducting a coup.
As helicopters hovered above the crowds supporting his move, the people on the streets cast Ennahda as the cause of Tunisia’s failures over the past decade to overcome political paralysis and achieve prosperity.
“Today, today, Ennahda ended today,” sang young men in the Omrane Superieur district of the capital.
Nearby, as families stood with their children and raised their phones to the record the moment, a man walking with his daughter said “today is our Eid (holiday).”