Iraq slams US strikes on pro-Iran fighters amid calls for revenge

Iraq slams US strikes on pro-Iran fighters amid calls for revenge
In this image grab taken from a broadcast by Syria TV on June 28, 2021 shows smoke billowing from a facility used by Iran-backed groups following US air strikes on the Syrian-Iraqi border. (AFP)
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Updated 28 June 2021

Iraq slams US strikes on pro-Iran fighters amid calls for revenge

Iraq slams US strikes on pro-Iran fighters amid calls for revenge

BAGHDAD: Iraq on Monday condemned overnight US air strikes against Iran-backed armed groups on the Syrian-Iraqi border that killed at least seven fighters and sparked calls for revenge from Iraqi armed factions.
The second such raid on pro-Iran targets since US President Joe Biden took office, described by the Pentagon as "retaliatory", led to fears of a new escalation between Tehran and Washington and came despite faltering efforts to revive a key deal over Iran's nuclear programme.
Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi condemned the attack as a "blatant and unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty and Iraqi national security".
"Iraq reiterates its refusal to be an arena for settling scores," Kadhemi added in a statement, urging all sides to avoid any further escalation.
The Hashed, an Iraqi paramilitary alliance that includes several Iranian proxies and has become the main power broker in Baghdad, said the strikes killed four of its fighters in the Qaim region, some 13 kilometres (eight miles) away from the border.
The fighters were stationed there to prevent jihadists from infiltrating Iraq, the group said in a statement, denying that they had taken part in any attacks against US interests or personnel.
"We reserve the legal right to respond to these attacks and hold the perpetrators accountable on Iraqi soil," the Hashed said.
US defence spokesman John Kirby said in a statement that three military facilities used by Iran-backed militia had been hit overnight Sunday to Monday -- two in Syria and one in Iraq.
Kirby said the targets had been used by "Iran-backed militias that are engaged in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks against US personnel and facilities in Iraq".
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria, said seven fighters had been killed in the strikes in the early hours of Monday morning local time.
At least six more fighters were wounded and the targets included an arms depot near Albu Kamal, a Syrian town which lies where the border crosses the Euphrates river, the Britain-based monitor said.
Syria's state-run SANA news agency said one child had been killed in the raid but gave few details.
US interests in Iraq, where 2,500 American troops are deployed as part of an international coalition to fight the jihadist Islamic State group, have been targeted in more than 40 attacks this year.
The vast majority have been bombs against logistics convoys, but rocket fire and drones packed with explosive have also been used in the assaults some of which were claimed by pro-Iran factions hoping to pressure Washington into withdrawing all its troops.
"Given the ongoing series of attacks by Iran-backed groups targeting US interests in Iraq, the president directed further military action to disrupt and deter such attacks," Kirby said.
"Specifically, the US strikes targeted operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq, both of which lie close to the border between those countries," he added.
Kataeb Hezbollah and Kataeb Sayyid al-Shuhada, two Iraqi armed factions with close ties to Tehran, were among the "several Iran-backed militia groups" that had used the facilities, Kirby said.
Some of the militia groups that form the Hashed al-Shaabi have been deployed in Syria over the years to support regime forces and to further Iran's interests in the country.
In February, US strikes on facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran-backed militia groups left more than 20 fighters dead, according to the Observatory.
The latest US strikes come two days after the United States and France warned Iran that time was running out to return to a nuclear deal, voicing fears that Tehran's sensitive atomic activities could advance if talks drag on.
A return to the 2015 Iran accord has been a key Biden promise after the nuclear deal was trashed by his predecessor Donald Trump.
"We have a national interest in trying to put the nuclear problem back in the box that it was" under the deal, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
The UN's nuclear watchdog said Friday it had received no reply from Tehran over the possible extension of a temporary agreement covering inspections at Iranian nuclear facilities which expired on Thursday.
Announcement of the strikes came one day before Biden meets at the White House with Reuven Rivlin, president of Israel, Iran's arch foe.


Racing legend Sir Jackie Stewart: Saudis have done amazing job on Jeddah Corniche Circuit

Racing legend Sir Jackie Stewart: Saudis have done amazing job on Jeddah Corniche Circuit
Updated 3 min 19 sec ago

Racing legend Sir Jackie Stewart: Saudis have done amazing job on Jeddah Corniche Circuit

Racing legend Sir Jackie Stewart: Saudis have done amazing job on Jeddah Corniche Circuit

JEDDAH: Three-time Formula One champion Sir Jackie Stewart has come out to praise the “amazing job” done by Saudi Arabia in completing the construction of the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, the venue for the highly-anticipated Saudi Grand Prix from Dec. 3 to 5.

The British former F1 driver from Scotland — nicknamed the “Flying Scot” — spoke to Arab News during the special reception held in the gardens of the British Consulate in Jeddah to celebrate the inaugural Saudi Grand Prix.

“It is wonderful to have the Grand Prix in the country and it is going to be an international success,” he said. 

On his second visit to Saudi Arabia, Sir Jackie described the transformation taking place in the Kingdom as bold and visionary: “The last time I was here (was) almost nine years ago, but it seems this time a lot of things have changed in Saudi Arabia and I see a very developed country which has a good future and it is obvious.”

He continued: “I think Saudi Arabia succeeded in hosting F1 and this will attract the world to see more of Saudi Arabia.”

He said the Jeddah circuit was amazing when you consider the timescale in which the track has been put together.

“On Tuesday, I had the chance to drive on it and it is a great track. It has a nice flow to it, a wide variety of corners, and is really good to drive. I don’t think I’ve ever driven on such a fast circuit before with so many high-speed corners, so I think it will be quite a challenge for drivers this weekend.”

He added: “I enjoyed my first real taste of the new circuit, I think F1 track designer Carsten Tilke has done a great job.”

The 82-year-old managed to claim three F1 World Championships between 1969 and 1973, with 99 race starts before he retired in 1973, aged just 34.

Speaking ahead of Sunday’s big race, the racing legend pointed out that the fight for the Drivers’ World Championship remains close between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.

“To be first, you first have to cross the finish line first, it is going to be a tough challenge between Hamilton and Verstappen and we all look forward for the race.”


Speed innovation: How Saudi university lab is helping McLaren lap F1 field

Speed innovation: How Saudi university lab is helping McLaren lap F1 field
Updated 8 min 2 sec ago

Speed innovation: How Saudi university lab is helping McLaren lap F1 field

Speed innovation: How Saudi university lab is helping McLaren lap F1 field
  • Unique partnership with top racing team sees KAUST technological expertise play out on Grand Prix circuit, winners’ podium

JEDDAH: When McLaren Racing teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris finished first and second in September’s Italian Grand Prix, the gap between them was just 1.747 seconds.

If either had run just a few seconds slower at Monza, Formula 1’s fastest track, they would have tumbled off the winner’s podium and into the middle of the pack.

That is why F1 teams spend tens of millions of dollars annually tweaking their cars’ aerodynamics, fuel combustion, and telemetry – all in pursuit of an edge worth hundredths of a second per lap.

But when all 10 teams line up on the grid in Jeddah on Dec. 5 for the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix – on the fastest street circuit ever, with estimated average speeds of 252 kmh (156 mph) – only McLaren will possess a home-grown advantage.

In 2018, the team signed a five-year research partnership deal with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology – the Saudi equivalent of MIT – to treat its vehicles as living laboratories. In exchange, KAUST’s students and faculty would bring their expertise in software, sensors, and chemistry to bear on a unique challenge: Navigating the corners and straightaways of Jeddah’s corniche a few seconds faster than everyone else.

Matteo Parsani, assistant professor of applied mathematics and computational science at KAUST, said: “Why is an F1 car faster around the track than a Grand Prix motorcycle, which can also achieve speeds of 300 kmh? Aerodynamics. The manipulation of air around the vehicle is the single biggest differentiator in F1.”

Greater downforce, for example, enables drivers to corner turns at higher speeds, which comes in handy on a course with 27 turns.

Traditionally, teams turned to wind-tunnel testing, which was both costly and time-consuming. More recently, F1 has embraced computational fluid dynamics, which harnesses supercomputing-level processing power to massively simulate and optimize airflow over surfaces. Brute force will take teams only so far, however.

The sport’s voluminous regulations include strict caps on the number of central processing unit hours they can use, which means the most elegant algorithm wins the day. To that end, Parsani and his colleagues in KAUST’s Extreme Computing Research Center have licensed to McLaren the exclusive use of their state-of-the-art solver, which succeeds where off-the-shelf tools fail in accurately modeling turbulent air flow – the bane of drivers.

AN AMBITIOUS JOURNEY

Aerodynamics is only one arm of the partnership’s ambitious agenda, which has expanded in scope from on-track performance to assisting with McLaren’s decade-long commitment to carbon neutrality and support of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.

Mark Barnett, director of research and innovation at McLaren Racing, said: “KAUST’s world-class research and development facilities, faculty leaders, and desire to combine emerging technologies with sustainability initiatives continues to help our team on our ambitious journey.”

But what originally drew the team to KAUST was a question of fuel. Just as F1 regulates how many teraflops teams can use, each car is allotted a maximum of 110 kilograms (29.06 gallons) of fuel. This means teams must strive to extract every joule from every drop, which, depending on the course and conditions, changes from race to race.

Mani Sarathy, associate director of KAUST’s Clean Combustion Research Center, said: “We help McLaren determine optimal fuel combustion by providing them with candidate formulations and the tools.”

Just as Parsani’s group has substituted simulation for wind tunnels, Sarathy’s team uses machine learning to identify candidates for field testing.

One area where KAUST has been able to contribute outside of the lab has been in sensors.

The advent of real-time telemetry in the 1980s transformed F1, as torrents of new data spurred on the optimization of nearly everything. Today’s cars are festooned with hundreds of sensors transmitting gigabytes of data about speed, airflow, engine temperature, braking, exhaust, and much, much more. The weight of those sensors quickly adds up, however, prompting teams to seek yet another infinitesimal edge in swapping them for ones made with ultra-lightweight materials.

As part of that effort, a team of KAUST students was dispatched to observe McLaren Racing in action at the 2019 Bahrain Grand Prix.

Watching the team meticulously prepare for its practice laps, Altynay Kaidarova, a Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering, saw first-hand the incredible stresses placed on the car, including extreme G-forces and internal temperatures reaching several hundred degrees Celsius.

Upon returning to KAUST, under the watchful eye of her supervisor Prof. Jurgen Kosel, she set out to “develop customized sensors by exploiting our cutting-edge fabrication technologies.”

Kaidarova’s material of choice was graphene – atom-thick sheets of pure carbon 100-times stronger (and lighter) than steel, and nearly as difficult and expensive to forge.

Her solution was to 3-D-print them, creating a process that enabled her to adapt sensors designed by colleagues to measure strain, airflow, and inertia to survive the extreme environments faced by an F1 car, both inside and out.

She said: “Our aim is to incorporate graphene-enhanced wireless sensors to simultaneously obtain parameters such as force, pressure, and temperature from multiple points around the car.”

TECH BEYOND THE TRACK

These sensors have uses far beyond the track, too. Just as McLaren Racing spun out McLaren Applied to employ its research and development in other industries, the KAUST faculty is eager to see its work with the team pay dividends in the classroom and beyond.

Sarathy’s group is collaborating with Hyundai to design more fuel-efficient engines, while Parsani’s CFD solver is being put to work by NASA.

Kaidarova mounted graphene sensors on marine animals to deliver data both on behavior and an expanded suite of environmental conditions relevant to marine ecosystem health in Oceanographic of Valencia, the largest complex of its type in Europe.

But first, their contributions must prove themselves on the winding streets of Jeddah – and, McLaren hopes, might prove the margin of victory.

Parsani noted that F1 was the ultimate crucible for KAUST or any engineering university.

“Students are exposed to a real industrial project in a real setting. It’s a unique opportunity to watch our research start as pen-and-paper, see it evolve into algorithms, and finally apply it to one of the most complicated devices humanity has ever made,” he added.

No one could ask for a better classroom than a F1 track. The final exam is Sunday.


Facebook: Fake scientist used to spread anti-US propaganda

Facebook uncovered fake accounts affiliated with the network that had also waded into US politics last year. (File/AFP)
Facebook uncovered fake accounts affiliated with the network that had also waded into US politics last year. (File/AFP)
Updated 3 min 58 sec ago

Facebook: Fake scientist used to spread anti-US propaganda

Facebook uncovered fake accounts affiliated with the network that had also waded into US politics last year. (File/AFP)
  • Disinformation network with ties to China used hundreds of fake social media accounts to spread anti-US propaganda, Facebook said
  • China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said in the past that the country’s government does not employ trickery on social media

A disinformation network with ties to China used hundreds of fake social media accounts — including one belonging to a fictitious Swiss biologist — to spread an unfounded claim that the US pressured scientists to blame China for the coronavirus, Facebook said Wednesday.
The company based in Menlo Park, California, did not directly attribute the network to the Chinese government. But it noted employees of Chinese state-run companies, and the country’s state-run media, worked to amplify the misleading claims, which were soon the subject of news headlines in China.
“In effect it worked like an online hall of mirrors, endlessly reflecting the original fake persona and its anti-US disinformation,” according to Ben Nimmo, who leads investigations into disinformation at Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram.
The operation began in July, when a Facebook account was created in the name of Wilson Edwards, a self-professed Swiss biologist. That same day, the account user claimed, without evidence, that US officials were using “enormous pressure and even intimidation” to get scientists to back calls for renewed investigations into the origin of the virus.
Within hours, hundreds of other accounts — some of which were created only that day — began liking, posting or linking to the post. Many of the accounts were later found to be fake, with some of the users posing as westerners and others using likely fabricated profile photos. Facebook said it found links between the accounts and a tech firm based in Chengdu, China, as well as to overseas employees of Chinese infrastructure companies.
Within a week of the initial post, large media outlets in China were reporting on the claims of US intimidation as if they had been made by a real scientist.
The operation was exposed when Swiss authorities announced in August that they had no record of any biologist with Edwards’ name. “If you exist, we would like to meet you!” the Swiss embassy in Beijing tweeted.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said in the past that the country’s government does not employ trickery on social media. Efforts to contact the companies cited in the report weren’t immediately successful on Wednesday.
In all, Meta removed about 600 accounts on Facebook and Instagram that were linked to the network, Nimmo told reporters on a call Wednesday that touched on the company’s response to several disinformation networks around the world.
Facebook uncovered fake accounts affiliated with the network that had also waded into US politics last year, with some posting memes that both attacked and supported ex-President Donald Trump. One post on Instagram called him “the worst president ever!” The group behind the effort also created accounts on Twitter, which has since suspended the account supposedly created by Edwards.
Nimmo said the network was easily spotted by its clumsy tactics. Several of the fake accounts sent out identical posts at similar times — a clear indication of coordination. Another person apparently working for the network posted instructions for reposting the claim in what Facebook determined was likely a sloppy mistake.
China’s disinformation networks have consistently been haphazard, said Bret Schafer, who heads the information manipulation team at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a non-partisan think tank in Washington.
The network unearthed by Facebook show that the Chinese are still working on their influence campaign strategy, unlike Russia, which has spent decades crafting disinformation campaigns that target unwitting Americans online and go undetected for years.
“It didn’t take long for this to be unraveled,” Schafer said. “The Chinese are still a bit sloppier with what they do. I can’t imagine the Russians doing something like this, where they just create a persona out of thin air.”


Barclays, RBS, HSBC, Credit Suisse fined $390m for forex cartel

Barclays, RBS, HSBC, Credit Suisse fined $390m for forex cartel
European Flags in front of the European Commission Headquarters building in Brussels. Shutterstock
Updated 27 min 52 sec ago

Barclays, RBS, HSBC, Credit Suisse fined $390m for forex cartel

Barclays, RBS, HSBC, Credit Suisse fined $390m for forex cartel
  • HSBC’s fine was the largest at 174.3 million euros

European Union antitrust regulators fined Barclays, Credit Suisse, HSBC and RBS a total of 344 million euros ($390 million) on Thursday for rigging the foreign exchange spot trading market.


UBS avoided a 94 million euro fine as it had alerted the European Commission about the cartel. The EU competition regulator said the cartel had focused on forex spot trading of G10 currencies.


HSBC’s fine was the largest at 174.3 million euros, followed by Credit Suisse at 83.3 million euros, Barclays at 54.3 million and RBS at 32.5 million.


Barclays, HSBC and RBS admitted wrongdoing in return for a cut in the penalty. RBS is now known as NatWest following a rebranding last year.


The fines are the latest to hit banks, which have received billions of euros in penalties worldwide over more than a decade for the rigging of benchmarks used in many day-to-day financial transactions.


“Today we complete our sixth cartel investigation in the financial sector since 2013 and conclude the third leg of our investigation into the foreign exchange spot trading market,” EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.


King Salman architecture, urbanism exhibition launches in Riyadh

King Salman architecture, urbanism exhibition launches in Riyadh
Updated 54 min 26 sec ago

King Salman architecture, urbanism exhibition launches in Riyadh

King Salman architecture, urbanism exhibition launches in Riyadh
  • The exhibition is an urban vision inspired by the monarch

RIYADH: The Saudi Architecture and Design Commission on Wednesday launched the King Salman Urban Charter for Architecture and Urbanism initiative during a special ceremony at Tuwaiq Palace, in Riyadh.

Government officials, including Deputy Minister of Culture Hamed bin Mohammed Fayez, and the commission’s Chief Executive Officer Sumaya Al-Solaiman, attended the event. The exhibition is an urban vision inspired by the monarch.

Speaking at the launch, Al-Solaiman said: “I extend my deepest thanks and gratitude to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the generous support of the cultural sector in the Kingdom and for drawing a distinctive cultural identity for our country in all our development fields, including the field of architecture, which has received special care that is reflected in urban values.”

King Salman spent more than 50 years as governor of Riyadh where he drove through urbanization schemes while also preserving the authentic cultural identity of the region.

The exhibition opened in Riyadh marked the launch of the King Salman Charter for Architecture and Urbanism which aims to celebrate and promote the national architectural identity of cities throughout the Kingdom.

Other charter launches will take place in the country as part of a traveling exhibition visiting cities including Jeddah, Abha, and Dammam. Each event will highlight the specific architecture of the region and the pivotal role played by King Salman in bringing the concepts to life.

The Riyadh exhibition — open to the public for four weeks — contains many architectural and rehabilitation projects from the capital that won international and local awards. It also takes visitors through a timeline of development of the city beginning with the birth of King Salman in 1935 in a section titled, “Growing Up in The Old Riyadh.”

The stages of urbanization development in Riyadh, including “Accelerated Modernity” in the 1950s with pressure to equip residents with modern architectural amenities, are also showcased along with a section focusing on the steps taken by King Salman to preserve the architectural identity of the capital during the modernization program.

“King Salman chose to draw inspiration from our history and our authentic cultural heritage. In the King Salman urban charter, we extracted the extensive guiding values and reformulated them in a scientific template in order to enrich urban thought, deepen experiences and dialogue, and create local identities,” Al-Solaiman added.

In order to create the charter a major study was conducted on the different types of architecture from various regions in order to capture the authentic urban identity of the Kingdom.