Keeping up attacks, some Iraq militias challenge patron Iran

Shiite militias in Iraq are reportedly showing a degree of defiance of their patron Iran by escalating rocket and drone attacks on the US presence in the country. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
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Shiite militias in Iraq are reportedly showing a degree of defiance of their patron Iran by escalating rocket and drone attacks on the US presence in the country. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Shiite militias in Iraq are reportedly showing a degree of defiance of their patron Iran by escalating rocket and drone attacks on the US presence in the country. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
2 / 2
Shiite militias in Iraq are reportedly showing a degree of defiance of their patron Iran by escalating rocket and drone attacks on the US presence in the country. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
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Updated 10 July 2021

Keeping up attacks, some Iraq militias challenge patron Iran

Shiite militias in Iraq are reportedly showing a degree of defiance of their patron Iran by escalating rocket and drone attacks on the US presence in the country. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
  • Quds Force commander asked Iraq's militia leaders last month to stay calm pending completion of Iran's nuke talks
  • One militia commander said they cannot keep quiet while the death of Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis in a US drone strikes went unavenged

BAGHDAD: Iran’s expeditionary Quds Force commander brought one main directive for Iraqi militia faction leaders long beholden to Tehran, when he gathered with them in Baghdad last month: Maintain calm, until after nuclear talks between Iran and the United States.
But he was met with defiance. One of the six faction leaders spoke up in their meeting: They could not stay quiet while the death of his predecessor Qassim Soleimani and senior Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis in a US drone strike went unavenged.
Militia attacks have only been increasing against the US in military bases in both Iraq and Syria. Three missile attacks in the last week alone resulted in minor injuries, stoking fears of escalation.
The details from Esmail Ghaani’s visit, confirmed to The Associated Press by three Shiite political officials and two senior militia officials, demonstrate how Iranian-aligned Iraqi militia groups are asserting a degree of independence, sometimes even flouting orders from Tehran. Iran now relies on Lebanon’s Hezbollah for support in reining them in, and there is potential that Iran’s new president could play a role in doing the same.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meetings.
Iran’s influence, sustained by ideological ties and military support, has frayed because of the US killing of Soleimani and Al-Muhandis last year, because of differing interests and because of financial strains in Tehran. With nuclear talks restarting following US President Joe Biden’s inauguration this year, these differences have come to the fore.
“Iran isn’t the way it used to be, with 100 percent control over the militia commanders,” said one Shiite political leader.
Increasing rocket and drone attacks targeting American troops in Iraq and Syria have alarmed Western and coalition officials. There have been at least eight drone attacks targeting the US presence since Biden took office in January, as well as 17 rocket attacks, according to coalition officials.
The attacks are blamed on the Iranian-backed militias that make up the bulk of Iraq’s state-supported Popular Mobilization Forces. The Biden administration has responded by twice targeting Iraqi militia groups operating inside Syria, including close to the Iraqi border.
“What is taking place now is when Ghaani asks for calm, the brigade leaders agree with him. But as soon as he leaves the meeting, they disregard his recommendations,” said another Shiite political leader.
The loudest of the defiant militia voices has been Qais Al-Khazali, leader of the Asaib Ahl Al-Haq faction, which also maintains a political party. On June 17, only days after Ghaani’s meetings with the militias, he said in a televised address that they would continue to target the US “occupier” and that they will not take into consideration nuclear talks.
“And that decision is an Iraqi one,” he said.
The coalition has formally ended combat operations and reduced troop levels significantly in the last year. Only 2,500 US troops remain in Iraq and discussions are ongoing with NATO to transfer to an advisory mission. Iraq still needs coalition support in surveillance and intelligence gathering and airstrikes against Daesh group targets.
Some argue the ongoing attacks benefit Iran by maintaining pressure on the US.
During talks with Shiite political officials during his visit, Ghani said Iran doesn’t interfere in their political work, but that military matters were different. “These must be approved by the Revolutionary Guard,” one political leader recounted him saying.
Still, Ghaani did not reprimand the militia groups during the meeting. Instead, he told them he understood their concerns.
Iran has struggled to fill in the gap left in the absence of Soleimani and Al-Muhandis, who were commanding figures able to push factions into line and resolve disputes among them.
“Ghaani has a different style and capabilities,” said Michael Knights, a fellow at The Washington Institute. He has a looser framework, establishing broad red lines on some matters, while “other things are ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,” he said.
Along with asking for less, cash-strapped Iran has been giving less as well. Assistance to the groups has been significantly downgraded since US sanctions began crippling Iran’s economy last year.
Divisions among factions have deepened, with growing competition among militias and Shiite politicians.
Ghaani came to meet the militia leaders to mend tensions that were sparked weeks earlier when Iraqi authorities arrested a paramilitary commander, Qassim Musleh, prompting a standoff between PMF fighters and security forces. Ghaani brought a letter from Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, criticizing the PMF for its reaction, saying it weakened their position.
To apply pressure on the factions, Iran has come to rely on Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah in Lebanon, a figure the militias highly respect. Almost weekly, various factional leaders hold face-to-face meetings with him in Lebanon, said Shiite political leaders.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, elected in June, also may be a unifying figure for the militias, which hold him in high esteem, political and militia officials said. When Raisi visited Baghdad in February, he met with PMF commanders and told them, in fluent Arabic, “Our flesh is your flesh, and our blood is your blood.” Ghaani communicates with brigade leaders through an interpreter.
“The resistance will grow in power and will see its best of times due to the election victory of Raisi,” said Abu Alaa Al-Walae, commander of Kataib Sayyid Al-Shuhada, in a recent interview.
 


Lebanon reintroduces some COVID-19 prevention measures

Lebanon reintroduces some COVID-19 prevention measures
Updated 42 min 24 sec ago

Lebanon reintroduces some COVID-19 prevention measures

Lebanon reintroduces some COVID-19 prevention measures
  • Mandatory vaccinations for all civil servants and workers in the health, education, tourism and public transport sectors

BEIRUT: Lebanon will impose a night-time curfew starting Dec. 17 on non-vaccinated people for three weeks.
And full vaccination will be made mandatory for all workers in several sectors due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus, the COVID-19 committee said on Wednesday.
Vaccination will be mandatory for all civil servants and workers in the health, education, tourism and public transport sectors as of Jan. 10, the committee said.
A new coronavirus variant found in South Africa and detected in several countries was determined as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization last week and has led to strengthening COVID-19-related restrictions around the world.


Vaccine coverage below 10 percent in seven eastern Mediterranean nations — WHO

Vaccine coverage below 10 percent in seven eastern Mediterranean nations — WHO
Updated 01 December 2021

Vaccine coverage below 10 percent in seven eastern Mediterranean nations — WHO

Vaccine coverage below 10 percent in seven eastern Mediterranean nations — WHO
  • Low-income countries, mostly in Africa, have received only 0.6% of the world's vaccines
  • "The longer that these inequities persist, the greater the chance of more variants,” said WHO’s regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean

CAIRO: An official at the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office said on Wednesday seven countries in the region have not yet reached a threshold of 10 percent vaccination coverage.
These countries represent a high-risk setting for the emergence of further variants, Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said at a news briefing in Cairo.
Low-income countries, mostly in Africa, have received only 0.6 percent of the world’s vaccines, while G20 countries have received more than 80 percent, Al-Mandhari said.
“The longer that these inequities persist, the greater the chance of more variants,” said Al-Mandhari. “Indeed, no one is safe until everyone is safe.”
So far, 24 countries may have reported cases of the new Omicron variant, said Abdinasir Abubakr, infection hazards prevention manager for the region.
Early Omicron cases suggest mild symptoms, added Richard Brennen, WHO regional emergency director in the region.
In terms of the response to the variant, he warned of complacency and COVID-19 fatigue and encouraged social-distancing measures.
However, he said social and travel curbs require risk assessment before implementation.
“While we understand that some countries locked down international travel, this has to be done on evidence and strong analysis,” said Brennen.
As of Nov. 29, over 16.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 309,500 deaths were reported across the Eastern Mediterranean region.


IAEA plans to step up inspections at Iran's Fordow plant

IAEA plans to step up inspections at Iran's Fordow plant
Updated 01 December 2021

IAEA plans to step up inspections at Iran's Fordow plant

IAEA plans to step up inspections at Iran's Fordow plant
  • The 2015 Iran nuclear deal does not allow Iran to enrich uranium at Fordow at all
  • Until now it had been producing enriched uranium there with IR-1 machines and had enriched with some IR-6s without keeping the product

VIENNA: The UN nuclear watchdog plans to increase the frequency of its inspections at Iran's Fordow plant after Iran started producing enriched uranium with more advanced machines there, the watchdog said in a report to member states on Wednesday seen by Reuters.
“The Agency has decided and Iran has agreed to increase the frequency of verification activities at FFEP and will continue consultations with Iran on practical arrangements to facilitate implementation of these activities,” the International Atomic Energy Agency report said, referring to the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant.

The IAEA said Iran had started the process of enriching uranium to up to 20 percent purity with one cascade, or cluster, of 166 advanced IR-6 machines at Fordow. Those machines are far more efficient than the first-generation IR-1.

Indirect talks between Iran and the United States on bringing both fully back into the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed this week after a five-month break prompted by the election of hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi.
Western negotiators fear Iran is creating facts on the ground to gain leverage in the talks.
Underlining how badly eroded the deal is, that agreement does not allow Iran to enrich uranium at Fordow at all. Until now it had been producing enriched uranium there with IR-1 machines and had enriched with some IR-6s without keeping the product.
It has 94 IR-6 machines installed in a cascade at Fordow that is not yet operating, the IAEA said in a statement.


Egypt removes access to government services for unvaccinated citizens

Egypt removes access to government services for unvaccinated citizens
Updated 01 December 2021

Egypt removes access to government services for unvaccinated citizens

Egypt removes access to government services for unvaccinated citizens
  • The move is the latest in a slew of preventive measures introduced by Egypt to contain the spread of COVID-19
  • Once vaccinated, citizens will be able to get a vaccination certificate that will allow them to enter government facilities

CAIRO: Egyptian citizens who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 will from Wednesday be denied access to all government services and buildings unless they can provide evidence of a negative PCR test.

The decision was taken by the Supreme Committee for Coronavirus Crisis Management, which said the rule would apply to the provision of government services in all governorates and ministries.

The Ministry of Local Development instructed governors to implement the committee’s decision and refuse entry to government departments for anyone who is unable to provide evidence that they have been fully vaccinated or submit a negative PCR test result.

The move is the latest in a slew of preventive measures introduced by Egypt to contain the spread of COVID-19 in places of work and study.

The Ministry of Health and Population said it had made vaccines available to all citizens and that they should get vaccinated to avoid being disadvantaged by the new ruling.

It added that people who had not yet had their jabs should visit one of the many vaccination facilities located at medical centers, subway and railway stations, or the mobile units that travel throughout villages and towns.

Once vaccinated, citizens will be able to get a vaccination certificate that will allow them to enter government facilities, the health ministry said.

Egypt implemented a rule on Nov. 15 that prevents unvaccinated government employees from entering their place of work.


Muslim Council of Elders resumes Dialogue of East and West to promote coexistence

Muslim Council of Elders resumes Dialogue of East and West to promote coexistence
Updated 01 December 2021

Muslim Council of Elders resumes Dialogue of East and West to promote coexistence

Muslim Council of Elders resumes Dialogue of East and West to promote coexistence
  • The council will hold its next regular meeting in Manama, which will coincide with the Dialogue of East and West for Human Fraternity 2022 conference
  • The Muslim Council of Elders is headed by the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb

CAIRO: The Muslim Council of Elders has decided to hold the next round of the Dialogue of East and West in Bahrain after postponing it in March 2020 due to the pandemic.

The council is an independent international body based in Abu Dhabi and aimed at promoting peace, dialogue and tolerance. It is headed by the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb, and its membership includes an elite group of Muslim scholars.

The council will hold its next regular meeting in the Bahraini capital, Manama, which will coincide with the Dialogue of East and West for Human Fraternity 2022 conference.

The imam expressed his appreciation to Bahrain’s people and the King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al-Khalifa for hosting the new edition of the dialogue.

He noted that the dialogue comes within the framework of strengthening relations between religious and cultural institutions in Islamic countries and their counterparts in Western societies, establishing common ground based on shared values and promoting coexistence.

Sheikh Abdul Rahman bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Khalifa, chairman of the Bahraini Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and a member of the Muslim Council of Elders, expressed Bahrain’s excitement to host the meeting and the new edition of the dialogue.

Sultan Al-Romaithi, secretary-general of the council, said that arrangements for the dialogue are now being finalized and that the new edition will witness positive interactions between Western and Eastern scholars and intellectuals.

He explained that the council is in the process of nominating youths to participate in the dialogue who have the capabilities to become future leaders and ambassadors for the Muslim Council of Elders.

The council was founded on July 13, 2014 to spread a culture of peace in Muslim societies, reject violence and extremism, and confront hate speech.