Drone attacks Iraq base hosting US troops: coalition

Drone attacks Iraq base hosting US troops: coalition
U.S. soldiers wearing protective masks are seen during a handover ceremony of Taji military base from US-led coalition troops to Iraqi security forces, in the base north of Baghdad, Iraq August 23, 2020. (Reuters)
Updated 24 July 2021

Drone attacks Iraq base hosting US troops: coalition

Drone attacks Iraq base hosting US troops: coalition

BAGHDAD: A drone attack has been carried out on a military base in Iraqi Kurdistan that hosts American troops, without causing any casualties, the US-led coalition said Saturday.
The attack comes with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi expected to meet US President Joe Biden in Washington on Monday to discuss a possible full US troop withdrawal from his country.
“An unmanned aerial system impacted a coalition base in Kurdistan” in the early hours of Friday, coalition spokesman US Col. Wayne Marotto said in a statement.
“There were no casualties and no damage as a result of the attack,” he said, adding “the United States and coalition forces will stay vigilant and maintain the inherent right to self-defense.”
Iraqi Kurdish media outlets said the attack targeted a base at Al-Harir, 70 kilometers (45 miles) northeast of Irbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region.
It was the latest in a spate of attacks on US military and diplomatic facilities in Iraq, blamed on pro-Iranian armed groups within a state-sponsored paramilitary force.
The United States still has around 2,500 troops deployed in Iraq, out of 3,500 men in the international coalition set up in 2014 to fight the Daesh group.
Their departure is demanded by the pro-Iranian factions, which have been blamed for some 50 attacks against US interests in Iraq since the beginning of the year.
The Iraqi Resistance Coordination Committee on Friday threatened to continue the attacks unless the US withdraws all its forces and ends the “occupation.”
Most of the American troops deployed in the coalition, which helped defeat Daesh in Iraq in 2017, were withdrawn under former US president Donald Trump.
Those that remain are officially classed as advisers and trainers for Iraq’s army and counter-terrorism units.


CIA officer reports Havana syndrome symptoms on India trip -reports

In this April 14, 2021 file photo, CIA Director William Burns testifies during a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing about worldwide threats, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)
In this April 14, 2021 file photo, CIA Director William Burns testifies during a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing about worldwide threats, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)
Updated 22 September 2021

CIA officer reports Havana syndrome symptoms on India trip -reports

In this April 14, 2021 file photo, CIA Director William Burns testifies during a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing about worldwide threats, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)
  • Last month, Vice President Kamala Harris delayed her arrival to Hanoi for three hours after the US embassy there said someone had reported a health incident consistent with Havana syndrome

WASHINGTON: A CIA officer who was traveling with agency director William Burns to India this month reported symptoms consistent with Havana syndrome, CNN and the New York Times reported on Monday.
The victim, who was not identified, had to receive medical attention, CNN reported, citing unnamed sources.
Some 200 US officials and family members have been sickened by Havana syndrome, a mysterious set of ailments that include migraines, nausea, memory lapses and dizziness. It was first reported by officials based in the US embassy in Cuba in 2016.
A CIA spokesperson said in a statement to Reuters the agency does not comment on specific incidents or officers. “We have protocols in place for when individuals report possible anomalous health incidents that include receiving appropriate medical treatment,” the spokesperson said.
Last month, Vice President Kamala Harris delayed her arrival to Hanoi for three hours after the US embassy there said someone had reported a health incident consistent with Havana syndrome.
Burns said in July he had tapped a senior officer who once led the hunt for Osama bin Laden to head a task force investigating the syndrome.
A US National Academy of Sciences panel found that the most plausible theory is that “directed, pulsed radio frequency energy” causes the syndrome.
Burns has said there is a “very strong possibility” that the syndrome is intentionally caused and that Russia could be responsible.


Coroner IDs remains, says Gabby Petito was homicide victim

Gabrielle Petito, 22, who was reported missing on Sept. 11, 2021 after traveling with her boyfriend around the country in a van and never returned home, poses for a photo with Brian Laundrie in this undated handout photo. (REUTERS)
Gabrielle Petito, 22, who was reported missing on Sept. 11, 2021 after traveling with her boyfriend around the country in a van and never returned home, poses for a photo with Brian Laundrie in this undated handout photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 22 September 2021

Coroner IDs remains, says Gabby Petito was homicide victim

Gabrielle Petito, 22, who was reported missing on Sept. 11, 2021 after traveling with her boyfriend around the country in a van and never returned home, poses for a photo with Brian Laundrie in this undated handout photo. (REUTERS)
  • Laundrie and Petito had been living with his parents at the North Port home before the road trip on which she died

NORTH PORT, Florida: Gabby Petito was killed by another person, a coroner concluded while also confirming that the human remains found recently at a Wyoming national park were those of the 22-year-old woman who disappeared months after she set out on a cross-country road trip with her boyfriend, the FBI said Tuesday.
Teton County Coroner Brent Blue determined Petito was a homicide victim, but did not disclose a cause of death pending final autopsy results, officials said. Her body was found Sunday near an undeveloped camping area in remote northern Wyoming along the border of Grand Teton National Park.
Meanwhile, authorities continued to search a swampy Florida preserve area near the home of Petito’s boyfriend. Police in North Port, Florida, said investigators returned Tuesday to the Carlton Reserve to look for Brian Laundrie, 23. Nothing of note was found, and the search was expected to continue Wednesday. Investigators began searching the 24,000-acre (9,700-hectare) Florida nature preserve over the weekend, focusing on the area after Laundrie’s parents told police he may have gone there.
Authorities are using helicopters, drones, dogs and officers in all-terrain vehicles in their search for Laundrie. About 75 percent of the search area is underwater.
On Monday, the FBI went to Laundrie’s parents’ home in North Port and removed several boxes and towed away a car neighbors said Laundrie’s mother typically used.
Laundrie and Petito had been living with his parents at the North Port home before the road trip on which she died.
The young couple had set out in July in a converted van to visit national parks in the West. They got into a fight along the way, and Laundrie was alone when he returned in the van to his parents’ home Sept. 1, police said.
Laundrie has been named a person of interest in the case, but his whereabouts in recent days were unknown.
Petito’s father, Joseph, posted on social media an image of a broken heart above a picture of his daughter, with the message: “She touched the world.”
In an interview broadcast Monday on TV’s “Dr. Phil” show, Joseph Petito said Laundrie and his daughter had dated for 2 1/2 years, and Laundrie was “always respectful.” During the interview, which was recorded before his daughter’s body was found, Petito said the couple had taken a previous road trip to California in her car and there were no problems.
Joseph Petito said the family began worrying after several days without hearing from their daughter.
“We called Brian, we called the mom, we called the dad, we called the sister, we called every number that we could find,” Joseph Petito said. “No phone calls were picked up, no text messages were returned.”
Joseph Petito said he wants Laundrie to be held accountable for whatever part he played in his daughter’s disappearance, along with his family for protecting him.
“I hope they get what’s coming, and that includes his folks,” Joseph Petito said. “Because I’ll tell you, right now, they are just as complicit, in my book.”
The FBI said investigators are seeking information from anyone who may have seen the couple around Grand Teton.
Gabby Petito and Laundrie were childhood sweethearts who met while growing up on New York’s Long Island. His parents later moved to North Port, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) south of Sarasota.
A man who saw Petito and Laundrie fighting in Moab, Utah, on Aug. 12 called 911 to report a domestic violence incident, according to a recording of the call obtained from the Grand County Sheriff’s Office. The man said he saw Laundrie slap Petito while walking through the town and proceeded to hit her before the two got in their van and drove off.
Video released by the Moab police showed that an officer pulled the couple’s van over on the same day after it was seen speeding and hitting a curb near Arches National Park. The body-camera footage showed an upset Petito.
Laundrie said on the video that the couple had gotten into a scuffle after he climbed into the van with dirty feet. He said he did not want to pursue a domestic violence charge against Petito, who officers decided was the aggressor.
Moab police separated the couple for the night, with Laundrie checking into a motel and Petito remaining with the van.
In the footage, Gabby Petito cried as she told the officer she and Laundrie had been arguing over her excessive cleaning of the van. She told the officer she has OCD — obsessive compulsive disorder.
On “Dr. Phil,” her father said that was not literally true. She just likes to keep her living area orderly and was using slang, he said.
 


Rare Australia earthquake triggers panic in Melbourne

Rare Australia earthquake triggers panic in Melbourne
Updated 22 September 2021

Rare Australia earthquake triggers panic in Melbourne

Rare Australia earthquake triggers panic in Melbourne
  • Debris littered roads in the popular shopping area around Melbourne's Chapel Street, with bricks apparently coming loose from buildings
  • Sizable earthquakes are unusual in Australia's populated southeast

MELBOURNE: A rare quake rattled southeastern Australia early Wednesday, shaking buildings, knocking down walls and sending panicked residents running into the streets of Melbourne.
The shallow quake hit east of the country's second-largest city just after 9:00am local time (2300 GMT) and was felt hundreds of kilometres (miles) away.
The US Geological Survey put the magnitude of the quake at 5.8, later revised up to 5.9, and said it struck at a depth of 10 kilometres (six miles).
Debris littered roads in the popular shopping area around Melbourne's Chapel Street, with bricks apparently coming loose from buildings.
Zume Phim, 33, owner of Melbourne's Oppen cafe, said he rushed onto the street when the temblor hit.
"The whole building was shaking. All the windows, the glass, was shaking -- like a wave of shaking," he told AFP.
"I have never experienced that before. It was a little bit scary."
Sizable earthquakes are unusual in Australia's populated southeast.
"It was quite violent but everyone was kind of in shock," Melbourne cafe worker Parker Mayo, 30, told AFP.
Bricks and rubble lay on the ground outside Betty's Burgers in Melbourne, with large sheets of metal hanging off the restaurant awning.
The restaurant said in a Facebook post that everyone was safe: "We were fortunate that nobody was in the restaurant at the time."
At around just under magnitude six this was "the biggest event in south east Australia for a long time" Mike Sandiford, a geologist at the University of Melbourne told AFP.
"We had some very big ones at magnitude six in the late 1800s, though precise magnitudes are not well known."
A quake of this size is expected every "10-20 years in south east Australia, the last was Thorpdale in 2012" he said. "This is significantly bigger."
Sandiford said Australians should expect "many hundreds of aftershocks, most below human sensitivity threshold, but probably a dozen or more that will be felt at least nearby."
The quake "would have caused many billions of dollars in damage had it been under Melbourne," he added.
Geosciences Australia said an aftershock measuring 4.0 struck shortly after the initial temblor.
The mayor of Mansfield, near the quake epicentre, said there was no damage in the small town but it had taken residents by surprise.
"I was sitting down at work at my desk and I needed to run outside. It took me a while to work out what it was," Mark Holcombe told public broadcaster ABC.
"We don't have earthquakes that I am aware of -- none of the locals I spoke to this morning had that experience with earthquakes here before -- so it is one right out of left field."
Emergency services said they had received calls for help as far away as Dubbo, about 700 kilometres from the quake epicentre, with fire and rescue crews dispatched to help.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, speaking from New York, said there were no initial reports of injuries.
"It can be a very, very disturbing event for an earthquake of this nature," he said. "They are very rare events in Australia."


Biden vows to ‘break cycle of war and destruction’ in dramatic appeal to UN

Biden vows to ‘break cycle of war and destruction’ in dramatic appeal to UN
Updated 22 September 2021

Biden vows to ‘break cycle of war and destruction’ in dramatic appeal to UN

Biden vows to ‘break cycle of war and destruction’ in dramatic appeal to UN
  • US leader’s message gets mixed response as Washington faces growing rivalry for global dominance

NEW YORK: In what could prove to be his most important moment on the world stage to date, US President Joe Biden stood before the UN General Assembly in New York to declare an end to two decades of war, and a recalibration of US resources toward issues such as climate change, technology and infrastructure development.

In his first address to the UN General Assembly as president, Biden emphasized a list of policy priorities that also included preparations for the next pandemic and greater efforts to combat global warming.

However, the US president faces serious challenges in his bid to convince world leaders that foreign policy under his helm seeks greater global partnerships.

The reception to Biden’s message has been mixed at best, with the speech overshadowed by the chaos of the Afghanistan withdrawal, which drew significant criticism from allies who believe they were not properly consulted.

Biden told the international body: “Our collective future means we must break the cycle of war and destruction. Now we must again come together to affirm the inherent humanity that unites us is more than outward disagreements. We must be prepared for the next pandemic and climate change.”

He declared that the US has “turned a page” and for the first time in 20 years is not at war. Biden declared that there would be no “new cold war” for national resources to be marshaled on and said that the nation is looking at “what’s ahead of us, not what is behind.”

Biden’s message to the world and to America’s competitors comes at a time when serious questions hang over the ability and willingness of his administration to work in tandem with traditional allies and regional partners.

The US leader sought to lay out a new paradigm for America’s place in the world, saying: “We will lead with the power of our example, not just the example of our power. We will defend ourselves, including against terror threats, and we will use force as necessary. The mission must be clear and achievable, and taken under consent of the American people and whenever possible with our allies. Using military power should be the last resort. The America of 2021 is not the country it was in the immediate wake of the 9/11 terror attacks.”

But there have been grumblings over whether the US is prepared to seriously shift focus toward “big power” competition with near-peer competitors.

The administration is facing a particularly turbulent few months of foreign policy challenges that have been viewed with concern by America’s partners across the globe. From Afghanistan to the diplomatic imbroglio with France, and pulling out key US defense systems from the Middle East, Biden’s foreign policy has raised alarm bells in key world capitals.

Complicating efforts to shift focus to a sweeping new vision for foreign affairs, Biden’s approval ratings are the lowest since the start of his presidency, with an average of 46 percent of respondents approving and 50 percent disapproving.

Many allied capitals have privately grumbled that former president Trump and his foreign policy team were, in fact, more keen to consult and coordinate with them behind the scenes compared with Biden. “America First” may have been Trump’s most recognizable campaign and governing slogan, but analysts and diplomats in Europe and elsewhere view Biden as continuing rather than repudiating his predecessor’s foreign policy approach on a number of sensitive multilateral issues.

The lofty ideals of Biden’s “build back better world” blueprint, which he attempted to rally world leaders to to collectively work toward, are likely to ultimately clash with China’s competing vision for global governance.

Prof. Brenda Shaffer, a senior adviser to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told Arab News that “If the US was really interested in limiting China’s actions, it would not have given up a base in Bagram next to Xinjian. In recent decades, every administration comes in and says it is going to focus on major powers and not engage in nation-building, and every administration in the end continues in its nation-building attempts.”

She added: “Washington is likely to focus at the UN on issues of broad international agreement that all support on the rhetorical level — climate change, energy transition, eradicating poverty, justice, etc.”

Biden’s speech emphasized that with the Afghanistan war supposedly behind it, the US must treat climate change and the pandemic as the new national priorities.

According to Shaffer, the administration’s emphasis on climate change diplomacy “puts China in an excellent position. China just needs to agree to some goal to be implemented well down the road, and in exchange for this can get a real strategic concession from Washington.”

And while Biden stressed that the US must continue to support democracy and repudiate authoritarian systems, it is unclear whether the US is ideally positioned to counter a resurgent China that seeks to make its own mark on the international stage, particularly in the developing world.

According to Matthew Kroenig, of Georgetown University, “China presents a comprehensive threat to the rules-based international system, including in international institutions. China has gained influence within institutions with the purpose of undermining these bodies’ founding mission. China vetoes UN Security Council resolutions that are contrary to its interests, prevents the WHO from conducting an adequate investigation into the pandemic’s origins, and blocks the UNHRC from taking action on the genocide in Xinjiang. I would like to see Biden articulate this challenge from Beijing and for him to call on responsible powers to come together to address the threat.”

Biden’s policy ethos has the US sharing a common responsibility with the international community to find new ways to end conflict, and “break the cycle of war and destruction.”

That may be easier said than done. Disrupting such a cycle will require a clear-eyed approach that takes into account domestic considerations as well.

Kroenig said: “The major shift in US strategy toward great power competition and away from terrorism and insurgency happened in the Trump administration, but Biden is continuing this trajectory. Whereas Trump focused heavily on competition and confrontation, Biden is attempting a more balanced approach that includes, first, strengthening the US at home, and, second, seeking engagement with China on common challenges, like climate change.”

Biden urged the international community to “get to work” on the common tasks ahead to make a better world for all. Competition with China is increasingly likely to heat up on a number of fronts, regardless of the US leader’s intent to seek dialogue rather than confrontation. Biden said that the US and the international community now stand at an “inflection point” and must decide how the world can “come together to affirm the inherent humanity that unites us.”

Looking beyond the nobility of such a goal, many of America’s traditional allies will still wonder whether Biden’s administration will live up to the grand ideals and sweeping calls for improving lives across the world, or whether his speech will become a footnote in a line of foreign policy blunders.


Rise in gas prices add to near-term inflation: Capital Economics

Rise in gas prices add to near-term inflation: Capital Economics
Updated 22 September 2021

Rise in gas prices add to near-term inflation: Capital Economics

Rise in gas prices add to near-term inflation: Capital Economics
  • European countries likely to be most affected

RIYADH: A surge in natural gas prices is expected to jack up inflation worldwide with Europe likely to be most affected, said a Capital Economics report.

The report said unreasonable and extreme weather conditions led to longer periods of cooling and heating and China’s rebound from the pandemic also boosted gas demand. On the other hand, extreme weather and the pandemic-related price collapse in 2020 hit US production and exports. Outages at several liquefied natural gas plants and Russia limiting exports via Ukraine for political reasons caused an imbalance in the supply and demand, which raised gas prices globally.

The most pronounced impact has been in the euro zone, where the rise in gas and electricity inflation has added 0.5ppts to headline CPI inflation since the start of the year.

“Since the start of Q2, the European (TTF) gas price has surged by 290 percent, Asia LNG spot prices are up 260 percent and US natural gas (Henry Hub) has nearly doubled,” the report said.

In the US, higher gas and electricity inflation has added just 0.2ppts to CPI inflation this year given the less pronounced rise in US gas prices and the lower weight of gas and electricity in the CPI basket. Japan has experienced a boost of 0.4ppts, as its gas imports are tied to long-term contracts indexed to oil prices. It’s a similar story in many emerging markets where gas prices tend to be tied to long-term contracts and/or indexed.

“We think natural gas prices will remain elevated for some time yet. Globally, but particularly in Europe, stocks are at historic lows and will take some time to rebuild even if we are right and supply picks up,” wrote  Jennifer McKeown, head of Global Economics Service.

The analyst, however, predicted that by Q2 2022 prices will be under sustained downward pressure.

Current prices will incentivize supply, particularly in the US where shale operations can ramp up relatively quickly. The situation will probably also hasten the approval of the Nord Stream II pipeline from Russia to Germany. Prevailing prices are likely to curb demand, the report said.

The passthrough is likely to be far smaller since governments are already acting to limit the effect on consumers.

According to McKeown, gas and electricity inflation is likely to surge by 16 percent to add an average of 0.3ppts to headline inflation in major advanced economies in the rest of this year, on top of the 0.3ppt boost which they have experienced already. “This should reverse next year, particularly given our expectation that gas prices will recede. But there are risks in both directions, and gas prices are notably volatile,” she said.

The report said there will be a drag on activity in most economies as higher utilities prices eat into the income available for discretionary spending. There could also be adverse consequences for the energy industry, particularly in countries where prices are regulated – most notably the UK, it added.