Frankly Speaking: ‘More Western military support needed to head off terror groups’ in Iraq, says Peshmerga Gen. Sirwan Barzani

Short Url
Updated 25 July 2021

Frankly Speaking: ‘More Western military support needed to head off terror groups’ in Iraq, says Peshmerga Gen. Sirwan Barzani

General Sirwan Barzani being interviewed by Frank Kane on Frankly Speaking. (Screengrab)
  • Barzani commanded Kurdish troops in the bitter battles of 2015 and 2016 to regain territory lost to Daesh
  • Barzani spoke of Saudi humanitarian aid and the challenges of diversifying Kurdistan’s oil-dependent economy 

DUBAI: The US and other Western coalition members should increase their ground forces in Iraqi Kurdistan in order to head off the threat of a resurgent terror campaign in the region, one of the main fighters against Daesh and Iran-backed militias told Arab News.

General Sirwan Barzani, who commands a key unit of the Kurdish Peshmerga armed forces in northern Iraq, said: “The troops on the ground have been fighting against Daesh, but it was not easy and not so possible to defeat this terrorist group without the support of the coalition, especially the leader of the coalition, the US, and also the rest of the countries, the European countries.

“I think the administration of President Biden has to send more forces to Iraq.”

 

Barzani, who commanded Kurdish troops in the bitter battles of 2015 and 2016 to regain territory lost to Daesh, made his plea for more Western military assistance on “Frankly Speaking,” the series of video interviews with leading policymakers in the region. 

In the course of a wide-ranging conversation, Barzani — a member of one of the leading families of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and a prominent businessman through his ownership of Korek Telecom — also spoke of Kurdish independence aspirations, the incursions of Turkey’s Kurdish militant group PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan, the humanitarian assistance his people receive from Saudi Arabia and the challenges of diversifying Kurdistan’s oil-dependent economy.

But Barzani’s appeal for more US and other Western troops — in the face of President Biden’s apparent determination to end America’s “forever wars” in the region — was a key feature, underlining Kurdish concerns that the threat from Daesh was still the “biggest threat” to the whole of Iraq.

“Daesh is starting to reorganize themselves again; the militants are very active and almost every day they launch terror attacks against civilian targets, military or security services. There is an attack from Daesh there almost every day.




General Sirwan Barzani

“I’m responsible for Sector Six south and southwest of (Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital) Irbil. We have a permanent Daesh presence in those mountains. We are facing this problem every day and we have a permanent Daesh presence there.

“Even with all these operations, cooperating with the coalition, also with the Iraqi army, the fighters are still there. Daesh is not defeated like Al-Qaeda. Daesh is there still and without the support of the coalition, the group will become stronger and stronger,” he said.

Barzani called for renewed Western military support for the Peshmerga, which he said was not receiving any budgetary assistance from Baghdad to counter Daesh or Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.

 

 

Recent drone attacks on Irbil International Airport were claimed by Iran-backed militias against forces deemed to be pro-US in the region, he said, underlining the need for more defense assistance.

“The most important thing they have to do is to just give us as Peshmerga some new technology. For example, we don’t have any drones. Even technologies like night-vision or thermal cameras and defensive weapons — we still don’t have them. All the end users (for such equipment) are meant to be from Baghdad and, unfortunately, not from here (Irbil),” Barzani said.

He believes the Biden administration’s decision to end military operations in Afghanistan would have only limited repercussions for Iraq.

 

 

“I think it is different. You cannot compare Afghanistan and Iraq. The stability of Iraq is the stability of the Middle East and, of course, everybody knows that all of the world is looking for stability in the Middle East for many reasons, especially economic reasons,” he said.

Instability is also being fostered by the presence of large numbers of members of the PKK, the militant political organization that has been fighting for equal rights and autonomy for Turkey’s Kurdish population since 1984.

“The problem here is they are inside our region in Kurdistan. They’re making it an unstable area. They didn’t go back to the border because of this fight between the PKK and the Turkish military. Unfortunately, they provide an excuse for the Turkish army to come in. Almost every month they have a new position inside our region. It’s not acceptable and what the PKK is doing now is not good for the region,” Bargain said.

The KRG organized a referendum in 2017 that showed an overwhelming majority of Iraqi Kurdistan’s population was in favor of independence from Baghdad, but the result was not recognized by the Iraqi government and moves towards full independence had to be shelved.

“Unfortunately, what happened in Iraq was that nobody heeded the constitution and everybody started with sanctions. Even when we were fighting against Daesh, we were under sanctions from the federal government.

“Those reasons pushed us to go in for the referendum and to have our own state and independence. It was our right, of course, and it was legal, but because of the situation we postponed it,” he said, but added: “It (independence) is the dream of any Kurd.”

The Kurdish economy is heavily dependent on oil from the northern regions of Iraq, but this too has faced challenges because of squabbles over revenue with Baghdad. Barzani said that it was important for any economy to reduce reliance on oil products, and the KRG has put in place a strategy to do so. 

 

“It’s a risky thing to depend on oil only because nobody, no country can depend only on one resource or one revenue stream. So, especially in Kurdistan, even the KRG is launching reforms so as to not depend on oil, to diversify the economy. It is most important,” he said.

Barzani cited some alternative revenue streams for the region, notably agriculture, solar power and other technologies, but he singled out the potential of tourism.

“For Kurdistan we have many things, but the tourism side is very important. We have a very nice region geographically and weather-wise. What’s more, there is security for the economy and businesses. Thanks to the Peshmerga and our people, we have very good security in this region,” he said.

 

Barzani founded Korek Telecom in 2000, which has grown to become one of the leading corporate groups in Iraq despite the destruction inflicted by the Daesh occupation on large parts of the region.

Kurdistan also faces other challenges in terms of investment required in power supplies and telecoms infrastructure, he said.

Barzani added that he had been watching developments in Saudi Arabia and its Vision 2030 strategy to reduce reliance on oil revenues, which he said was a “great move.”

He also highlighted the strength of relations between the Kurdish region and Saudi Arabia. “There is a good relation with Saudi Arabia for sure. They are supporting many of our internally displaced persons and refugees here,” he said.

“There is a historical relationship with Saudi Arabia, and we continue to have very good relations with them.”

 

Barzani maintained that for Kurdistan, economic development and the opportunity to create a “peaceful oasis” would continue to depend on maintaining regional security in the face of multiple threats.

“Security is more important than anything else,” he said.

______________________

Twitter: @frankkanedubai


Cyberattack forces Iran steel company to halt production

Cyberattack forces Iran steel company to halt production
Updated 24 sec ago

Cyberattack forces Iran steel company to halt production

Cyberattack forces Iran steel company to halt production
DUBAI: One of Iran’s biggest steel companies said on Monday it was forced to halt production after being hit by a cyberattack, apparently marking one of the biggest such assaults on the country’s strategic industrial sector in recent memory.
The state-owned Khuzestan Steel Company said in a statement that experts had determined the firm was unable to continue operations “due to technical problems and will be closed until further notice” following “cyberattacks.” The company’s website appeared to be out of service.
A local news channel, Jamaran, reported that the attack failed to cause any structural damage to the steel mill since the factory happened to be non-operational at the time due to an electricity outage.
The company did not blame any specific group for the assault, which constitutes just the latest example of an attack targeting the country’s services in recent weeks. Iran has previously accused the United States and Israel for cyberattacks that have targeted and crippled the country’s infrastructure.
Khuzestan Steel Company, based in Ahvaz in southwestern Iran, has a monopoly on steel production in Iran along with two other major state-owned firms. Founded before Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, the company for decades afterward had some production lines supplied by German, Italian and Japanese companies.

Iran says ‘ball in US court’ for revival of 2015 nuclear deal

Iran says ‘ball in US court’ for revival of 2015 nuclear deal
“The ball is in Washington’s court now,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said. (File/AFP)
Updated 27 June 2022

Iran says ‘ball in US court’ for revival of 2015 nuclear deal

Iran says ‘ball in US court’ for revival of 2015 nuclear deal
  • The statement comes amid expectations that talks to save the pact will resume soon after the top EU diplomat’s trip to the Islamic Republic

DUBAI: Iran said on Monday that the revival of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers depends on Washington, amid expectations that talks to save the pact will resume soon after the top EU diplomat’s trip to the Islamic Republic.
“The ball is in Washington’s court now,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh told a weekly televised news conference.


Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia and UAE could lead world in clean renewable energy, says adviser to UAE climate envoy Dr. Adnan Amin

Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia and UAE could lead world in clean renewable energy, says adviser to UAE climate envoy Dr. Adnan Amin
The countries that contribute the most to carbon emissions must contribute more to solutions, says Adnan Amin. (AN photo)
Updated 27 June 2022

Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia and UAE could lead world in clean renewable energy, says adviser to UAE climate envoy Dr. Adnan Amin

Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia and UAE could lead world in clean renewable energy, says adviser to UAE climate envoy Dr. Adnan Amin
  • Green energy initiatives in the UAE and Saudi Arabia could serve as examples for countries seeking to embrace renewables
  • Climate change is already wreaking havoc across the globe, developed countries must do their part to cut carbon emissions

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia and the UAE have the potential to be trailblazers in renewable energy as the devastating effects of climate change become more apparent, according to Adnan Amin, the former director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency and senior adviser to Sultan Al-Jaber, the UAE’s special envoy for climate change.

Amin told Katie Jensen, host of “Frankly Speaking,” the Arab News talk show that features interviews with leading policymakers and business leaders, of the radical changes in the UAE’s push toward green energy and their implications for a regional push toward renewables.

The UAE has the lowest-cost solar energy and one of the largest solar plants in the world, and aims to triple or quadruple its solar energy capacity by 2025. While the country will continue to export fossil fuel products, it is projected to become a leader in renewable energy alongside the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and produce “the lowest carbon intensity oil in the world,” Amin said.

Critics have pointed out that the UAE still has a large per-capita carbon footprint, and that oil and gas make up one-third of the country’s annual gross domestic product. Amin said that this is partially due to extremely high temperatures in the region, and added that the country still contributes less than half a percent of global carbon emissions.

“The commitment of the UAE government on decarbonizing has not been doubted, and they’ve seen carbon intensity decreasing year on year,” he said.

Katie Jensen

Amin predicts that the UAE’s strides in clean energy infrastructure will encourage other Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, to take similar measures. He called NEOM, a planned smart city and independent economic zone in the Kingdom’s north that will run entirely on renewable energy, “a low carbon city.”

“All of the new investments that you’re seeing in renewables generation in Saudi Arabia are huge. The scientific and technological investment that is taking place in research and development in Saudi Arabia is very impressive. You see Saudi Arabia testing a range of technologies so, you know that green energy, geothermal, new types of solar, new types of construction materials, all kinds of innovation is taking place there.”

Despite a global commitment to turn toward clean energy, complex domestic and international politics has often seen governments forced to scale back their promises of climate-based legislation. US President Joe Biden, who is due to visit the Middle East next month, previously pledged to halve carbon emissions by 2030.

However, increasing fuel costs have forced Biden to call for increasing production of fossil fuels. “High gas prices at the pump are poisonous for the electoral chances for any party in power,” Amin said, alluding to the upcoming US midterm elections in November.

Increasing fuel costs have forced the US to increase production of fossil fuels. (AP File Photo)

He added that while it is no easy task for governments to move forward with serious action on climate change, “there is an expectation from many that we would love to see more … commitment and serious action from the US on this both domestically and internationally.”

With the world gripped by skyrocketing fuel prices, many countries are ramping up production of fossil fuels and the infrastructure required to produce them. However, this infrastructure has an expiration date, according to Amin.

“There’s a real risk of locking of fossil assets for a longer term in countries that, frankly, have the technological and financial ability to move very fast on clean energy,” he said, adding that states must make an effort to find more clean and advanced solutions to the growing global energy crisis.

“We would expect governments to start focusing much more on that opportunity, not on doubling down and replicating the problems of the past, but looking for the solutions of the future,” he said, clarifying that investment in new infrastructure, clean energy, climate-resilient agriculture, and water security “are the areas where I think there’s really a risk in the future.”

The push to reduce Europe’s dependency on Russian oil and gas amid the war in Ukraine and the fuel crisis may have a detrimental effect on the world’s carbon emissions, though Amin explained that on the positive side, this may push countries to embrace renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and hydroelectric power. 

Europe's effort to cut its dependence on Russian oil and gas could push countries to embrace renewable energy sources, says Adnan Amin. (Reuters illustration photo)

“We need to grow the investment for renewable energy, and we need to start to adopt the infrastructure that will enable it. Part of that is investing in innovation and technology,” he said. While a foundation exists for growth in the renewable energy sector, Amin added that digitalization, ultra-high voltage grids, grid stability, and smart metering must be developed further.

“We need to make this transition happen as a matter of urgency for political leadership because everything we see in terms of projections of climate impacts, it’s becoming more and more severe every year.”

While the UAE recently invested $50 billion in clean energy projects, not every country is doing its part to fight climate change. Developed nations which have been largely responsible for producing the carbon emissions which have devastated the world’s climate have often balked at taking responsibility, Amin said.

While the UAE recently invested $50 billion in clean energy projects, not every country is doing its part to fight climate change. (AFP file photo)

“Climate is a global issue and it requires every country in the world to do its part. But what it requires most, and this is the issue that was being discussed in Bonn in the intersectional meetings, is that we share responsibility,” he said, referring to the Bonn Climate Change Conference of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Germany earlier this month.

The countries that contribute the most to carbon emissions, Amin added, must “contribute to the solution, and contribute to the most vulnerable countries which are now facing very severe climate impacts.”

During the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) held in Glasgow in 2021, world leaders stressed the seriousness of addressing climate change immediately. At the time, Saudi Ambassador to the UK Prince Khalid bin Bandar told Arab News that “Saudi Arabia is ready, willing and able to take its position among the international community to solve the problem and do what it can.”

The Kingdom pledged to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2060 as part of the Saudi Green Initiative during the conference. With the next conference set to be held in Egypt this year and the subsequent COP28 to be held in the UAE next year, Amin explained that future conferences aim to begin to transition climate promises from mere pledges to on-the-ground implementation.

An aerial picture taken on Jan. 13, 2020 shows circular fields, part of the green oasis of Wadi Al-Dawasir, Saudi Arabia. (AFP file photo)

“We’ve talked about the situation with the global energy crisis. We’ve talked about the constraints from many countries. We’ve talked about the fact that financing is not being made available. We have the next COP in Egypt that’s going to be a very important COP. It’s the first COP since Glasgow, that is the implementation COP. This is how the Egyptian government and the rest of the world wants to see it, that we’re moving to implementation and away from negotiations.”

Developed countries which are the largest contributors to climate change are putting up “huge resistance” to helping vulnerable and developing countries deal with the impacts, Amin said. However, he remains optimistic that by the time of the COP28 conference in the UAE, countries will be able to take stock of the world’s efforts in terms of climate action, “and out of that will come a program for what the next five years should look like.”

In addition to being a global issue, Amin pointed out that climate change is an intersectional issue that will have far-reaching and catastrophic effects on the entire world.

 

 

“My fear is that we will have multiple crises happening periodically in different parts of the world, which will begin to impact global food chains. We already have vulnerability on food security. We’re seeing a climate-vulnerable agriculture in many, many poor countries where, frankly, you could face very serious food deficit situations in the future.

“We’re facing a situation where we’re seeing an urgent need for water management. Freshwater resources are declining, and there is potential for conflict over resources like food and water.”

He added that drought, rising sea levels, melting ice, the degradation of resources and other effects of climate change have the potential to create massive waves of migration as people are forced to move to other regions for their survival.

“If we allow climate impacts to continue unchecked, all of these multiple crises coming together would create a level of instability in this world that will be almost impossible to manage,” he said.

 


Turkey arrests Greek on spying charges

Turkey arrests Greek on spying charges
Updated 27 June 2022

Turkey arrests Greek on spying charges

Turkey arrests Greek on spying charges
  • Mohamed Amar Ampara was caught in the southeastern city of Gaziantep near Turkey’s border with Syria

ISTANBUL: Turkey arrested a Greek citizen on Sunday on suspicion of espionage activities, a day after seizing him in an operation coordinated with its spy agency, local police said.

Mohamed Amar Ampara was caught in the southeastern city of Gaziantep near Turkey’s border with Syria.

“The agent, named M.A.A., was detained by the judicial authorities after he was discovered to have connections with the Greek National Intelligence Organization ... compiled information about our country’s border security and transferred it to Greek intelligence,” the police department in Gaziantep said in a statement.

Turkish media reported at the weekend that Ampara operated disguised as a businessman during his trips to Turkey.

The Greek Foreign Ministry said in the meantime that Ampara’s disappearance had been reported to the Greek Embassy in Ankara a few weeks ago.

The embassy had repeatedly raised the subject with the Turkish authorities but the latter had never provided any answers, it added.

Turkey and Greece are allies within NATO but are embroiled in a number of disputes.

Tensions have escalated in recent weeks, with Ankara accusing Athens of stationing troops on islands near its maritime border.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this month that he would no longer hold bilateral meetings with Greek leaders.


Rich heritage buried under impoverished Gaza Strip

Rich heritage buried under impoverished Gaza Strip
Updated 27 June 2022

Rich heritage buried under impoverished Gaza Strip

Rich heritage buried under impoverished Gaza Strip
  • In the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas and repeatedly ravaged by war, people are more familiar with burying the dead than digging up their heritage

JABALIYA, Palestine: While workers labored on a large construction site in the Gaza Strip, a security guard noticed a strange piece of stone sticking out of the earth.

“I thought it was a tunnel,” said Ahmad, the young guard, referring to secret passages dug by the militant group Hamas to help it battle Israel.

In the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas and repeatedly ravaged by war, people are more familiar with burying the dead than digging up their heritage.

But what Ahmad found in January was part of a Roman necropolis dating from about 2,000 years ago — representative of the impoverished Palestinian territory’s rich, if under-developed, archaeological treasures.

After the last war between Israel and Hamas in May 2021 left a trail of damage in Gaza, Egypt began a reconstruction initiative worth $500 million.

As part of that project in Jabaliya, in the north of the coastal enclave, bulldozers were digging up the sandy soil in order to build new concrete buildings when Ahmad made his discovery.

“I notified the Egyptian foremen, who immediately contacted local authorities and asked the workers to stop,” said Ahmad, a Palestinian who preferred not to give his full name.

With rumors on social media of a big discovery, Gaza’s antiquities service called in the French nongovernmental group Premiere Urgence Internationale and the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem to evaluate the site’s importance and mark off the area.

“The first excavations permitted the identification of about 40 tombs dating from the ancient Roman period between the first and second centuries AD,” said French archaeologist Rene Elter, who led the team dispatched to Jabaliya.

“The necropolis is larger than these 40 tombs and should have between 80 and 100,” he said.

One of the burial sites found so far is decorated with multi-colored paintings representing crowns and garlands of bay leaves, as well as jars for funereal drinks, the archaeologist added.

Archaeology is a highly political subject in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and discoveries are used to justify the territorial claims of each people.

While the Jewish state has a number of archaeologists reporting on an impressive number of ancient treasures, the sector is largely neglected in Gaza.

Authorities periodically announce discoveries in the territory, but tourism at archaeological sites is limited.

Israel and Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza, tightly restrict the flow of people in and out of the enclave administered by Hamas since 2007.

“However, there is no difference between what you can find in Gaza and on the other side of the barrier” in Israel, Elter said. “It’s the same great history.”

“In Gaza, a lot of sites have disappeared because of conflict and construction, but the territory is an immense archaeological site which needs many teams of experts,” he added.

Stakes and fences have been erected around the Roman necropolis, which is watched over constantly by guards as new buildings go up nearby.

“We are trying to fight antiquities trafficking,” said Jamal Abu Rida, director of the local archaeological service tasked with protecting the necropolis and which hopes to find investors for further excavation.

“The image of Gaza is often associated with violence, but its history is bursting with archaeological treasures that need to be protected for future generations,” said Jihad Abu Hassan, director of the local Premiere Urgence mission.

Demographics add to the pressure. Gaza is a tiny, overcrowded strip of land whose population in 15 years has ballooned from 1.4 million to 2.3 million. As a result, building construction has accelerated.

“Some people avoid telling authorities if there is an archaeological discovery on a construction site out of fear of not being compensated” for the resulting work stoppage, Abu Hassan said.

“We lose archaeological sites every day,” which shows the need for a strategy to defend the enclave’s heritage, including training local archaeologists, he said.

Over the last few years, his organization has helped to educate 84 archaeological technicians. Doing so also offers employment prospects, in an impoverished territory where youth joblessness exceeds 60 percent.