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

Biden, Iraqi PM to announce end of US combat mission in Iraq
Above, US army soldiers at the perimeter of the International Zone on May 30, 2021 in Baghdad. US troops are to transition to a train-and-advise roles in Iraq. (Getty Images via AFP)
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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.


Death toll of Sudan anti-coup protesters rises to 7

Death toll of Sudan anti-coup protesters rises to 7
Updated 1 min 36 sec ago

Death toll of Sudan anti-coup protesters rises to 7

Death toll of Sudan anti-coup protesters rises to 7
  • Gen Abdel-Fattah Buran meanwhile fires at least six ambassadors

KHARTOUM: Seven protesters have been killed in Sudan since a military coup four days ago, a health official said Thursday, adding that other bodies had since arrived without giving an exact number.

Four protesters were already reported killed on Monday, hours after the military coup was announced.

“On Monday, morgues in Khartoum and Omdurman received the bodies of seven civilians,” Hisham Fagiri, head of the health ministry’s forensic authority, said. Some corpses showed wounds caused by “sharp tools,” he added.

Meanwhile, Gen Abdel-Fattah Buran fired at least six ambassadors, including the envoys to the US, the European Union and France, after they condemned the military’s takeover of the country, a military official said Thursday.

The diplomats pledged their support for the now-deposed government of Prime Minister Abddalla Hamdok.

Also fired by the strongman late Wednesday were the Sudanese ambassadors to Qatar, China and the UN mission in Geneva, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media.

The state-run Sudan TV also reported the dismissals.

The ambassadors were fired two days after Burhan dissolved the transitional government and detained the prime minister, many government officials and political leaders in a coup condemned by the US and the West. The military allowed Hamdok to return home Tuesday after international pressure for his release.

Burhan said the military forces were compelled to take over because of quarrels between political parties that he claimed could lead to civil war. However, the coup also comes just weeks before Burhan would have had to hand over the leadership of the Sovereign Council, the ultimate decision-maker in Sudan, to a civilian, in a step that would reduce the military’s hold on the country. The council has military and civilian members. Hamdok’s government ran Sudan’s daily affairs.

The coup threatens to halt Sudan’s fitful transition to democracy, which began after the 2019 ouster of long-time ruler Omar Al-Bashir and his Islamist government in a popular uprising.

The takeover came after weeks of mounting tensions between military and civilian leaders over the course and pace of that process.

Ali bin Yahia, Sudan’s envoy in Geneva, was defiant after his dismissal.

“I will spare no efforts to reverse the situation, explain facts and resist the blackout imposed by coup officials on what is happened my beloved country,” he said in video comments posted online.

Nureldin Satti, the Sudanese envoy to the US, said Tuesday he was working with Sudanese diplomats in Brussels, Paris, Geneva and New York to “resist the military coup in support of the heroic struggle of the Sudanese people” to achieve the aims of the uprising against Al-Bashir.

In another development, Burhan fired Adlan Ibrahim, head of the country’s Civil Aviation Authority, according to the official. Adlan’s dismissal came after the resumption of flights in and out of Khartoum’s international airport resumed Wednesday.


Lebanon’s Beirut blast probe judge suspends hearing for former PM Diab – legal source

Lebanon’s Beirut blast probe judge suspends hearing for former PM Diab – legal source
Updated 28 October 2021

Lebanon’s Beirut blast probe judge suspends hearing for former PM Diab – legal source

Lebanon’s Beirut blast probe judge suspends hearing for former PM Diab – legal source
  • Prime Minister Hassan filed a suit over his prosecution on Wednesday

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Beirut blast probe judge Tarek Bitar suspended on Thursday the interrogation of for former Prime Minister Hassan Diab after Diab filed a suit, a legal source said.
The suit was filed by Diab over his prosecution by Bitar on Wednesday. Diab, who has been charged over the Aug. 4, 2020 blast that killed over 215 people, had already missed at least two interrogation sessions.
Bitar was officially notified of the legal suit arguing that he did not have the authority to interrogate the former prime minister which automatically forces him to suspend the session, the legal source said.
“The suspension of questioning relates only to Diab in this case,” the source told Reuters.
Judge Bitar has sought to question top politicians, including former ministers and members of parliament, since July but nearly all have spurned him with some raising legal complaints against him questioning his impartiality.
Bitar has in the past issued arrest warrants for ministers who failed to show up for interrogation, and Diab’s lawsuit was likely an 11th-hour attempt to prevent a similar scenario after his interrogation scheduled for Thursday.


Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes

Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes
Updated 27 October 2021

Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes

Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes
  • Decision came into effect Oct. 21 and stipulates that Moroccans must provide proof of vaccination to enter workplaces
  • The pass is also required to access indoor services such as restaurants, banks and travel

RABAT, Morocco: Demonstrators took to the streets in cities around Morocco on Wednesday, some clashing with police as they denounced the country’s decision to require coronavirus vaccination passes to be allowed to work and enter public venues.
The decision came into effect Oct. 21 and stipulates that Moroccans must provide proof of vaccination in order to enter their workplaces. In a statement, the government has said employers have “direct legal responsibility” to enforce the decision.
The pass is also required to access indoor services such as restaurants and banks as well as domestic and international travel.
The North African kingdom of 36 million people has Africa’s highest vaccination rate, with more than 50 percent of the population fully inoculated. Earlier this month, the government also started administering booster shots.
But the abrupt and unusually widespread vaccine requirements have also prompted opposition, and led to big crowds at vaccination centers as people rushed to get shots.
In the capital, Rabat, protesters gathered outside the parliament building and chanted slogans against the rule, arguing that it goes against fundamental human rights and civil liberties. Police formed a line to prevent the angry demonstrators from getting inside the legislature.
A few protesters clashed with police as they were pushed away down Mohammed V Avenue that leads to the parliament building.
Among protesters was Nabila Mounib, a member of parliament and the secretary general of the opposition Unified Socialist Party. She joined the protest after being barred from entering the parliament building for showing up without a vaccination pass.
Similar scenes unfolded in other Moroccan cities, with dozens of protesters taking to the streets in the country’s most populous city, Casablanca, as well as tourist hotspots of Marrakech and Agadir. They shouted “United against the pass!” as police pushed and swung batons at some of the demonstrators in an attempt to disperse them.


Lebanese PM distances self from minister’s Houthi Yemen ‘self-defense’ claim

Lebanese PM distances self from minister’s Houthi Yemen ‘self-defense’ claim
Updated 28 October 2021

Lebanese PM distances self from minister’s Houthi Yemen ‘self-defense’ claim

Lebanese PM distances self from minister’s Houthi Yemen ‘self-defense’ claim
  • The Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council said in a statement he rejected Kordahi’s comments
  • Najib Mikati said George Kordahi’s comments on TV did not reflect government’s, president’s position on Yemen

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Wednesday distanced himself from comments made by the country’s Information Minister George Kordahi suggesting that the Iran-backed Houthis were “defending themselves” in Yemen.

Kordahi had been responding to a question from the host of “Barlamanasha3b,” an Al Jazeera-affiliated youth TV show, asking about his position on the conflict in the war-torn country.

During the interview recorded on Aug. 5, one month before being appointed information minister, Kordahi said: “The Houthis in Yemen are a resistance movement, defending themselves and not attacking anyone.” He added that the group was acting in self-defense against the “Saudi-UAE attack on Yemen.”

Mikati said: “Kordahi’s statement reflects his personal opinion which we do not accept. These comments do not express the government nor the president’s (Michel Aoun) position on the Yemeni issue. Lebanon is committed to its ties with Arab countries.”

When Kordahi’s remarks later surfaced in a video posted online, they sparked a frenzy on social media and an official protest to the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs from Yemen’s Ambassador to Lebanon Abdullah Al-Deais.

Kordahi replied by saying he had not intended “in any way, to offend the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or the Emirates,” and expressed his “love and loyalty to the leaders and people of the two countries.”

He added: “What I said about the war in Yemen being an absurd war that needs to stop, I said it with conviction, not in defense of Yemen, but also out of love for Saudi Arabia and the UAE.”

Lebanon's Information Minister George Kordahi speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon on Sept.  13, 2021. (REUTERS File Photo)

But Al-Deais said Kordahi had only “added insult to injury, as he did not apologize, but rather confirmed what he had said.”

The Yemeni envoy added: “Kordahi’s remarks go against Lebanon’s clear position toward Yemen and its condemnation of the Houthi coup and its support for all relevant Arab and UN resolutions.”

Following a meeting with Aoun on Wednesday, Mikati added: “It is true that we distance ourselves from conflicts, but we do not distance ourselves from any Arab position in solidarity with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

This position is a constant position, and we look forward to the best relations.

“Kordahi’s comments will not affect the general course, especially since the constants of the Lebanese position on relations with Arab countries were stated in its ministerial declaration. The interview with Kordahi took place before he was appointed minister and was broadcast yesterday,” Mikati said.

Separately, Lebanon’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs pointed out that Kordahi’s comments reflected his “personal stand” and “do not reflect the government’s position.”

In a statement, it said: “The ministry has repeatedly condemned the terrorist attacks on Saudi Arabia and maintains its position in defending the security and safety of its Gulf brothers, for whom it holds love, respect, and appreciation, and refrains from interfering in their internal and external policies.”

The Gulf Cooperation Council noted that Kordahi’s remarks showed his limited knowledge and lack of understanding of the situation in Yemen.

GCC Secretary-General Dr. Nayef bin Falah Al-Hajraf condemned, “the Lebanese minister of information’s defense of the Houthi coup group, while ignoring the intransigence of the Houthi movement against all international efforts to end the Yemeni crisis, and at a time when the Saudi Houthi group is targeting missiles and marches, targeting the defenseless Yemeni people, and preventing relief aid from reaching the stricken areas.”

Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid Al-Bukhari on Wednesday met with Al-Deais.

In a statement issued by the Saudi embassy, Al-Bukhari reaffirmed “the Kingdom’s position on supporting legitimacy in Yemen, reaching a political solution, in accordance with the terms of reference represented by the Gulf Initiative and its executive mechanism, the outcomes of the Comprehensive National Dialogue Conference and the resolution 2216, in order to preserve Yemen’s unity, integrity, respect its sovereignty and independence, and reject any interference in its internal affairs.

“The Iranian-backed Houthis continue hostilities and terrorist operations by firing ballistic missiles and booby-trapped drones to target civilians and civilian objects in Saudi Arabia, violating international and humanitarian law by using civilian populations in Yemeni civilian areas as human shields, and launching booby-trapped boats and remotely marching, posing a serious threat to regional and international security,” he said.

The Saudi envoy highlighted, “the legitimate right of the Saudi-led coalition to restore legitimacy in Yemen, to take and implement the necessary measures to deal with these hostilities and terrorist attacks, and to prevent the smuggling of weapons into these militias that poses a threat to the freedom of maritime navigation and global trade in the Bab Al-Mandab Strait and the Red Sea.”

Al-Bukhari praised “the efficiency” of Saudi air defenses in intercepting and responding to more than 400 ballistic missiles, 791 drones, and at least 205 naval mines.


Supporters prevent Lebanese Forces leader Geagea from attending hearing

Supporters prevent Lebanese Forces leader Geagea from attending hearing
Updated 28 October 2021

Supporters prevent Lebanese Forces leader Geagea from attending hearing

Supporters prevent Lebanese Forces leader Geagea from attending hearing

BEIRUT: Supporters of the Christian Lebanese Forces party on Wednesday blocked roads to leader Samir Geagea’s residence as he failed to turn up for a hearing at army intelligence over fatal clashes in Beirut.
Geagea was summoned to the hearing, scheduled for 9 a.m. local time on Wednesday, amid claims by the Iran-backed Hezbollah and its ally the Amal Movement that Lebanese Forces (LF) supporters shot dead seven of their followers in clashes on Oct. 14.
Geagea has denied the claims and said he is being unfairly targetted for his support of a probe by Judge Tarek Bitar into the August 2020 Beirut port explosion that Hezbollah opposes.
“We won’t let anyone, not Hezbollah nor Iran nor Syria or anyone try to subjugate us,” LF protester Fadi told Reuters.
“We are here today in 2021 sacrificing for Samir Geagea just like he sacrified for us in 1994 so Lebanon could remain and we could remain,” Fadi, who did not give his last name, said.
Geagea, a former warlord, was imprisoned after Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war and released in 2005 following the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon after three decades of occupation.