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.

Israeli move to grab Palestinian land re-energized

Israeli move to grab Palestinian land re-energized
Updated 18 sec ago

Israeli move to grab Palestinian land re-energized

Israeli move to grab Palestinian land re-energized

AMMAN: A year before representatives of Israel and Palestine met at the White House on Sept. 13, 1993, and signed a framework for peace, Israeli authorities had confiscated 48 square kilometers of Palestinian land south of Bethlehem and converted it into a nature reserve.

The Israeli army has, 28 years later, renewed the confiscation order in a politicized decision carried out to block attempts to provide building permits to Palestinians who own private land in some of those areas.

Jad Isaac, director of the Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem, said a large part of those areas had been marked as Area C, meaning the Israelis had full control over who could build on them.

“Military order #51-21 of Nov. 18, 1992 has taken a large part of the areas east and south of Bethlehem, in the vicinity of the towns of Saer, Arab Al-Rashida and Shioukh,” he told Arab News.

Isaac said that Palestinians were not allowed to build on 29.7 square kilometers of the land despite them being listed as Area A, meaning local Palestinian municipalities had the right to make administrative decisions about them.

He said that 10.875 square kilometers of that land had been converted into nature reserves, blocking the rights of Palestinians in those areas.

Israeli authorities used the term nature reserve to block Palestinians from building on those areas so that, at an opportune time, they may be opened up for settlement expansion, he said.

Over the years the international community — especially the US — has been asking the Israelis to allow Palestinians to build in those areas.

Former mayor of Bethlehem Vera Baboun told Arab News the move was aimed at separating Bethlehem governorate from Hebron governorate.

The goal was to separate the populated Palestinian areas, as well as closing off areas to farming and grazing including blocking the ability of Palestinian farmers to reach their own land, while giving Jewish settlers the freedom to move around on Palestinian land, she added.

A Times of Israel report found that the Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing construction in Area C had issued just a handful of building permits.

Plans for just 26 housing units were advanced in subcommittee meetings, with only six of those units — located in a single building — receiving actual building permits.

“Apparently, the security Cabinet’s decision that Netanyahu made sure to publicize as if Israel actually intended to approve any development for the millions of Palestinians in the occupied territories has turned out to be one big bluff, and even the few permits that were approved have not been issued,” Hagit Ofran, from the Peace Now settlement watchdog, told the newspaper.

Isaac said that, since 1967, Israel had used a variety of military orders to curtail Palestinian growth.

“They passed tens of laws that allow them to take away Palestinian land or prevent Palestinians from using it, while seeming to be doing all this under the pretext of democratic regulations.”

He said that, in addition to confiscating state land or land of absentee Palestinians, the favorite way of stunting Palestinian growth had been the conversion of large areas of Palestinian land into nature reserves.

“Using military order 363 of 1969, the Israeli civil administration can declare any land in the occupied West Bank a nature reserve where it is extremely difficult to get a building license.”

In Jan. 2020 then-Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, who is now prime minister, approved the declaration of seven reserves in an area of 112.5 square kilometers, in addition to the existing 12 nature reserves aimed at stopping any Palestinian building development in the Jordan Valley area.

Turkey, EU come together to enroll Syrian refugee students

Turkey, EU come together to enroll Syrian refugee students
Updated 25 September 2021

Turkey, EU come together to enroll Syrian refugee students

Turkey, EU come together to enroll Syrian refugee students
  • Ankara’s efforts to integrate nearly 700,000 refugee children into the education system hailed as a ‘huge and unique success story’
  • Brussels has provided financial assistance while the influx of Syrian students has improved Turkey’s social cohesion and integration policies

ANKARA: Saleh is a 13-year-old Syrian refugee boy who has lived in the capital city Ankara for the past six years. 

“My favorite course is mathematics. When I first came to Turkey, I did not know Turkish and I could not communicate with anybody. My family had the cash transfer assistance from the EU and I began going to the school where I learned Turkish and began playing with my peers,” he told Arab News.

Saleh spends his evenings reading books in Turkish so he can develop his language skills and prepare for the high school that he is planning to attend in Turkey. He is currently reading “Les Miserables” by French writer Victor Hugo. Saleh is also dreaming of becoming an artificial intelligence engineer. 

“Sometimes, I am subjected to peer bullying and social exclusion by people who do not know me at all,” Saleh said. “But my teacher warns such people and reminds them of the importance of cohesion. I also play chess at school, which helps me a lot in my social skills.”

He attends team activities and social projects that are organized by the UNICEF-supported Al-Farah Child and Family Support Center in Ankara. It is funded by the EU to provide services to refugee children and their families and help them meet their basic needs, including legal and social counseling along with psycho-social support.

Turkey’s efforts to integrate nearly 700,000 Syrian refugee children into the education system have also been hailed by Brussels. The head of the EU delegation to Turkey, Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, said it was a “huge and unique success story” during his speech on Sept. 21 at a school opening ceremony in the southeastern Gaziantep province.

So far, the EU has provided financial assistance to nearly 400 schools across the country to support the training and employment of teachers as well as meet the operational costs. 

Brussels earmarked nearly 3 billion euros ($3.34 billion) to Turkey under the Facility for Refugees program and about one-third of those funds are mainly allocated to the educational projects that promote the integration of Syrian kids into the Turkish education system. The funds also go toward the construction and equipping of some 100 schools in provinces with a high concentration of Syrian refugees as well as cash transfers to families whose children regularly attend school. 

Of the nearly 4 million Syrians under temporary protection in Turkey, 1.2 million are of school age. 

Experts underline the enrolment of Syrian refugee children as of key importance for the success of Turkey’s social cohesion and integration policies. 

Schools provide war-affected children with the opportunity of socialization with the wider community, give a sense of belonging, and enhance Turkish language competency to overcome language barriers. 

Basak Yavcan, a researcher on migration issues at the University of Liege and from TOBB University of Economics and Technology in Anakara, said refugees’ access to education has multiple benefits to both the refugee community and the hosting community. 

“First, school enrollment is a great beginning for an effective economic, social, and political integration,” she told Arab News. “It provides a career pathway, keeps kids off the streets, and promotes inter-group contact.”

According to Yavcan, education plays a crucial role in creating a middle class of migrants which is an engine for social integration. It increases the quality of intergroup conflict and creates role models for the immigrant community. 

“By teaching the common history, values, rights, and the meaning of citizenship in a country, education also promotes political integration,” she said. “Finally, by equipping individuals with the skills needed in the labor market, education makes economic integration easy.”

While access to education was initially a challenging area for Syrian refugees in Turkey, enrollment rates were low. 

Yavcan said enrollment rates started to improve after the easing of registration policies, introducing regular degree equivalency exams, and conditional cash transfers in return for enrolled kids in a household. Local outreach programs to convince Syrian parents, training in the educational system for multicultural classroom environments, catch-up programs for Syrian students, and free transportation facilities also helped.

Last year, more than 600,000 Syrian children benefitted from the EU’s cash transfer program with the condition of continued enrollment. 

The COVID-19 pandemic affected school enrolment last year while experts also underline some remaining challenges that derive from the cultural and economic dynamics of Syrian families living in Turkey. 

“With high child labor rates and low inclusion of Syrians in the labor market, sending kids to school has a considerable cost — and opportunity cost in the case of child labor — to Syrian families,” Yavcan said. “Cultural challenges exist mainly for secondary education where girls need to attend school in co-ed classes, an area of resistance for some Syrian families. 

“So more efforts are needed to improve the economic well-being of families, and to provide career pathways and opportunities for transition to jobs for Syrian pupils.”

Egyptian, Syrian FMs meet on UNGA sidelines

Egyptian, Syrian FMs meet on UNGA sidelines
Updated 25 September 2021

Egyptian, Syrian FMs meet on UNGA sidelines

Egyptian, Syrian FMs meet on UNGA sidelines
  • Mekdad stressed the importance of relations between the two countries
  • They discussed bilateral relations, regional issues of common interest, and ways to end the Syrian conflict 

CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met with his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to discuss bilateral relations, regional issues of common interest, and ways to end the Syrian conflict. 

Mekdad stressed the importance of relations between the two countries — especially in light of the historical ties that unite them — and of mobilizing efforts to resolve the conflict while respecting Syria’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity.

Egyptian MP Mustafa Bakri said: “This meeting reflects Egypt’s keenness on Syria, its security, stability and territorial integrity — a position that (Egyptian) President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi emphasized more than once as he demanded a halt to any interference in Syrian internal affairs.”

Bakri added: “The meeting also confirms that relations between the two countries are moving forward.”

Mekdad also met with his Jordanian and Somali counterparts, Ayman Safadi and Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, respectively.

Kuwait PM urges Iran to build trust in region

Kuwait PM urges Iran to build trust in region
Updated 25 September 2021

Kuwait PM urges Iran to build trust in region

Kuwait PM urges Iran to build trust in region
  • Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah said such steps will contribute to reducing tension in the region and building ties between the Gulf nations

WASHINGTON: The prime minister of Kuwait has called on Iran to take serious steps to build trust and start a serious dialogue in the Gulf region based on respect for the sovereignty of neighboring nations and non-interference.

He said nations in the region must seek to protect maritime commerce and the free movement of goods and ships in the Arabian Gulf.

Speaking during the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah said such steps will contribute to reducing tension in the region and building ties between the Gulf nations based on cooperation and mutual respect.

“Such measures will reflect the desire of the people of the region to live in a safe, secure and prosperous condition,” he said.

Alluding to the current tussle between Iran and the international community over its nuclear program, Al-Sabah said that the weakness of the anti-nuclear proliferation regime represented a “existential threat to the region.”

In 2015, during the presidency of Barack Obama, Iran signed a nuclear agreement deal with the US, European countries, Russia and China.

The deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), placed restrictions on the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

In 2018 President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the agreement, claiming that the deal was not strict enough to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Iran is currently engaged with the US in talks over its nuclear program.

Al-Sabah called for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction from the region and called on Iran to make the region a nuclear-free zone.

On the issue of Yemen, which affects all nations of the Gulf region, including Kuwait, he praised Saudi Arabia’s efforts to end the conflict in Yemen, reiterating Kuwait’s call on all parties to negotiate an end to the civil war.

He said a resolution of the conflict should be based on the Gulf initiative, a reconciliation conference between Yemeni groups and the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

He condemned the Houthi group for targeting Saudi territories with drone and missile attacks.

“We condemned all the attacks committed against the territories of Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Yemen has been in a state of conflict since 2014, when the Houthi group took control of most of northern Yemen, including the capital, Sanaa.

In 2015 a Saudi-led Arab coalition intervened to restore the legitimate government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Al-Sabah stressed Kuwait's support for the Palestinian people and said his country stands behind the Palestinians in seeking the end of the Israeli occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

He said his country rejected Israeli policies of building illegal settlements, confiscating land and besieging Gaza.

He also expressed his support for efforts to bring a peaceful resolution to the conflicts in Syria and Libya and to bring security and stability to both countries.

Referring to Kuwait’s success in vaccinating 72 percent of citizens and residents, Al-Sabah said COVID-19 must have been confronted by all nations of the world through cooperation to make different kinds of vaccines and making them available to all countries of the world.

Abbas to Israel: End occupation in 1 year or Palestinians withdraw recognition

Abbas to Israel: End occupation in 1 year or Palestinians withdraw recognition
Updated 25 September 2021

Abbas to Israel: End occupation in 1 year or Palestinians withdraw recognition

Abbas to Israel: End occupation in 1 year or Palestinians withdraw recognition
  • Palestinian leader chastises UN, international community for not holding Israel accountable for its actions
  • Abbas accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, failing to honor agreements

WASHINGTON: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gave the Israeli government one year to withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Jerusalem or face the prospect of Palestinians withdrawing their recognition of Israel.

He added that Palestinians will otherwise seek a legal judgment from the International Court of Justice against its occupation of Palestinian territories. 

Abbas said that Palestinians stand ready to finalize the borders between the prospective Palestinian state and Israel and finish negotiations over other lingering final status issues such as the return of refugees and the status of occupied Jerusalem.

Abbas, who delivered a prerecorded statement from Ramallah to the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, said that Palestinians have had enough of Israel’s 54-year occupation of Palestinian lands.

He said that notwithstanding decades of peace negotiations with Israel, Palestinians still had no Israeli peace partner interested in ending the conflict.

Israel occupied the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem — where Palestinians hope to establish their state — in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war after defeating the armies of Jordan, Egypt and Syria.

He said Palestinians have honored all their agreements with Israel and have committed to a peaceful end to the conflict, especially after the signing of Oslo Accords in 1993.

Abbas stated that Israel not only failed to honor its agreements with Palestinians but also worked to undermine the prospect of a two-state solution by building illegal settlements to increase the Israeli-Jewish population in the occupied territories in violation of international laws.

The Oslo Accords stipulated the withdrawal of Israeli occupation forces from the West Bank and Gaza within several years of the agreement.

It also committed Israel to negotiate the final status of occupied East Jerusalem, the establishment of a Palestinian state and the right of return of Palestinian refugees no later than one year after the final status negotiations that started in 1999.

Abbas said Israel has since rejected and refused to implement all of the peace proposals and agreements it signed with the Palestinians, including the Oslo Accords.

“Contrary to past agreements and to principles of international law, Israel is forcing the Palestinians out of their homes in Jerusalem, especially the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood,” he said.

“Israel is committing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, and this is considered a crime according to international law.”

The Palestinian leader chastised the UN and members of the international community for not holding Israel accountable for its actions, which has led the country to believe itself above the law.

He also criticized the US and several European countries, without naming them, for recognizing the Israeli occupation and its system of “apartheid.”

Abbas praised the administration of President Joe Biden, describing his ties with the US government as a “constructive dialogue.”

On the domestic front, Abbas said that he did not cancel the Palestinian legislative elections that were supposed to take place last May but rather “postponed them,” explaining that he initially decided against holding the slated elections because Palestinians in Jerusalem would not have been able to vote due to Israeli objections.

In an apparent criticism of his main Palestinian rival Hamas, Abbas reminded the international community that the Palestine Liberation Organization, which he is a chairman of, is the only representative of the Palestinian people.

Abbas, who is also the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, which administers Palestinian cities in the West Bank, has been the subject of severe criticism and protests by Palestinian citizens.

In recent months, Palestinian protesters demanded his resignation over claims of corruption, human rights violations and security collaboration with Israel.