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)
Short Url
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.


Algeria closes airspace to Moroccan aviation as dispute deepens

Algeria closes airspace to Moroccan aviation as dispute deepens
Updated 7 sec ago

Algeria closes airspace to Moroccan aviation as dispute deepens

Algeria closes airspace to Moroccan aviation as dispute deepens
  • Algeria late last month decided to cut diplomatic ties with Morocco

ALGIERS/CAIRO: Algeria’s supreme security council decided on Wednesday to close the country’s airspace to all Moroccan civil and military aircraft, the Algerian presidency said, less than a month after it cut diplomatic relations with the kingdom.
The decision came “in view of the continued provocations and hostile practices on the Moroccan side,” it said in a statement.
The closure also includes any aircraft carrying a Moroccan registration number, the presidency said after a meeting of the council.
There was no immediate Moroccan official response. A source at Royal Air Maroc said the closure would only affect 15 flights weekly linking Morocco with Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt.
The source described the closure as insignificant and said the relevant flights could reroute over the Mediterranean.
The airline gave no official comment on the Algerian decision.
Algeria late last month decided to cut diplomatic ties with Morocco, citing “hostile actions” from the Kingdom, referring mainly to comments made by Morocco’s envoy in New York in favor of the self-determination of the Kabylie region in Algeria.
Algiers also accused Rabat of backing MAK, a separatist group that the government has declared a terrorist organization. Authorities blame the group for devastating wildfires, mainly in Kabylie, that killed at least 65 people. MAK has denied the accusations.
Morocco said in response that Algeria was unjustified in cutting ties and its arguments were “fallacious and even absurd.”
The border between Morocco and Algeria has been closed since 1994 and Algeria has indicated it will divert gas exports from a pipeline running through Morocco, which was due to be renewed later this year.
Relations have deteriorated since last year, when the Western Sahara issue flared up after years of comparative quiet. Morocco sees Western Sahara as its own, but the territory’s sovereignty has been disputed by the Polisario Front, an Algeria-backed independence movement.


Sudan’s military strikes out at civilian politicians after coup attempt

Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Burhan Abdelrahman
Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Burhan Abdelrahman
Updated 23 September 2021

Sudan’s military strikes out at civilian politicians after coup attempt

Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Burhan Abdelrahman
  • Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan said the military was the group most interested in the transition to democracy and elections, scheduled for early 2024

KHARTOUM: Sudanese military leaders said on Wednesday the civilian politicians they share power with had opened the door to a coup attempt by neglecting public welfare while they were consumed by internal squabbles.
A body known as the Sovereign Council has ruled Sudan under a fragile power-sharing deal between the military and civilians since the overthrow of Omar Bashir in 2019 but their relationship has remained fractious since then.
Military authorities said on Monday they had detained 21 officers who had attempted to take power in the early hours of the day. The threat appeared to have escalated the tensions between the partners.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia condemned the coup attempt Al-Arabiya TV reported on Wednesday, citing the country’s Foreign Ministry.
Egypt also condemned the coup attempt and stressed its support for its neighbor’s transitional government.
In a statement on its official Facebook page, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry affirmed its support for efforts by Sudan’s government to meet the aspirations of its people at this important stage in the country’s history.
Cairo stressed its keenness to see stability and security in Sudan, and condemned any attempt to obstruct development efforts there.
Speaking at a military graduation in Omdurman, Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, head of the Sovereign Council, and his deputy General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, accused the civilian politicians of seeking personal gains and forgetting the aims of the revolution.
“The politicians gave an opportunity for the coup because they neglected the citizen and his livelihood and basic services and were occupied with fighting over seats and divvying up positions,” Dagalo said, in unusually strong criticism of the civilian team.
After the coup attempt, civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok reiterated calls to restructure the military and bring its business interests under civilian oversight, a key source of dispute, in a speech that did not emphasize military-civilian unity as he has done previously.
Political parties called on citizens to reject military rule and protect the revolution. Burhan called such statements “unacceptable.”
“Who should they rise to protect the revolution against? From us, the military? We are the ones who are protecting it from them, the ones who want to steal it.”
Burhan said the military was the group most interested in the transition to democracy and elections, scheduled for early 2024.
“They are occupied with fighting and yelling and are directing all their arrows at us,” he said.
Both men said they felt their forces were unappreciated.
“The military is met with humiliation and insults day and night, so how can there not be coups,” said Dagalo.


EU says Tehran ready to resume nuclear talks at ‘early date’

Protesters wearing costumes depicting Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, denounce Raisi near UN headquarters. (Reuters)
Protesters wearing costumes depicting Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, denounce Raisi near UN headquarters. (Reuters)
Updated 22 September 2021

EU says Tehran ready to resume nuclear talks at ‘early date’

Protesters wearing costumes depicting Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, denounce Raisi near UN headquarters. (Reuters)
  • 400 Iranian-American scholars urge Biden to call for Raisi to stand trial for his role in mass executions
  • Borrell ‘underlined once again the great importance of a quick resumption of the Vienna talks’ at a meeting with Iran’s top diplomat

BRUSSELS: The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Wednesday Iran’s top diplomat had assured him at their first meeting that Tehran was ready to restart talks on the nuclear deal soon.

EU-mediated negotiations began in Vienna in April aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers — an accord left hanging by a thread after former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018 and ramped up sanctions.
The discussions, which involve the remaining parties seeking to persuade Washington to rejoin the deal and Iran to return to its nuclear commitments, have been stalled since June, when ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi was elected as Iran’s president.
An EU statement said Borrell “underlined once again the great importance of a quick resumption of the Vienna talks” at a meeting on Tuesday with Iran’s new top diplomat Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
“The Iranian Foreign Minister assured of the willingness to resume negotiations at an early date,” the statement said.
Raisi voiced support on Tuesday in his international debut for reviving the nuclear accord, even as he berated the US.
“The Islamic Republic considers useful talks whose ultimate outcome is the lifting of all oppressive sanctions,” Raisi said in a recorded speech to the UN.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said he expected a resumption of the talks “in the coming weeks,” without giving an exact date.
The 2015 nuclear agreement offered Iran a reduction of UN sanctions in return for strict limits on its nuclear program, but Tehran has progressively stepped away from its commitments in the wake of Trump’s withdrawal and imposition of sanctions.
Trump’s successor Joe Biden has signaled a willingness to return to the deal, which was negotiated when he was Barack Obama’s vice president and under Iran’s moderate President Hassan Rouhani.
In a letter to President Biden, ahead of his speech at the UN General Assembly, more than 400 Iranian-American scholars urged the president to call for Raisi to stand trial before an international tribunal for his role in the 1988 mass execution of dissidents. Dissidents have zeroed in on his role in a “death commission” that ordered the executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.
Iran’s new president slammed US sanctions imposed on his nation as a mechanism of war, using his first UN address since his swearing-in to forcefully call out Washington’s policies in the region and the growing political schism within America.
President Ebrahim Raisi delivered a far more critical and blunt take on American foreign policy than his moderate predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, had done in previous speeches to the UN General Assembly.
“Sanctions are the US’ new way of war with the nations of the world,” Raisi said, adding that such economic punishment during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic amounts to “crimes against humanity.”
In taking aim at the US, Raisi also referenced the shocking Jan. 6th insurrection on Capitol Hill by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, and the horrific scenes at Kabul airport last month as desperate Afghans plunged to their deaths after clinging to a US aircraft evacuating people.
“From the Capitol to Kabul, one clear message was sent to the world: The US’ hegemonic system has no credibility, whether inside or outside the country,” Raisi said.
He said “the project of imposing Westernized identity” had failed, and added erroneously that “today, the US does not get to exit Iraq and Afghanistan but is expelled.”


Yemeni woman turns home into school

Yemeni teacher Amina Mahdi (L) gives a lesson to children sprawled across the floor of her home in the rural area of Muhib, in the southern province of Hodeida, on September 1, 2021. (AFP)
Yemeni teacher Amina Mahdi (L) gives a lesson to children sprawled across the floor of her home in the rural area of Muhib, in the southern province of Hodeida, on September 1, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 22 September 2021

Yemeni woman turns home into school

Yemeni teacher Amina Mahdi (L) gives a lesson to children sprawled across the floor of her home in the rural area of Muhib, in the southern province of Hodeida, on September 1, 2021. (AFP)
  • Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced in what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis

AL-TUHAYTA, Yemen: Yemeni teacher Amina Mahdi gives a science lesson to children sprawled across the ground at her home in a remote village in the southern province of Hodeidah.
For these boys and girls, learning at Mahdi’s sun-scorched compound is their only opportunity for an education in the small rural area of Muhib in the Al-Tuhayta district.
She had already been teaching children to read and write before the outbreak of the impoverished country’s devastating war in 2014.
“What pushed me toward teaching was the high rate of ignorance in the village and that children were deprived of an education,” Mahdi told AFP.
With dozens of children to tend to, Mahdi has divided them into three groups based on age, teaching each class for two hours a day.
Other than learning how to read and write, the children also get lessons in maths and science.
But Mahdi said her house, with hundreds of books piled on a single shelf, is not really equipped for teaching. “There is lots of damage from the sun and heat,” she said, wearing an all-black niqab.
Yemen’s war pits the government against the Iran-allied Houthi rebels.
Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced in what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. More than 2,500 schools in the country are unfit for use, with some destroyed and others turned into refugee camps or military facilities.
UNICEF has estimated that 2 million children were without school even before the coronavirus pandemic, a further systemic shock which it warns has likely propelled the number even higher.
“We wouldn’t have been able to read, write or learn if it weren’t for Miss Amina,” one of the pupils, Ibrahim Mohib, told AFP.
His father, Mohammed, said he had no regrets sending his three children to learn at Mahdi’s home.
“They were taught there from the first until the fourth grades, and thank God for (Mahdi) striving to teach them,” he said.
Mahdi said she hopes to get some form of help to teach the children.
“I ask all those who are charitable to bring joy to these children ... and offer aid to establish a real school,” she said. “My small home is not good enough, and it has become a public place where I am no longer comfortable.”


Saudi Arabia, US, EU, others announce $600m in additional aid for Yemen 

Saudi Arabia, US, EU, others announce $600m in additional aid for Yemen 
Updated 22 September 2021

Saudi Arabia, US, EU, others announce $600m in additional aid for Yemen 

Saudi Arabia, US, EU, others announce $600m in additional aid for Yemen 
  • Saudi Arabia remains the top donor of humanitarian aid to its war-torn neighbor
  • Saudi, Yemeni govts call for pressure on Houthis to choose UN-led political solution to conflict

NEW YORK:  Saudi Arabia, the US, the EU and other nations announced hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of additional humanitarian and development aid for Yemen at a high-level meeting at the UN on Wednesday. 

Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Rabeeah, supervisor-general of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, announced that Saudi Arabia will provide an additional $90 million in humanitarian aid for war-torn Yemen.

“Over the last six years, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has provided more than $18 billion to support Yemen,” he said. “This year alone, Saudi Arabia has supported Yemen with more than $848 million.” 

The latest pledge means Saudi Arabia is once again the largest donor of aid to Yemen. But “monetary donations alone won’t alleviate the crisis in Yemen,” Al-Rabeeah warned. 

“Unless we work together to end the conflict and minimize the obstructions of aid delivery, the situation will continue to worsen,” he added.

“Ongoing aggression by the Houthi militias against the UN and international NGOs only adds more misery to the Yemeni people.”

Al-Rabeeah expressed the Kingdom’s desire that the international community support its political plan “to put an end to the conflict and bring long-lasting peace to all Yemenis.”

The US promised an additional $290 million in donations for 2021, while the EU announced that it will donate a further €119 million ($139.65 million), which the bloc’s Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen said is a “joint humanitarian and development aid pledge.”

She added that “in the immediate term, our support will help families access food and basic commodities,” and that “in the long term, the EU seeks to help Yemen build a bridge from crisis to recover.” In this, she said, “investing in youth and women will play a critical role.”

Canada, Qatar, Sweden and Brazil together pledged additional donations worth over $120 million, some of which will be provided to UN bodies such as the World Food Programme to assist their operations in Yemen.

In total, around $600 million in additional humanitarian funding was announced at the UN meeting.

That money will be used to ensure that food security, sanitation, healthcare and education continues to be delivered to as many Yemenis as possible.

But while the aid provided by the international community will alleviate some of the hardship facing the country’s 29 million people, world leaders repeatedly made clear that a political solution to the conflict is the only way to truly end the humanitarian crisis.

Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East, and it was plunged into civil war when the Iran-backed Houthis overthrew the UN-recognized government in 2015. Since then, famine and conflict have caused the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians.

Yemen’s Minister of Foreign and Expatriate Affairs Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak warned on Wednesday that “despite the generous contributions of the international community, including the UN-led Humanitarian Response Plan, the humanitarian crisis witnessed by Yemen is still the largest and most urgent in the world.” 

He blamed the Houthis for Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, citing their assault on the city of Marib as an example of how they perpetuate the suffering of Yemenis — in this case by preventing the supply of household fuel to people across the country.

“Marib is the main source of household gas in Yemen … The continued brutal attacks by the Houthi militias on Marib exacerbate human suffering,” Bin Mubarak said.

He warned that a continuation of the Marib offensive could force thousands of internally displaced Yemenis who had sought safety in the city to seek refuge overseas.

“All humanitarian efforts provided by the different (UN) agencies won’t end the suffering of the Yemenis unless this war stops,” he said.

“Therefore, I’d like to call upon the international community to exert more effort on the Houthi militias and their supporters to give up the option of war and engage in a peace process that’s led by the UN.”