Pro-Iran groups welcome US vow to end Iraq combat operations

U.S. soldiers wearing protective masks are seen during a handover ceremony of Taji military base from US-led coalition troops to Iraqi security forces, in Baghdad, Iraq August 23, 2020. (REUTERS)
U.S. soldiers wearing protective masks are seen during a handover ceremony of Taji military base from US-led coalition troops to Iraqi security forces, in Baghdad, Iraq August 23, 2020. (REUTERS)
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Updated 28 July 2021

Pro-Iran groups welcome US vow to end Iraq combat operations

U.S. soldiers wearing protective masks are seen during a handover ceremony of Taji military base from US-led coalition troops to Iraqi security forces, in Baghdad, Iraq August 23, 2020. (REUTERS)
  • Hashd Al-Shaabi considers Biden’s move ‘a positive step toward the full sovereignty of Iraq’

BAGHDAD: Several powerful pro-Iran groups in Iraq on Tuesday welcomed an announcement by Washington that US combat operations in the country will end this year, an outcome they have long demanded.

US President Joe Biden declared on Monday that “we’re not going to be, at the end of the year, in a combat mission,” as he hosted Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi for White House talks.
US troops would continue to provide training and assistance to the Iraqi military, including intelligence cooperation, falling short of pro-Iran factions’ demands for a full withdrawal.
But the Conquest Alliance, the political wing of Iraq’s Hashd Al-Shaabi paramilitary network, which is dominated by pro-Iran groups, said it considered Biden’s announcement “to be a positive step toward the full sovereignty of Iraq.”
“We hope that it will materialize on the ground,” it added.
US troops were invited into Iraq in 2014 — three years after ending an eight-year occupation that began with the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein — by a government desperate to halt a sweeping advance by the Daesh group.
Iraq’s government declared Daesh defeated in late 2017, but the extremists retain sleeper cells and still launch periodic suicide attacks.
The US and Iran are both major allies of Iraq and share an enmity toward Daesh, but Tehran also considers Washington its arch foe and has long pressed for a withdrawal of US troops from its neighbor.
Pro-Iran armed factions stand accused of carrying out around 50 rocket and drone attacks this year against US interests in Iraq.
Since last year, the principal role of the remaining US troops — now totaling 2,500, after drawdowns under Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump — had already been to train, advise and support the Iraqi military in its fight against Daesh.
Biden’s announcement therefore indicated little major change of policy.
The face-to-face meeting was to give political cover to Al-Kadhimi, in power for little over a year and under intensifying pressure over the continued US presence, analysts said.
Several other pro-Iran groups in Iraq also reacted positively.
The Imam Ali Brigades lauded “the end of the foreign presence” and said it “thanked the (Iraqi) government for keeping its promises,” while influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr also welcomed Biden’s announcement.

BACKGROUND

The US and Iran are both major allies of Iraq and share an enmity toward Daesh, but Tehran also considers US its arch foe and has long pressed for a withdrawal of US troops from its neighbor.

But more radical pro-Iran groups have not yet responded.
Meanwhile, Iran’s state TV reported on Tuesday that authorities arrested members of a group linked to Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency amid ongoing protests over water shortages in the country’s southwest.
The report said “a network of spy agents, with a large amount of weapons and ammunition” was arrested after sneaking into Iran from across its western border. It claimed the alleged Mossad agents intended to use the weapons during riots in Iran and also for assassinations.
The state TV did not elaborate or say how many alleged agents were arrested or when they purportedly infiltrated into Iran. Iran borders Turkey and Iraq to the west.
At least five people have been killed amid days of protests over water shortages affecting Iran’s Khuzestan province. That’s according to statements carried by state-run media in Iran.
Iran occasionally announces the detention of people it says are spying for foreign countries, including the US and Israel.
Western Iran has seen occasional fighting between Iranian forces and Kurdish separatists as well as militants linked to Daesh.
In July 2020, Iran said “terrorists” killed two people in an attack in the Iranian province of Kurdistan. Last year, Iran executed a man convicted of leaking information to the US and Israel about prominent Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps general Qassem Soleimani, who was later killed by a US drone strike in Iraq.


Algerians rue ‘missed opportunities’ of Bouteflika era

Algerians rue ‘missed opportunities’ of Bouteflika era
Updated 8 sec ago

Algerians rue ‘missed opportunities’ of Bouteflika era

Algerians rue ‘missed opportunities’ of Bouteflika era
TUNIS: Algerians looked back on two decades of “missed opportunities” as flags flew at half mast Sunday ahead of the funeral of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
His death at age 84 was announced late Friday, more than two years after the former strongman quit office.
The long-time leader had risen to power in 1999 on a wave of popular support as his amnesty offer to Islamist militants helped bring an end to a devastating decade-long civil war.
But 20 years later, mass protests broke out in response to his announcement that he intended to stand for a fifth term, and the army stepped in to force his resignation.
Bouteflika, a fighter in the war for independence from France, had suffered a mini-stroke in 2013 that affected his speech, and he was forced to use a wheelchair.
Dubbed “Boutef” by Algerians, he had won respect as a foreign minister in the 1970s to his mentor, Algeria’s second president Houari Boumediene.
Algerian journalist Adlene Meddi said it was nostalgia for the heady Boumediene days of the late 60s and 70s that had given Bouteflika his initial honeymoon period as president.
“For some, he was a reassuring presence, reviving memories of the ‘glorious’ years under Boumediene, when Algeria was the leader of the developing world — all in sharp contrast with the smoldering ruins of Algeria of the late 1990s,” Meddi wrote on online news outlet Middle East Eye.


Hasni Abidi, head of the CERMAM studies center in Geneva, said Bouteflika had also benefited from high oil prices of the era which had inflated government coffers.
“His popularity was guaranteed by a high (price of a) barrel and a ‘civil concord’ law negotiated by the army” that put an end to the war with the Islamists, he said.
“Unfortunately, Bouteflika missed his rendezvous with history — he was the president of missed opportunities.
“He became a man of power and intrigue and not a statesman.”
University of Algiers politics lecturer Louisa Dris Ait Hamadouche said the nation had suffered a “litany of missed opportunities” as Bouteflika “failed to achieve his own ambitions or those of the Algerian state.”
He wanted “to surpass Boumediene, enshrine the presidency, bring all military institutions under its command, boost Algeria’s influence on the regional stage, be the one to turn the page on the black decade (of civil war),” which killed around 200,000 people, Dris Ait Hamadouche said.
“But the outcome has been that in 2021, the institutions of the state have never been so weakened, so divided or so discredited.”
Dris Ait Hamadouche said that for many younger Algerians, the only memory they would keep of their former president would be the “distressing image of an old man in a wheelchair.”
More than half the country’s population is younger than 30.
She said she regretted that death had spared him having to answer for “the mistakes committed during the exercise of his duties.”
Bouteflika faced criticism from rights groups and opponents who accused him of being authoritarian.
Samir Yahiaoui, a Hirak reform movement activist in the Algerian diaspora in France, said he too regretted that Bouteflika had “taken so many secrets with him.”
“It’s just unacceptable,” he said. “It shows that he served a clan, a regime, and was never a statesman.”

Motegi hails UAE’s role in evacuating Japanese nationals from Afghanistan

Motegi hails UAE’s role in evacuating Japanese nationals from Afghanistan
Updated 26 min 31 sec ago

Motegi hails UAE’s role in evacuating Japanese nationals from Afghanistan

Motegi hails UAE’s role in evacuating Japanese nationals from Afghanistan
  • Motegi said he hopes for the success of Expo 2020 Dubai
  • Motegi and Al Nahyan exchanged views on global issues such as climate change

TOKYO: Japanese Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu said he appreciated the United Arab Emirates’ support provided during the evacuation of staff members at the Embassy of Japan in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.

According to a statement released by Japan’s Foreign Ministry, the UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Motegi had a telephone conversation on Friday. Japan’s FM stated that the Asian country highly praised the crucial role the UAE has taken with regards to Afghanistan, such as temporarily accepting evacuees and providing humanitarian support.

In addition, Motegi said he hopes for the success of Expo 2020 Dubai, which will take place on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the UAE, and will be the first International Registered Exhibition to be held in the Middle East region. 

The two ministers confirmed that they will continue to further promote cooperation in a variety of fields towards the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and the UAE in 2022. 

Motegi and Al Nahyan exchanged views on global issues such as climate change and agreed to continue close coordination, according to the statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Last 2 of 6 Palestinian inmates who escaped maximum-security Israeli prison recaptured

Last 2 of 6 Palestinian inmates who escaped maximum-security Israeli prison recaptured
Updated 19 September 2021

Last 2 of 6 Palestinian inmates who escaped maximum-security Israeli prison recaptured

Last 2 of 6 Palestinian inmates who escaped maximum-security Israeli prison recaptured
  • The two were captured during an Israeli army raid in their hometown of Jenin in the occupied West Bank
  • The six tunneled out of their cell on Sept. 6, exposing security flaws from the vaunted "Israeli Guantanamo"

JERUSALEM: The last two of six Palestinian prisoners who escaped a maximum-security Israeli prison two weeks ago were rearrested early Sunday, the Israeli military said.
The two were captured during an Israeli army raid in their hometown of Jenin in the occupied West Bank, closing an intense, embarrassing pursuit that exposed security flaws after the six tunneled out of their cell on Sept. 6.
Palestinian media reported that clashes erupted in Jenin when Israeli troops entered the city, but a spokesperson for Israeli police said the two escapees, Munadil Nafayat and Iham Kamamji, were arrested without resistance from a house where they had taken refuge and were taken for questioning.
Fouad Kamamji, Iham’s father, told The Associated Press that his son had called him when the Israeli troops surrounded the house and said he will surrender “in order not to endanger the house owners.”
The escapes set off a massive pursuit operation that captured the first four inmates in two separate operations in northern Israel. All six inmates come from Jenin.
Five of the prisoners are from the Islamic Jihad militant group, with four of them serving life sentences, and the sixth is a member of the secular Fatah group of President Mahmoud Abbas.
For the Palestinians, the prisoners who dug the tunnel for months and escaped were “heroes.” For Israel, they were “terrorists” who took part or planned attacks that targeted the Israeli military and civilians.


Iran’s fuel shipments violate Lebanon’s sovereignty: PM

Lebanon's Prime Minister-Designate Najib Mikati. (Reuters)
Lebanon's Prime Minister-Designate Najib Mikati. (Reuters)
Updated 19 September 2021

Iran’s fuel shipments violate Lebanon’s sovereignty: PM

Lebanon's Prime Minister-Designate Najib Mikati. (Reuters)
  • The National News Agency said security forces raided a fertilizer warehouse in the eastern Bekaa Valley, considered a hub for smuggling operations between Lebanon and Syria

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Iranian fuel shipments imported by the Hezbollah movement constitute a breach of Lebanon’s sovereignty, according to comments published by his office.
“The violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty makes me sad,” Mikati told CNN in an interview, his office said in a posting on Twitter.
He added: “But I’m not concerned that sanctions can be imposed” on Lebanon “because the operation was carried out without the involvement of the Lebanese government.”
The Tehran-aligned group on Thursday began bringing tanker trucks carrying fuel from Iran, a move it says should ease a crippling energy crisis in Lebanon.
A tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it crossed into Lebanon. Both Syria and Iran are under US sanctions.
Meanwhile, authorities have seized 20 tons of ammonium nitrate — the same chemical behind a deadly explosion last year at Beirut’s port — in the eastern Bekaa Valley, state media said.
Ammonium nitrate is an odorless crystalline substance commonly used as a fertilizer that has been the cause of numerous industrial explosions over the decades.
The National News Agency said security forces raided a fertilizer warehouse in the eastern Bekaa Valley, considered a hub for smuggling operations between Lebanon and Syria.
Authorities seized 20 tons of the dangerous chemical stored inside a truck parked at the warehouse, the NNA said, adding the material was transported to a “safe place.”
Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi called on security forces to conduct a sweep of the area. He said: “We must do our best to move these materials to a safer place away from exposure to heat and sun” to avoid a “catastrophe.”
The company that owns the ammonium nitrate said that the fertilizer was intended for agricultural use.


Iran leader reasserts ban on sports with Israel

A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows him during a meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran. (AFP file photo)
A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows him during a meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 September 2021

Iran leader reasserts ban on sports with Israel

A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows him during a meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran. (AFP file photo)
  • Khamenei instructed “the sports and foreign ministries, as well as the judiciary, to deploy their legal resources to support athletes from this and other Muslim countries, like the Algerian who was recently disciplined”

TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday reasserted the Islamic republic’s longstanding ban on competitive sport with Israelis, and promised support for athletes disciplined by international bodies for respecting it.
Iran does not recognize Israel and its athletes usually refrain from facing Israeli opponents, whether by forfeiting the match or by simply not participating.
“Any Iranian athlete worthy of the name cannot shake hands with a representative of the criminal regime in order to win a medal,” Khamenei told a reception for Iran’s medallists from the Tokyo 2020 Games.
“The illegitimate, bloodthirsty ... Zionist regime tries to win legitimacy by taking part in international sporting events attended by the world arrogance (Washington and the West), and our athletes cannot just stand idly by,” he added, in comments posted on his official website.

BACKGROUND

In Tokyo, Iran won seven Olympic medals, three of them gold, as well as 24 Paralympic medals.

Khamenei instructed “the sports and foreign ministries, as well as the judiciary, to deploy their legal resources to support athletes from this and other Muslim countries, like the Algerian who was recently disciplined.”
He was referring to Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine, who withdrew from the Tokyo Games after the draw set him on course for a possible matchup against an Israeli opponent, prompting his suspension from international competition.