Iraqi PM boasts ‘balance and agreement’ record in run-up to elections

Iraqi PM boasts ‘balance and agreement’ record in run-up to elections
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, right, welcomes Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid of Dubai before the Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership, Baghdad, Aug. 28, 2021. (AP Photo)
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Updated 01 September 2021

Iraqi PM boasts ‘balance and agreement’ record in run-up to elections

Iraqi PM boasts ‘balance and agreement’ record in run-up to elections
  • Mustafa Al-Kadhimi hopes to remain as head of the government, Hussein Al-Hindawi, an adviser to the Iraqi prime minister, tells Arab News
  • Al-Hindawi believes the prime minister can capitalize on the National Dialogue Conference and Baghdad Conference for Partnership and Cooperation

BAGHDAD: With less than 40 days before the early parliamentary elections scheduled for Oct. 10, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has made a strong entry into the electoral campaign. Officially, Al-Kadhimi has no legislative candidates and his days as head of the Iraqi government, which he has led since 2020, could be numbered.

A new political map is supposed to emerge at the end of these elections, but there is no guarantee that he will be able to hold his cards. Even though he has no candidates of his own, Al-Kadhimi still participates in the campaign. 

An adviser to the prime minister, Hussein Al-Hindawi, told Arab News that Al-Kadhimi hopes to remain as head of the government because of his positive record.

Even if his management of the country’s affairs was short-lived, “the Iraqis see the difference between him and his predecessors,” in particular Adel Abdel-Mehdi, who was forced to resign following the protest movement which paralyzed Baghdad in 2019. 

Unlike Abdel-Mehdi, a member of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (pro-Iranian), Al-Kadhimi sees himself as an independent politician. 

“His presence as head of government is ‘a kind of balance and agreement’ between rival Iraqi political factions,” Al-Hindawi said.

Al-Kadhimi’s status as an independent gives him a kind of neutrality — even supremacy — in the face of the permanent power struggles that characterize the operation of the country. It is a posture that is reminiscent of the trajectory of French President Emmanuel Macron, who reached the presidency without any partisan label. A close friend of Al-Kadhimi said the Iraqi prime minister is very sensitive to the French president’s modus operandi.

Al-Hindawi asserts that the prime minister can boast of two huge successes that he initiated: the National Dialogue Conference and the recent Baghdad International Conference for Partnership and Cooperation. 

The first brought together a range of speakers, namely representatives of the country’s political forces, popular organizations, clan leaders, representatives of the 2019 protests, and some armed factions.

The purpose of the conference was to mark the road to the legislative elections and to establish a dialogue between the different Iraqi forces. In the short run, the conference resulted in an agreement leading to the formation of standing committees for dialogue. Al-Kadhimi hoped that establishing a new social contract would prevent the collapse of the political process in the country.  

Al-Kadhimi is trying to rebuild minds, which is a difficult task in a fragile country, undermined by communal divisions. But one thing is certain: the early legislative elections, which seemed threatened by the boycott, will take place with the participation of 3249 candidates, including 953 women.

The international conference was also a success. In the presence of France, it brought together Iraq’s neighboring countries in a peaceful atmosphere. A diplomatic feat. It is not trivial to bring together countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan, and the UAE while the tension in the region is at its peak. These countries have managed to put aside their differences and focus on the essentials, namely the stability of Iraq, the fight against terrorism, and the guarantee that a stable Iraq will be possible in a peaceful regional context.  

The conference resulted in the establishment of a follow-up mechanism at ministerial and heads of state levels. It is therefore a great success for Al-Kadhimi, whose action has been acclaimed by the various regional forces. France, which for the past year has played an active role in the preparation of the summit, is now a strong ally for the Iraqi prime minister. This bodes well for a new rapprochement between Paris and Baghdad after decades of cold relations.

All these factors give Al-Kadhimi a clear head start over the opponents to his succession. But since Iraq is an uncertain country with deep internal communal divisions, all turns of events are possible. 

Similarly, there will be no guarantee that the positive and conciliatory spirit that prevailed at the summits will last until the elections. Especially from Iran, which plays a leading role in the political life of the country. While its foreign minister displayed a positive attitude towards Al-Kadhimi at the international conference, the Iraqi prime minister is seeking to subtly free himself from Iran’s grasp on the country, while working to eradicate the terrorist threat.


Israel designates six Palestinian civil society groups as terrorists

Updated 13 sec ago

Israel designates six Palestinian civil society groups as terrorists

Israel designates six Palestinian civil society groups as terrorists
TEL AVIV: Israel on Friday designated six Palestinian civil society groups as terrorist organizations and accused them of funnelling donor aid to militants.
The charge was rejected by human rights watchdogs who said the move will stifle monitoring of potential abuses.
The designations authorize Israeli authorities to close the groups’ offices, seize their assets and arrest their staff in the occupied West Bank, watchdogs Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said in a joint statement condemning the move.
Israel’s defense ministry said the six Palestinian groups had ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP), a left-wing faction with an armed wing that has carried out deadly attacks against Israelis.
“(The) declared organizations received large sums of money from European countries and international organizations, using a variety of forgery and deceit,” the defense ministry said in a statement, alleging the money had supported PFLP’s activities.
The groups include leading Palestinian human rights organizations Al-Haq and Addameer, who document alleged rights violations by both Israel and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which has limited self-rule in the West Bank.
Asked for comment, an official with PFLP, which is on the European Union’s terrorism blacklist, did not outright reject ties to the six groups but said they maintain relations with civil society organizations across the West Bank and Gaza.
“It is part of the rough battle Israel is launching against the Palestinian people and against civil society groups, in order to exhaust them,” PFLP official Kayed Al-Ghoul said.
Al-Haq did not immediately provide comment. Addameer and another one of the designated groups, Defense for Children International — Palestine, rejected the Israeli accusations as an “attempt to eliminate Palestinian civil society.”
The other three groups listed did not immediately provide comment.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said the “decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organizations.”
They added: “The decades-long failure of the international community to challenge grave Israeli human rights abuses and impose meaningful consequences for them has emboldened Israeli authorities to act in this brazen manner.”
Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians seek the territories for a future state.

Syrians abandon Lebanon as new migrant route to Europe beckons

Syrians abandon Lebanon as new migrant route to Europe beckons
Updated 22 October 2021

Syrians abandon Lebanon as new migrant route to Europe beckons

Syrians abandon Lebanon as new migrant route to Europe beckons
  • Thousands seek “tourist visas” after Belarus accused of helping asylum-seekers across its border
  • In the past two months, more than 16,000 undocumented migrants are believed to have entered the EU from Belarus

BEIRUT: Struggling to cope with soaring living costs and low wages, desperate Syrian refugees and workers are abandoning Lebanon and turning to a new migration route into Europe, via Belarus, with many risking their lives and family savings in the process.

An illegal Syrian worker who arrived in Beirut four years ago and lives with his 20-year-old sister in the capital told Arab News that “working in Lebanon no longer makes sense.”

“I work all day long delivering goods to be paid 50,000 Lebanese pounds (equivalent to $2.50 on the black market),” Ahmed said. “That is not nearly enough because of the rising costs.”

In the past two months alone, more than 16,000 undocumented migrants are believed to have entered the EU from Belarus after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko responded to Brussels-imposed sanctions by saying he will no longer stop asylum-seekers from crossing into neighboring Poland.

Belarus has been accused of offering migrants tourist visas and helping them across its border — a move that appears to have made the previous migrant route through Turkey and on to the Greek islands a thing of the past.

Arab and foreign airlines arranging trips to Belarus through Lebanon have seen demand surge since September, while Syrians have been queuing outside the General Directorate of Public Security’s offices in Beirut for hours to have their passports returned or to pay residency fees.

Lebanese citizens can obtain a visa for Belarus once they arrive at Minsk airport. However, Syrians, Iraqis and Palestinians are required to get a tourist visa in advance.

Ahmed told Arab News that he found a video on TikTok of Syrians talking about their trip to Belarus, then Poland and finally to Germany, and claiming that the journey is less risky than traveling by sea.

“I am now getting my documents ready to leave before the end of October, because things will not get easier after that because of the conditions in winter,” he said.

Migrants undertaking the journey face hazardous conditions, with freezing overnight temperatures and the risk of getting lost in dense forests along the 500 km frontier. They must also deal with people smugglers of different nationalities who demand thousands of dollars in advance payments.

Social media posts offer details about the journey and the sums migrants can expect to pay. Those who reach their final destination reassure their families that they have arrived at “the camp” — an expression refugees use to describe salvation, as they pursue a “better life.”

Ali, 35, who has worked as a janitor in Beirut’s suburbs for more than 10 years, said that friends who completed the migration route called him via WhatsApp and “seemed very happy.”

However, Ali said that he would not consider making the trip. “Migrants must be young. There is no place for families on such an arduous journey.”

Belarus’ announcement at the end of May that it would not stop migrants from entering Europe came in response to a series of EU sanctions imposed after Belarusian authorities forced a passenger plane to land in Minsk and seized opposition journalist Roman Protasevich who was on board.

Following the incident, the EU banned Belarusian carriers from using its airspace and airports.

A Syrian worker, who declined to be named, said: “Syrians in Syria and Lebanon have heard stories about migration to Belarus, then on to Europe, since August, but they remained skeptical about this route until September.”

He added: “Those who work legally in Lebanon have the right to travel from Beirut International Airport and the right to return to Lebanon as long as their residency permits are valid, but if a refugee wishes to leave Lebanon and go to Belarus, they are required to sign a document stating they will never come back.”

The website of the Belarusian Consulate in Lebanon provides instructions on obtaining an entry visa for Belarus, with a list of required documents and visa fees. Syrians, Iraqis and Palestinians need a tourist visa to enter the country, and must provide the name of the airline, a passport valid for at least six months, and an insurance policy that costs €12 ($14). A single-entry visa costs €25.

The embassy’s website has been overwhelmed with questions from Syrians seeking a “tourist visa for one week.”

Three airlines, Syrian Air, Emirates and Turkish, fly to Minsk from Lebanon. According to Syrians, the flights “are fully booked by tourists.”

Ahmed said: “The tourism office asked me to pay $4,000 for the visa, a one-week hotel reservation and a ticket. When I get to Belarus, I will have to wait with a group of 10 or 15 people for someone who will get us a mobile phone with Internet access and a pinned location on the Belarusian-Polish border that we are supposed to reach by foot, crossing through a forest on the frontier.”

He said that the journey might take hours. “When we reach the location, a car will be waiting for us on the Polish side of the border to get us into Germany. There, we will turn ourselves in and ask for asylum. To get from Belarus to Poland, my family must transfer $3,000 to an account in Turkey, whose owners will handle the cost of the next phase, from Poland to Germany.”

Crossing from Belarus into Poland is getting increasingly difficult.

Ali was told by his friends that “the Belarusian police turn a blind eye to those walking in the jungle, but the Polish security authorities have very strict measures. If they catch people trying to cross the borders illegally, they send them back to Belarus. However, asylum-seekers do not give up. They keep trying. Those who fail to reach the location, return to their hotels and try again the next day.”

He said that “those who handle the smuggling operation are from different nationalities, and might be Belarusian, Iraqi or Syrian.”

Ali also said that his relative “got lucky while crossing the jungle, as he fell and injured his leg, but there was a Syrian doctor in the group, who is also an asylum-seeker.”

Poland said that its border patrols have detained hundreds of migrants since August. Groups of migrants include Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian refugees, as well those from Turkey and Jordan.

According to press reports, several asylum-seekers have died of exhaustion as temperatures in the forests on the Belarusian-Polish border plummet.

The Polish Press Agency reported that the body of a 19-year-old Syrian man who drowned in the Bug River on the border was found on Wednesday.


Turkish counter-espionage against foreign spy networks leads to multiple arrests

Turkish counter-espionage against foreign spy networks leads to multiple arrests
Updated 22 October 2021

Turkish counter-espionage against foreign spy networks leads to multiple arrests

Turkish counter-espionage against foreign spy networks leads to multiple arrests
  • Israeli, Russian and Iranian networks reportedly broken up after work by Turkish law enforcement
  • On Thursday, six suspects, including Russians, Ukrainians and Uzbeks, were jailed pending trial over an alleged plot against Chechen dissidents in Turkey

ANKARA: Turkey has arrested a number of individuals believed to be involved in espionage activities on behalf of other nations, it has been revealed.

A wide-ranging operation by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization recently detained at least 15 people linked with Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, for allegedly carrying out activities on Turkish soil against Israeli dissidents and Palestinian students.

As part of an investigation by the Istanbul public prosecutor’s office, according to pro-government newspaper Sabah, interrogation of the detainees is underway after they were taken to a prison in Istanbul. 

Conviction for espionage in Turkey carries a prison term of 15 to 20 years.

Around 200 people took part in the operation to apprehend the 15 detainees, surveilling them for over a year in secret, in what appears to have been one of the largest intelligence operations in Turkish history. 

The 15 were discovered after Turkish counterterrorism forces held separate operations in four provinces; the spy network is thought to have had five separate cells of three people each spread across Turkey. 

Members were allegedly in close contact with Mossad field officers, relaying information and documents through face-to-face meetings abroad, in Croatia, Romania, Kenya, and Switzerland. 

The cells, supposedly paid tens of thousands of dollars and euros for their work, conducted research into various associations and companies in Turkey, as well as Palestinian students enrolled in Turkish universities on courses that could have practical use in relation to defense or terrorist activities, and sent this information back to Mossad. 

Turkish intelligence believes several Palestinians reported missing since last month were part of the ring. A number of Syrians are also thought to have been involved.

Neither the Israeli or Turkish governments have commented on the reports.

Although ties between the two countries have been fragile over the years, with Turkish links to Hamas a particular sticking point, both countries’ presidents agreed on the need to improve bilateral ties after a phone call in July. 

“Until some details of that operation were disclosed, Turkey was blamed for the … Palestinian people who went missing in the country. There were even some reports claiming that Turkey was handing over some Hamas members to improve ties with Israel. But, if these latest allegations prove true, it seems that some Palestinian people in Turkey were secretly working for the Mossad in its own operations,” one expert, who requested anonymity, told Arab News. 

The Mossad ring was not the only espionage-related incident to occupy Turkish headlines in recent weeks.

On Thursday, six suspects, including Russians, Ukrainians and Uzbeks, were jailed pending trial over an alleged plot against Chechen dissidents in Turkey, held on charges of espionage and preparing armed actions targeting opposition figures in the country. 

After being initially detained in the southern resort province of Antalya, they were transferred to Maltepe prison in Istanbul, a city home to several thousand Chechens. 

Turkey also recently detained eight people, including two Iranian spies and six locals, over a plot to kidnap a former Iranian military official in the eastern province of Van, some 100 km from the border with Iran. 

The operation to apprehend the eight came after Turkey briefly detained a member of the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul in February, in connection with a probe into the assassination of an Iranian dissident in Turkey two years ago. 


Arab coalition: Over 90 Houthis killed, 16 military vehicles destroyed in strikes on Juba and Al-Kasara

Arab coalition: Over 90 Houthis killed, 16 military vehicles destroyed in strikes on Juba and Al-Kasara
Updated 22 October 2021

Arab coalition: Over 90 Houthis killed, 16 military vehicles destroyed in strikes on Juba and Al-Kasara

Arab coalition: Over 90 Houthis killed, 16 military vehicles destroyed in strikes on Juba and Al-Kasara
  • The coalition said it had carried out 31 air strikes on the districts of Juba and Al-Kasarah over the past 24 hours
  • On Thursday, the Arab coalition carried out a series of airstrikes against military sites in Houthi-controlled Sanaa

RIYADH: The Arab coalition said on Friday it had killed 92 Houthis and destroyed 16 military vehicles in air strikes on two districts near the central Yemeni city of Marib.

The coalition said it had carried out 31 air strikes on the districts of Juba and Al-Kasarah over the past 24 hours.

Al-Kasarah is northwest of Marib whilst Juba is situated south of the city.

On Thursday, the Arab coalition carried out a series of airstrikes against military sites in Houthi-controlled Sanaa.

Coalition spokesperson Brig. Gen. Turki Al-Maliki said the coalition launched airstrikes on a number of military locations in Sanaa believed to host explosive-laden drones and ballistic missiles.


127 Gambians fly home in first Libya evacuation in months

127 Gambians fly home in first Libya evacuation in months
Updated 22 October 2021

127 Gambians fly home in first Libya evacuation in months

127 Gambians fly home in first Libya evacuation in months
  • 127 Gambian migrants were assisted to voluntarily return to The Gambia yesterday
  • Libya has become a key conduit for migrants, mainly from African countries south of the Sahara, seeking to reach Europe by sea

TRIPOLI: A group of Gambian migrants stranded in Libya have been repatriated, the United Nations’ migration agency said Friday, the first such evacuation flight in months.
“127 Gambian migrants were assisted to voluntarily return to The Gambia yesterday after IOM’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return program received clearance to resume humanitarian flights from #Libya,” the International Organization for Migration said in a tweet.
Rocked by a decade of lawlessness and war, Libya has become a key conduit for migrants, mainly from African countries south of the Sahara, seeking to reach Europe by sea.
But many end up becoming stranded in Libya, where they face grave abuses, according to international rights groups and UN agencies.
The resumption of humanitarian flights came as Tripoli hosted an international conference to seek support for stability in Libya.
The UN’s vice-head for political affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, used the conference to urge authorities to speed up repatriations and release migrants in detention.
Libyan authorities faced international outcry earlier this month after carrying out sweeping raids described by Doctors without Borders as “violent mass arrests” that left at least one person dead.
Days later, guards had shot dead six migrants at the Al-Mabani detention facility in Tripoli, while at least 24 others were wounded, the IOM said.
Some 2,000 migrants escaped in the chaos.
The Libyan interior ministry said a “stampede” had left an “irregular migrant” dead and wounded others as well as several police officers.
The United Nations has in the past offered flights for migrants voluntarily seeking repatriation.
Its refugee agency, the UNHCR, organized one such flight to Rwanda in July with 133 asylum seekers on board — the only one authorized by Libyan authorities this year.
The UNHCR on Friday welcomed the resumption of humanitarian evacuation flights but warned that “it is not enough.”
“This is a positive development for some of the most vulnerable refugees, who have been waiting anxiously for many months to depart,” its regional envoy Vincent Cochetel said in a statement.
“But we also need to be realistic: resettlement or evacuation flights will only benefit a limited number of people.”
The UNHCR urged the Libyan government to “immediately address the dire situation of asylum seekers and refugees in a humane and rights-based manner.”
More than 1,000 vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers are currently prioritized for humanitarian flights and awaiting their resumption, it said.