Mustafa Al-Kadhimi wants Iraqis to achieve the change they want — through the ballot box

Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has put the onus on 25 million voters on Iraq’s electoral roll to choose representatives wisely if they want to see change. (AFP/File Photos)
Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has put the onus on 25 million voters on Iraq’s electoral roll to choose representatives wisely if they want to see change. (AFP/File Photos)
Short Url
Updated 29 September 2021

Mustafa Al-Kadhimi wants Iraqis to achieve the change they want — through the ballot box

Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has put the onus on 25 million voters on Iraq’s electoral roll to choose representatives wisely if they want to see change. (AFP/File Photos)
  • Iraqi PM has been exhorting compatriots to turn out in large numbers to cast their ballots on Oct. 10
  • The country has been divided into constituencies following the adoption of a new electoral law last year

DUBAI: As the countdown begins to Iraq’s parliamentary elections on Oct. 10, some political parties are hoping that the voting-age population will overlook their history of broken promises and succumb to their blandishments. The onus is on the 25 million voters on Iraq’s electoral roll to choose their representatives wisely if they want to see different results this time around.

That message is being hammered home by Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, Iraq’s prime minister, via tweets and public statements, concurrently with appeals to voters to turn out in large numbers on election day. “Our dear Iraqi people. For the sake of yours & your children’s future, I urge you to get your voter registration cards,” he said in a tweet on Sunday.

“Your votes are a responsibility that shouldn’t go to waste. Those wanting reform & change should aim for a high voter turnout. Your votes are the future of Iraq.”

In a tweet on Sept. 24, Al-Kadhimi called on Iraqis to cast their ballots judiciously so that mistakes of the past are not repeated. “Don’t trust fake promises, and don’t listen to threats and intimidation,” he said. “Defeat them with your votes, in free and fair elections. Together we move forward towards a future that Iraqis deserve.”




Al-Kadhimi listens as US President Joe Biden speaks during a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on July 26, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

Few Iraqis could have known better than Al-Kadhimi how slim the chances were, until now, of major change occurring through the ballot box. Following the re-introduction of parliamentary elections in 2005, Iraqis did not vote for individual candidates, but for patronage-friendly lists — or tickets — that competed for the seats in each of the 18 provinces.

With the adoption of a new electoral law last year that divides the country into constituencies, independent candidates now have an opportunity to compete for the 329 parliamentary seats. That being said, the electoral system has bred deep disillusionment with a political class that has proved either incapable or unwilling to provide security and good governance, fix the economy and heal sectarian and religious divisions.

“Although Iraq’s political elites have shown little willingness to change, some acknowledge that opening the political field for reform may be the only way to prevent another mass outburst, whose consequences could be far more damaging,” Lahib Higel, a senior Iraq analyst for the Crisis Group, said on Twitter.

She added: “In order to restore public confidence in the short term, the government must facilitate a safe environment for elections, where new political actors can compete without fear of losing their lives.”




In a tweet on Sept. 24, Al-Kadhimi called on Iraqis to cast their ballots wisely so that costly mistakes of the past are not repeated. (AFP/File Photo)

Before Al-Kadhimi, five politicians had held the prime minister’s office in Baghdad since 2005, but none of them was able to make progress in ending corruption, raising living standards, creating jobs and opportunities for young people, or providing security.

Admittedly, not all the failures can be chalked up to individual incompetence.

Iraq’s sectarian power-sharing system has stood in the way of the political reforms demanded by protesters who took to the streets of Baghdad in October 2019. Although assassinations and the pandemic put a damper on the protests, parties from across the ethno-sectarian spectrum continued to be viewed as only interested in keeping their positions of power.

Since the beginning of 2020, COVID-19 has infected over 2 million Iraqis, leaving more than 22,000 of them dead, according to Worldometer data. The rapid spread of the disease has put tremendous strain on Iraq’s battered healthcare system.




Al-Kadhimi (R) receiving Dubai's Ruler and UAE Vice President Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum (L), upon his arrival at the airport in the capital Baghdad. (AFP/File Photo)

Falling oil prices in 2020 caused by the pandemic upended Iraq’s budget, which remains heavily dependent on crude exports. On top of everything, the leadership has had to face challenges in the form of paramilitary groups, remnants of Daesh and violations of Iraq’s territorial integrity by neighboring states.   

Clearly, the task of restoring hope remains as daunting as ever, but as long as Al-Kadhimi is in charge, Iraqis at least have reason not to despair. On his watch, a key demand of the anti-government protesters who took to the streets in 2019 — that the government bring forward elections originally scheduled for May 2022 — has been met.

In foreign policy, one of the biggest successes has been the Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership of Aug. 28. It was attended by high-level delegations from France, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Qatar and the UAE in addition to the general secretaries of the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation.

That the Iraqi prime minister managed to bring so many heads of governments and organizations under one roof, even if for only one day, was undoubtedly a major achievement. The assurance of support from the international community that Al-Kadhimi evidently enjoys will probably continue to be his strong suit going forward.

Being seen as a rare safe pair of hands means that friends of Iraq, mindful of the competing interests that Al-Kadhimi has to juggle, are willing to cut him some slack, particularly in how he deals with the security and administrative challenges posed by the country’s unruly Shiite militias.




Being seen as a rare safe pair of hands means that friends of Iraq, mindful of the competing interests that Al-Kadhimi has to juggle, are willing to cut him some slack. (AFP/File Photo)

If Al-Kadhimi returns as prime minister after the October elections, analysts believe the government is likely to stick to the current non-sectarian tack.

“His performance so far has proved that he is capable of doing it. Among the political figures who have tried it so far, Al-Kadhimi has demonstrated the most dexterity,” wrote Yasar Yakis, a former foreign minister of Turkey, in an op-ed this week for Arab News.

For his part, Al-Kadhimi, aware of the many political constraints of his job, has been reminding his compatriots that they have to do their bit too if they want a brighter future.

“Protecting our nation and upholding our integrity can’t be achieved by turning a blind eye to errors,” he said via Twitter on Tuesday. “The Iraqi people upheld the values of justice, tolerance and sacrifice throughout history. They deserve a dignified life in the democracy they have chosen.”

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. That old dictum is a reminder of the slight comparative advantage that Iraqis have in spite of all the hardships they face.


Dozens of armed Daesh militants still hold corner of Syria prison

Dozens of armed Daesh militants still hold corner of Syria prison
Updated 5 sec ago

Dozens of armed Daesh militants still hold corner of Syria prison

Dozens of armed Daesh militants still hold corner of Syria prison
BEIRUT: Dozens of armed Daesh militants remained holed up in the last occupied section of a Syrian prison, US-backed Kurdish-led forces said Thursday. The two sides clashed a day after the Syrian Democratic Forces announced they had regained full control of the facility.
Fighting between the armed extremists and SDF troops left at least two Daesh extremists dead Thursday, the SDF said in a statement. It said between 60 and 90 militants were hiding out in the northern section of the prison in the northeastern city of Hassakeh.
The SDF claimed Wednesday it had regained full control of the prison — a week after scores of militants overran the facility. The attackers allowed some to escape, took hostages, including child detainees, and clashed with SDF fighters in violence that killed dozens.
The weeklong assault on one of the largest detention facilities in Syria has turned Hassakeh into a conflict zone. The Kurdish-led administration declared a curfew and sealed off the city, barring movement in and out.
Thousands have been displaced because of the violence that began with a bold attack on the prison last Thursday. There were overnight celebrations in the city, including fireworks, after news that the prison had been recaptured.
It was the biggest military operation by Daesh since the fall of the group’s “caliphate” in 2019 and came as the militants staged a number of deadly attacks in both Syria and Iraq that stoked fears they may be staging a comeback.
The SDF said about 3,000 inmates have surrendered since its operation to retake the prison’s northern wing began three days ago.
The militants had used child detainees as human shields slowing down the effort. There are over 600 child detainees in the facility that houses more than 3,000 inmates. The Kurdish officials have not provided specific numbers of the facility’s population.
Kurdish officials said a large number of children were freed Wednesday but their fate remained unclear. Rights groups and at least one child detainee from inside the prison say many children were killed and injured in the clashes. Rights groups have criticized the SDF for keeping the children in adult facilities or holding them without trials in the first place.
In a statement, SDF said the children had been kept in separate dormitories from the adults, and were detained as an “interim measure” for their safety and the safety of the community until a solution for them is found.
The Kurdish-led SDF appealed to the UN and member states to “search for genuine solutions by repatriating non-Syrian children, rehabilitating them.”
At least 300 foreign child detainees are believed to be held in the Gweiran facility. Thousands more, mostly under the age of 12, are held with their mothers in locked camps in other parts of northeastern Syria on suspicion of being families of Daesh members. Most countries have refused to repatriate them, with only 25 out of 60 countries taking back their children, some without their mothers.
In the week of fighting, dozens of fighters from both sides have been killed, the US-led coalition has carried out nearly a dozen airstrikes and thousands of civilians living nearby have been displaced.
Siamand Ali, a spokesman for SDF, said the militants were hiding in the basement of the northern section.
A coalition official said Thursday that detainees of the prison known as Gweiran or Al-Sinaa are being secured in a “new, hardened facility” nearby where biometrics will be used by the SDF to enroll them. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the coalition continues to advise and assist the SDF in the operation. The militants had also targeted the new facility in their initial assault but failed.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll from the struggle at over 200, including over 150 militants and more than 50 fighters from the Kurdish-led force. At least seven civilians were killed in the fighting, the Observatory said. The SDF said preliminary information put the force’s death toll at 35.
The SDF, backed by US-led coalition Bradley Fighting Vehicles and air support, had been closing in on the prison wing still controlled by the militants for a few days. Fighters from the SDF and other security teams used loudspeakers to call on the militants to surrender.
Kurdish officials said about 200 militants attacked the prison with car bombs and suicide belts while activating sleeper cells hiding in residential areas around the prison. In one video released by IS, the militants rammed vehicles against the prison walls. At one point, a car bomb was detonated in a petroleum warehouse near the prison, sparking a fire that lasted a couple of days.

Rights experts, jurists, politicians urge UN to probe 1988 Iran massacre

Rights experts, jurists, politicians urge UN to probe 1988 Iran massacre
Updated 27 January 2022

Rights experts, jurists, politicians urge UN to probe 1988 Iran massacre

Rights experts, jurists, politicians urge UN to probe 1988 Iran massacre
  • Letter: ‘Mass executions, enforced disappearances of thousands of political prisoners constitute ongoing crimes against humanity’
  • Many were sent to their death by current President Ebrahim Raisi

LONDON: Hundreds of international lawyers and human rights scholars have penned an open letter to the UN’s Human Rights Council urging it to open an investigation into Iran’s 1988 massacre of political prisoners.

Dozens of rights groups also joined more than 450 individuals, many of them former world leaders and prosecutors in the International Criminal Court, in signing the letter, which was released to the public on Thursday.

“We urge the UN Human Rights Council to urgently challenge the impunity enjoyed by Iranian officials by mandating an international investigation into the 1988 mass executions and enforced disappearances of thousands of political prisoners which constitute ongoing crimes against humanity,” the letter said.

“We believe it’s long overdue for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to investigate the 1988 massacre.”

The letter was organized by a London-based association of victims’ families called Justice for the Victims of the 1988 Massacre in Iran.

In the immediate aftermath of the war with Iraq and on orders of then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini, Iranian authorities executed thousands of political prisoners accused of betraying the state during the conflict.

By some estimates 30,000 were killed, many of them members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq, a revolutionary group that later fell out of favor with the regime.

Many of those prisoners were sent to their death by Iran’s current President Ebrahim Raisi, who served as a deputy prosecutor in Tehran at the time.

The US placed him on a sanctions list in 2019, citing the executions and other alleged rights abuses. He has denied involvement in the executions.

Among the letter’s signatories is Sang-Hyun Song, president of the ICC from 2009 to 2015; Jacques Santer, former prime minister of Luxembourg; Guy Verhofstadt, former prime minister of Belgium; and hundreds of former UN officials and human rights professionals.

Other signatories include former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and 18 Nobel Laureates.

The letter is the latest in a series of calls by rights groups and others urging the UN to take action on the 1988 massacre, which remains controversial internationally as well as in Iran.


Snow carpeting Jerusalem’s holy sites, West Bank adds to refugees’ misery

Snow carpeting Jerusalem’s holy sites, West Bank adds to refugees’ misery
Updated 27 January 2022

Snow carpeting Jerusalem’s holy sites, West Bank adds to refugees’ misery

Snow carpeting Jerusalem’s holy sites, West Bank adds to refugees’ misery
  • Jordanian authorities urge people to stay home, keep off roads as heavy rain swells major dams
  • In Syria, days of heavy snowfall blanketed camps housing displaced people in the country’s northwest

AMMAN: Jerusalem and the eastern Mediterranean were on Thursday left carpeted in snow after a winter storm hit the region.

And in neighboring Jordan, heavy snowfall closed roads in Amman and made driving conditions treacherous throughout much of the country.

Jordan’s Meteorological Department forecast more snow on higher ground with temperatures again expected to fall below freezing.

Jordanians woke up on Thursday to a thick layer of snow covering homes and driveways. On Wednesday night, the region was affected by a depression coming from Greece and Turkey toward the eastern basin of the Mediterranean that coincided with a polar wave that hit Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and some parts of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iraq.

In Syria, days of heavy snowfall blanketed camps housing displaced people in the country’s northwest, forcing families to huddle together under canvas in freezing conditions.

Abu Hussan, who lives with his family in a makeshift camp outside the city of Jisr Al-Shughur, told AFP: “We’ve been trapped in the snow for four days.”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that at least 227 displacement sites throughout the northwest had been hit by severe winter weather since Jan. 18.

The agency added that 545 tents had been reported destroyed and 9,125 tents damaged by snowfall, floods, and high winds, along with the belongings of displaced people.

Schools in Jerusalem and northern Israel were closed, leaving children free to play in the snow. Israel’s meteorological service reported that up to 25 centimeters of snow had fallen on Wednesday night. It took until midday for snow ploughs to reopen the main highways leading into Jerusalem from the north, south, and west.

Amman, and northern and southern regions were covered in several inches of snow on Thursday, with authorities urging the public to stay at home and keep off roads amid warnings of more falls over the next 24 hours.

While Jordanian farmers have been complaining of frost devastating their crops with freezing weather conditions prevailing some days before the polar depression, recent rain has increased depleted water levels in Jordan’s major dams.

The Jordanian Water Ministry said on Thursday said that recent deluges had raised overall rainfall volumes for the season to 45 percent of Jordan’s long-term annual average of 8.1 billion cubic meters.

A total of 2.4 million cubic meters of water had poured into Jordan’s 10 major dams by Thursday morning, raising their storage to 98.5 mcm, 29.3 percent of their total capacity of 336.4 mcm, said a ministry statement.

Meanwhile, the Jordanian National Center for Security and Crisis Management warned on Thursday that the Waleh Dam in Madaba governorate, which was empty in November last year, would likely reach full capacity over the next 24 hours. Center officials, who are monitoring the current snow situation, added that the dam was only 2 mcm off hitting its full capacity of 9 mcm.

Jordan recently warned of an expected water deficit of 45 mcm in 2022.

On Nov. 22, the country signed a declaration of intent with Israel and the UAE to explore the feasibility of a joint energy-for-water project.

Defending the deal, Jordan’s Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh warned of “unprecedented” levels of water scarcity, adding that resource-poor Jordan would receive 200 mcm of water a year under the proposed project.

Addressing the lower house on Dec. 15, the PM said that Jordan’s annual water resources were less than 80 cubic meters per person, below the international threshold of 500 cubic meters per person.


Six migrants drown off Tunisia, 30 missing

Six migrants drown off Tunisia, 30 missing
Updated 27 January 2022

Six migrants drown off Tunisia, 30 missing

Six migrants drown off Tunisia, 30 missing
  • Coast guard units rescued a further 34 passengers after the vessel sank off Zarzis near the Libyan border
  • Survivors had said 70 people had been aboard, including Egyptians, Sudanese and a Moroccan

ZARZIS, Tunisia: Six migrants drowned and 30 were missing Thursday off the coast of Tunisia after their boat sank during a bid to reach Europe, authorities and the Red Crescent said.
Coast guard units rescued a further 34 passengers after the vessel sank off Zarzis near the Libyan border, Tunisian defense ministry spokesman Mohamed Zekri told AFP.
Survivors had said 70 people had been aboard, including Egyptians, Sudanese and a Moroccan, when the boat set off from Libya headed for European shores, he added.
A search and rescue operation was underway for the remaining passengers, he said.
The survivors were taken to a port in Ben Guerdane, according to Tunisian Red Crescent official Mongi Slim.
Both Tunisia and Libya have served as launchpads for migrants making desperate bids to reach Europe, especially in the chaos in Libya that followed the toppling of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
The Central Mediterranean route has become the world’s deadliest migration trail, according to humanitarian groups.
Departures surged rapidly in 2021, with almost 55,000 migrants reaching Italy in the first 10 months of the year compared with under 30,000 the previous year, according to Rome.
The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights says that over the first three quarters of last year, the coast guard intercepted 19,500 migrants during crossing attempts.
The United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR says at least 1,300 disappeared or drowned over the same period.


Coalition: Nearly 200 Houthis killed in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz

Coalition: Nearly 200 Houthis killed in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz
Updated 27 January 2022

Coalition: Nearly 200 Houthis killed in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz

Coalition: Nearly 200 Houthis killed in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz
  • The coalition said 29 military vehicles were destroyed during operations over the last 24 hours

RIYADH: More than 190 Houthis were killed in airstrikes on the Yemeni provinces of Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz, the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy said on Thursday.

The coalition said 29 military vehicles were also destroyed during the operations over the last 24 hours.

On Wednesday, dozens of Houthis were killed in Marib province as government troops rolled into a new area in Abedia district for the first time in months, adding to the latest military gains in the province, a local military official told Arab News.