Fast-rising Iraqi politician pushes rebirth of war-scarred city of Ramadi

Fast-rising Iraqi politician pushes rebirth of war-scarred city of Ramadi
Mohammed Al-Halbussi. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Updated 08 October 2021

Fast-rising Iraqi politician pushes rebirth of war-scarred city of Ramadi

Fast-rising Iraqi politician pushes rebirth of war-scarred city of Ramadi
  • Mohammed Al-Halbussi, who cultivates an image of dynamism, is hoping to be re-elected in the Oct. 10 poll

RAMADI: With a five-star hotel, malls and other real estate projects, the Iraqi city of Ramadi, ruined by more than a decade of war, is witnessing a construction boom led by the parliamentary speaker.
Mohammed Al-Halbussi, trained as a civil engineer and who cultivates an image of dynamism, hails from the province of Anbar and is hoping to be re-elected in the Oct. 10 national poll.
Supporters say the vote here will be akin to a plebiscite in favor of a new term for Halbussi, and his movement, whom they credit for pushing Ramadi’s nascent economic revival after it was left in rubble following the battle to defeat the Daesh terrorist group.
Sunni Muslim majority Ramadi is the capital of Anbar, a vast desert province west of Baghdad that covers a third of the country and extends to the borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
After the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, insurgents in Ramadi and nearby Fallujah fought some of the toughest battles against American forces.
A decade later, Anbar’s Sunni tribes rose up against the Shiite-led Baghdad government, which many in the province accuse of marginalization.
Then, Daesh terrorists captured Fallujah and Ramadi, before government forces reconquered the cities from the end of 2015.
Since then, Ramadi has strived to erase its bloody past and rebuild, with projects driven by Halbussi aimed at boosting the economy and wooing investors.
Halbussi, 40, travels frequently about the region, trading his elegant suits for jeans during field visits to shepherd the projects in Anbar province.
Along the banks of the Euphrates River, workers are busy finishing construction of Ramadi’s first five-star hotel, complete with a Euphrates riverfront marina and swimming pools.
The 15-story, 184-room hotel estimated to cost $60 million is a joint venture between the municipality and private investors.
Its builder, Hatem Ghadbane, praised the local authorities but reserved his plaudits for Halbussi.
“He deserves all the credit for construction projects underway in Anbar province, as well as for political stability and security,” Ghadbane said.
Over the years Halbussi has been known to maintain good ties with the Baghdad federal government while cultivating relations with regional powers.
In September, he traveled to the UAE for talks with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and a few days later he met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo.
“He has climbed up the political and administrative ladder quickly as he went from a parliamentarian to governor to speaker all in his 30s,” said Iraqi political analyst Hamzeh Hadad.
Halbussi attained the speaker’s post with the support of the pro-Iran bloc. “He has moved up so fast ... he has gone against the old guard of Sunni politicians. And he managed to unite them against him,” Hadad said.
Portraits of Halbussi, with his slick black hair, and candidates from his Taqadom (“Progress” in Arabic) party have been plastered all across Ramadi, rivaling those of challengers from the Azm coalition comprising traditional Sunni figures.
The candidates’ pictures rise above impeccably paved avenues adorned with new lamps and lawns. City work crews can often be seen touching up a sidewalk or street, but not everyone is impressed.
Iraqi journalist Amr Alkubaisi, who is close to Azm, has denounced the Halbussi-led projects as mere “smoke and mirrors.”
Taqadom, he wrote on social media in September, is “a personal project” trying to promote itself by pushing “medium-size projects like the tarring of roads.”
Challenges abound. The main public hospital, for example, is functioning but awaits the conclusion of restoration work — while a new private hospital with sophisticated equipment opened in April.
Anbar governor Ali Farhan Al-Dulaimi, who is running with Taqadom, said a series of projects are planned, including an international airport for Ramadi.
Ramadi municipality head Omar Dabbous is proud of his city’s economic revival and he, too, credited Halbussi for being a driving force behind efforts to attract investments.
“We hope he will stay at the top of the pyramid (and win a second term) in order to follow up on what he and his team have started,” Dabbous said.
The analyst Hadad said it would be “very difficult to predict” if Halbussi can win a second term as speaker.
“But if ever someone were to do so, it is Halbussi.”


Multinational coalition reports record drugs seizure near Arabian Gulf in 2021

Multinational coalition reports record drugs seizure near Arabian Gulf in 2021
Updated 59 min 30 sec ago

Multinational coalition reports record drugs seizure near Arabian Gulf in 2021

Multinational coalition reports record drugs seizure near Arabian Gulf in 2021
  • Value of the drugs seized by the Bahrain-based Combined Task Force 150 exceeded the past four years combined

MANAMA/DUBAI: A multinational naval coalition said it seized over 67 tons of drugs worth more than $189 million in operations near the Arabian Gulf in 2021, a record for the task force.

The value of the drugs seized by the Bahrain-based Combined Task Force 150 exceeded the past four years combined, said Tim Hawkins, spokesman for the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) that oversees the task force.

The haul including 6,550 kilograms of heroin, 4,052 kilograms of methamphetamine and 56,834 kilograms of hashish was all destroyed, he said.

Commander of CTF 150, Royal New Zealand Navy Captain Brendon Clark, said the drugs came from a number of countries around the region, without specifying.

“It’s all about maritime security operations ... preventing illicit activity from non-state actors in the region,” he said.

“We do that so that we can have legitimate commercial shipping, legitimate commercial fishing, can transit and operate in the region free from these non state threats.”

CTF 150 is part of the CMF naval partnership in which 34 nations patrol 3.2 million square miles of international waters. The New Zealand navy took command of CTF 150 in July.

Meanwhile, the US seized two large caches of Iranian arms, including 171 surface-to-air missiles and eight anti-tank missiles, intended for the Houthi militia in Yemen.

The US justice department on Tuesday said navy troops seized the weapons from two vessels in the Arabian Sea while conducting routine maritime security operations.

“Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated foreign terrorist organization, orchestrated the arms shipments, which were destined for Houthi militants in Yemen,” the statement added.

Approximately 1.1 million barrels of Iranian petroleum products were also seized from four foreign-flagged tankers in or around the Arabian Sea while en route to Venezuela, the justice department said.

“The actions of the United States in these two cases strike a resounding blow to the Government of Iran and to the criminal networks supporting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

The seized petroleum products were sold for over $26 million, pursuant to a court order, with the proceeds directed, “in whole or in part, to the US Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund.”

The operation represents the US “government’s largest-ever forfeitures of fuel and weapons shipments from Iran,” the statement noted.


Arab coalition destroys Houthi communications system, weapons depot

Arab coalition destroys Houthi communications system, weapons depot
Updated 09 December 2021

Arab coalition destroys Houthi communications system, weapons depot

Arab coalition destroys Houthi communications system, weapons depot
  • The coalition is taking all necessary measures to protect civilians and stop cross-border attacks, it said in a statement

DUBAI: The Arab coalition launched a series of attacks against Houthi targets overnight, destroying a communication system in the Al-Bani district and a weapons depot in Sanaa. 
The coalition said the communication system was being used to launch cross-border drone attacks. 
Coalition forces earlier intercepted and destroyed two drones in Yemeni airspace, one of which was monitored and launched from Sanaa airport.
Clashes between the Iran-backed Houthis and the coalition have intensified in recent months, specifically in Marib where it destroyed a Houthi missile defense system.
On Wednesday, the coalition carried out 16 operations targeting the Houthi militia in Marib in the past 24 hours. It said 95 militants were killed and 11 Houthi military vehicles were destroyed during the operation.
The coalition is taking all necessary measures to protect civilians and stop cross-border attacks, it said in a statement.


UN Security Council condemns deadly Daesh terror attacks in Iraq

UN Security Council condemns deadly Daesh terror attacks in Iraq
Updated 09 December 2021

UN Security Council condemns deadly Daesh terror attacks in Iraq

UN Security Council condemns deadly Daesh terror attacks in Iraq
  • Two incidents in the past week, one in Basra and the other in the north of the country, left dozens of people dead or injured
  • Council members pledged their continued support to Iraq in its fight against terrorism, and in opposing Daesh in particular

The UN Security Council on Wednesday strongly condemned recent terrorist attacks in Iraq that killed or injured dozens of people. Daesh has claimed responsibility.

At least four people were killed and 20 injured in an explosion in Basra on Dec. 7, and at least 13 died in an attack in the north of the country on Dec. 3.

The members of the Security Council offered their condolences to the families of the dead and wished the injured a speedy recovery. They also reiterated their support for the “independence, sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity, democratic process and prosperity of Iraq.”

They urged all states to “actively” cooperate with Iraqi authorities to bring to justice the “perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism.” Such cooperation, they stressed, is in line with obligations under international law and Security Council resolutions.

Council members “reiterated that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed.”

Pledging its continued support to Iraq in its fight against terrorism, and particularly Daesh, the council “reaffirmed the need for all states to combat by all means — in accordance with the charter of the United Nations and other obligations under international law, including international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law — threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.”


Half of Iran’s civil jets grounded for lack of spare parts

Half of Iran’s civil jets grounded for lack of spare parts
Updated 09 December 2021

Half of Iran’s civil jets grounded for lack of spare parts

Half of Iran’s civil jets grounded for lack of spare parts

TEHRAN: More than half of Iran’s fleet of civilian aircraft is grounded due to a lack of spare parts, the deputy head of the country’s airlines association has said.

“The number of inactive planes in Iran has risen to more than 170 ... as a result of missing spare parts, particularly motors,” Alireza Barkhor said in an interview with state news agency IRNA.

The shortage represented more than half of the civilian aircraft in the sanctions-hit country, he said in an interview this week.

“If this trend continues, we will see even more planes grounded in the near future,” Barkhor was quoted as saying.

“We hope that one of the priorities of the government will be helping to finance airlines so that they are able to provide the spare parts to refurbish the grounded planes,” he added.

According to the Iranian economic daily Financial Tribune, national carrier IranAir currently operates a fleet of 39 planes, the majority of them Airbus jets.

Iran’s economy has struggled under sanctions that were lifted after a landmark nuclear deal in 2015 but reimposed again after the US withdrew from the pact in 2018.

In 2016, following the lifting of sanctions, Iran concluded deals to purchase 100 Airbus jets, 80 Boeing planes and 40 ATR aircraft.

But the Islamic republic received only 11 planes as deliveries were interrupted following the reimposition of sanctions, according to the daily.

Meanwhile, Iran has voiced criticism over new US sanctions imposed on a dozen Iranian entities and officials accused of “serious” human rights abuses.

Washington announced the sanctions late on Tuesday, adding to already stringent measures against the Islamic republic.

They came just before talks on reviving a nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers are to resume on Thursday in Vienna, according to Iran’s main negotiator.

“Even amid #ViennaTalks, US cannot stop imposing sanctions against Iran,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh tweeted.

“Washington fails to understand that ‘maximum failure’ and a diplomatic breakthrough are mutually exclusive,” he added.

“Doubling down on sanctions won’t create leverage — and is anything but seriousness and goodwill.”

The new US measures target government officials and organizations involved in the repression of protesters and political activists, and prisons where activists have been held in brutal conditions.

After a pause of several months the nuclear talks resumed in Vienna last week but paused on Friday.


Music therapy helping lift spirits of war-weary Gazans

Music therapy helping lift spirits of war-weary Gazans
Updated 09 December 2021

Music therapy helping lift spirits of war-weary Gazans

Music therapy helping lift spirits of war-weary Gazans
  • Music therapy gained official recognition after World War II in successfully dealing with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder
  • According to UNICEF figures, 1 million children live in Gaza which has witnessed four wars with Israel since 2008

GAZA CITY: Specialists in the besieged Gaza Strip are mixing psychiatry and music in therapy sessions designed to improve positivity among the Palestinian enclave’s war-weary population.

And 12-year-old Reem, whose family home was bombed in May during the latest clashes in the ongoing Israeli Palestinian conflict, has been one of those to benefit.

The youngster was left traumatized after an explosion at her house in Gaza’s Tel Al-Hawa neighborhood, an experience that has since regularly reduced her to tears and caused her to feel isolated and depressed.

But after getting involved in a music therapy scheme run by the Sununu Association for Culture and Arts and funded by the German GIZ organization, her stresses and fears have been significantly eased.

Reem listens to music without words during her weekly psychological support sessions organized as part of the Enjoy Your Life with Music initiative.

Program coordinator, Rania Al-Shurihi, said Reem’s mental health had improved dramatically as a result of her treatment, adding that the association also held group sessions for Gazans suffering from the psychological effects of years of war and economic hardship.

Music therapy gained official recognition after World War II in successfully dealing with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and it is now used to treat a range of conditions including chronic pain, anxiety, depression, heart irregularities, and blood pressure issues.

Al-Shurihi pointed out that sometimes exposing people to sad music helped them shed negative energy through crying but added that happy and relaxing music incorporating the sound of rain and waves could have similar positive outcomes.

She noted that psychological pressure often generated the need to listen to music or readings from the Holy Qur’an for relaxation.

Mental health specialists also use therapeutic methods such as writing, cooking, sailing, and breathing exercises to relieve tensions.

“Despite society’s inherited and negative view of mental health center visitors, the success of the music therapy experience has greatly contributed to changing these concepts,” Al-Shurihi said.

Experts believe that many children living in Gaza suffer from psychological damage related to the conflict including depression, anxiety, behavioral disorders, urinary incontinence, and nervous mood swings.

According to UNICEF figures, 1 million children live in Gaza which has witnessed four wars with Israel since 2008. The aid organization said the deadly conflict in May had a devastating impact on many youngsters after schools, health facilities, homes, and offices were damaged or flattened in missile attacks.

Al-Shurihi said it was important that music therapy continued to be offered in Gaza not just to tackle the effects of war but also the daily pressures of life faced by Palestinians.

“We all need psychological intervention to varying degrees. And through music, we seek to help the neediest people to overcome difficult circumstances and not drown in a sea of psychological crises,” she added.