Iraq blames Iran for drastic decline in river flow

Iraq blames Iran for drastic decline in river flow
A picture taken on Oct. 26 shows the Darbandikhan Dam after the water level has fallen by 7.5 meters in one year, in northeastern Iraq. (AFP)
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Updated 27 October 2021

Iraq blames Iran for drastic decline in river flow

Iraq blames Iran for drastic decline in river flow
  • The Sirwan river begins in Iran, flowing to Darbandikhan Dam in northeastern Iraq before going through the rural province of Diyala and joining the Tigris

DARBANDIKHAN, Iraq: Iraqi officials warned Tuesday of a drastic drop in the flow of water in a river from Iran due to low rainfall and dam-building in the neighboring Islamic republic.

The Sirwan river begins in Iran, flowing to Darbandikhan Dam in northeastern Iraq before going through the rural province of Diyala and joining the Tigris.

“There has been an unprecedented decline,” said Rahman Khani, the dam’s director. “The water level has fallen by 7.5 meters in one year.”

The drop was attributed to low precipitation and “the building of more dams in Iran which retain water,” he told AFP.

Khani said the dam had this year received 900 million cubic meters of water — a fraction of the annual average of 4.7 billion cubic meters.

The decline had led to a 30 percent fall in electricity production from the dam, he added, warning against the impact on agriculture in Diyala province.

Iraq — which relies on Iran for much of its electricity — has suffered extreme water shortages in many areas in recent years.

This is owing in large part to upstream dam-building in Iran and Turkey, but also to factors relating to climate change and droughts, which have affected the wider region.

The situation has prompted Iraq’s Water Resources Minister, Mahdi Al-Hamdani, to call on his government to file a complaint against Iran at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

A foreign ministry spokesperson refused to comment on the matter.

Aoun Thiab, a senior adviser at the water ministry, said Iran was “violating international law by diverting a river flow” based on the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention on the use of water that crosses international borders.

Thiab acknowledged however that seeking justice would be “a political decision and not a technical one.

“The waters of the Sirwan river have been completely cut off,” he told AFP.

Iran has also its own decline in water levels due to drought, said a report from the country’s space agency cited by Mehr news agency.

On Tuesday, an official said Tehran was facing its worst drought in 50 years as he reported a 97 percent drop in monthly rainfall compared with last year.

The Iranian capital has had 0.4 millimeters of rain since Sept. 23, compared with 14.3 mm over the same period in 2020, said Mohammad Shahriari, deputy director of the company that supplies the region.

“Groundwater and surface water are at a critical state and there has not been a similar drought for the past 50 years,” he was quoted as saying by Iran’s ISNA news agency.

In July, deadly protests broke out in the drought-hit southwestern province of Khuzestan after people took to the streets to vent their anger over water shortages.


UAE orders release of 870 prisoners ahead of National Day

UAE orders release of 870 prisoners ahead of National Day
Updated 18 sec ago

UAE orders release of 870 prisoners ahead of National Day

UAE orders release of 870 prisoners ahead of National Day
DUBAI: The President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan ordered the release of 870 prisoners on Sunday ahead of the country’s 50th National Day on Dec. 2, according to state news agency WAM.
The prisoners, sentenced for various crimes, will also have their debts and fines paid off, the statement added.

US options when Iran nuclear deal talks resume

IAEA representative carries out in inspection at nuclear power plant of Natanz, Iran. (AFP file photo)
IAEA representative carries out in inspection at nuclear power plant of Natanz, Iran. (AFP file photo)
Updated 28 November 2021

US options when Iran nuclear deal talks resume

IAEA representative carries out in inspection at nuclear power plant of Natanz, Iran. (AFP file photo)
  • The goal is to buy some time, as Tehran is much closer to possessing a nuclear bomb than before

WASHINGTON: The United States under President Joe Biden is to resume on Monday indirect negotiations with Iran in Vienna — but is far less optimistic than in the spring about the possibility of saving the Iranian nuclear deal.
And its options to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb are limited if talks fail.

As president, Donald Trump withdrew from the international deal in 2018 and reimposed US sanctions lifted under the accord’s terms.
In response, the Islamic Republic has flouted many of the restrictions set on its nuclear program.
Biden has said he wants to return to the deal — negotiated in 2015 by then-president Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president — so long as Iran also resumes the original terms.
The indirect negotiations in Vienna resume Monday after a five-month suspension imposed by Iran.
“There is room to quickly reach and implement an understanding,” a spokesperson for the US State Department said Wednesday.
But the American envoy on Iran, Rob Malley, has said that Tehran’s attitude “doesn’t augur well for the talks.”
Washington has accused the Middle Eastern nation of dragging its feet and increasing its “radical” demands — while still making progress that would bring it significantly closer to developing a bomb.

If, when talks resume, it quickly becomes apparent to the United States that Iran only wants to buy time to step up its nuclear advances, then Washington will not “sit idly by,” Malley warned.
“We’re going to have to see other efforts — diplomatic and otherwise — to try to address Iran’s nuclear ambitions,” he said.
One of the diplomatic options mentioned was a possible interim agreement.
“The Biden administration could look at a short-term deal, a limited agreement that freezes some of the most proliferation-sensitive activities in Iran in exchange for some modest sanctions relief,” Kelsey Davenport, the head of nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association, told AFP recently.
The goal is to buy some time, as Tehran is much closer to possessing a nuclear bomb than before.
But such a move risks provoking an outcry in Washington, among Republicans but also among several members of Biden’s Democratic Party, who would see it as too generous a concession to Iran.

“If Iran comes back to the negotiating table with a long list of demands outside of the JCPOA, the US could reciprocate” and present its own list about Iran’s role in regional conflicts and its ballistic missiles, said Davenport, using the official acronym for the nuclear deal.
But doing so would open up long and complex negotiations with an uncertain outcome.
And there is nothing to prevent Iran from continuing to develop its nuclear program during that time.

For Suzanne DiMaggio, a researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank, the “options beyond restoring the deal are not great.”
“If there was a better plan out there, we would have heard it by now,” she said Friday during an exchange with reporters.
One possibility would be to increase economic sanctions, even as the Democratic administration continues to blast the Trump era “maximum pressure” approach as a failure.
Punitive measures could also target China, which continues to buy Iranian oil despite a US embargo. But Beijing is unlikely to change its stance.
US hawks opposed to the 2015 deal — and there are many, particularly among conservatives — argue that Washington should increase economic, diplomatic and even military pressure without waiting for the outcome of the Vienna negotiations.

Accused of weakness by proponents of a harder stance, the Biden administration began to toughen its approach in October, warning that “other options” than diplomacy were on the table to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
The White House did not specify what those options were, but it has clearly hinted at the possibility of military action.
However, in a noted op-ed, former US diplomat Dennis Ross said that the “routinized” reference to “other options” had become insufficient, as “Tehran no longer takes Washington seriously.”
“The Biden administration needs to put the prospect of military escalation back on the table if it hopes to make progress on the nuclear issue,” he wrote in the essay, published October 27.
Israel, for its part, has clearly embraced this option as a possibility.
But for DiMaggio, military force “will not ultimately solve the problem.
“In fact, precedent is for the Iranians to meet pressure with pressure,” she warned.
“More aggressive steps beyond sanctions, including further sabotage of Iran’s nuclear program, run the risk of resulting in a miscalculation, mistake or an escalation that cannot be managed, potentially sparking violent conflict.”


Israel to ban entry of foreigners from all countries over omicron

 In this file photo taken on November 01, 2021 passengers walk with their luggage upon their arrival at Ben Gurion Airport near Lod, as Israel reopens to tourists vaccinated against Covid-19. (AFP)
In this file photo taken on November 01, 2021 passengers walk with their luggage upon their arrival at Ben Gurion Airport near Lod, as Israel reopens to tourists vaccinated against Covid-19. (AFP)
Updated 28 November 2021

Israel to ban entry of foreigners from all countries over omicron

 In this file photo taken on November 01, 2021 passengers walk with their luggage upon their arrival at Ben Gurion Airport near Lod, as Israel reopens to tourists vaccinated against Covid-19. (AFP)
  • The variant, which has also been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong, Italy, Germany and Britain, has sparked global concern and a wave of travel curbs

JERUSALEM: Israel on Saturday said it would ban the entry of all foreigners into the country, making it the first country to shut its borders completely in response to a new and potentially more contagious coronavirus variant, and said it would use counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology in order to contain the spread of the Omicron variant.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement that the ban, pending government approval, would last 14 days. Officials hope that within that period there will be more information on how effective COVID-19 vaccines are against Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa and has been dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization.
“Our working hypotheses are that the variant is already in nearly every country,” Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked told N12’s “Meet the Press,” “and that the vaccine is effective, although we don’t yet know to what degree.”
Israelis entering the country, including those who are vaccinated, will be required to quarantine, Bennett said. The ban will come into effect at midnight between Sunday and Monday. A travel ban on foreigners coming from most African states was imposed on Friday.
The Shin Bet counter-terrorism agency’s phone-tracking technology will be used to locate carriers of the new variant in order to curb its transmission to others, Bennett said.
Used on and off since March 2020, the surveillance technology matched virus carriers’ locations against other mobile phones nearby to determine with whom they had come into contact. Israel’s Supreme Court this year limited the scope of its use after civil rights groups mounted challenges over privacy concerns.
The variant, which has also been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong, Italy, Germany and Britain, has sparked global concern and a wave of travel curbs, although epidemiologists say such restrictions may be too late to stop Omicron from circulating globally.
Israel has so far confirmed one case of Omicron, with seven suspected cases. The Health Ministry has not said whether the confirmed case was vaccinated. Three of the seven suspected cases were fully vaccinated, the ministry said on Saturday, and three had not returned from travel abroad recently.
Around 57 percent of Israel’s 9.4 million population is fully vaccinated, according to the Health Ministry, which means they have either received a third shot of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine or it has not yet been five months since they received their second dose. Israel has recorded 1.3 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 8,000 fatalities since the pandemic began.


Lebanon judiciary stands firm despite Hezbollah allegations

Demonstrators carry banners and flags during a protest in front of the Justice Palace after a probe into Beirut blast was frozen, in Beirut. (Reuters)
Demonstrators carry banners and flags during a protest in front of the Justice Palace after a probe into Beirut blast was frozen, in Beirut. (Reuters)
Updated 28 November 2021

Lebanon judiciary stands firm despite Hezbollah allegations

Demonstrators carry banners and flags during a protest in front of the Justice Palace after a probe into Beirut blast was frozen, in Beirut. (Reuters)
  • Judges resigning in protest at poor conditions
  • Party has been disrupting Cabinet sessions

BEIRUT: The Beirut Bar Association has urged all officials to refrain from interfering with the judiciary and respect the law and work of institutions.

Nader Kaspar, head of the association, said: “The lawyers stand in solidarity with the judges and the Judicial Council.”

His statement came as the confrontation between Hezbollah and the Lebanese judiciary took a dangerous turn. The party has accused Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the probe into the Beirut port explosion, of “politicizing the investigation.”

In the past few days, the Justice Palace in Beirut has been abuzz with news about the resignation of several judges in protest at the poor conditions the judiciary is experiencing, due to political interference on the one hand and the economic situation on the other.

Former public prosecutor Judge Hatem Madi told Arab News: “What is happening increases the state of disgust within the judicial body. These pressures should not affect the course of the judiciary's work, but how long can the judiciary stand its ground in light of a pressing financial and economic crisis?

“Pressure has always been exerted on the judiciary. If the judiciary had surrendered, the judges would have resigned a long time ago. They want to remove Bitar at any cost. They have paralyzed the government and they want to do the same to the judiciary, but the latter has so far been steadfast.”

The president of the Fifth Chamber of the Court of Cassation Judge Jeannette Hanna, public defender Judge Carla Kassis, and president of the Court of Appeal Judge Rola Al-Husseini have submitted their resignation. 

However, the head of the Supreme Judicial Council Judge Suhail Abboud rejected these resignations, asking the judges to “hold back.”

The Coalition for an Independent Lebanese Judiciary warned that the judicial body was facing imminent danger.

It said: “These resignations serve as a warning of what the financial and economic collapse may cause within one of the most important public facilities, and of the ongoing systematic campaigns against every judge who dares to question immunities, which was evident in the Beirut port blast probe.”

It added that the resignations “reflect the feelings of helplessness and resentment of many judges regarding the financial and moral factors that prevent them from performing their judicial function properly, and put them in an embarrassing situation before public opinion.”

On Friday, in addition to demanding that Bitar be removed, Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah went after the entire judicial body because it had pushed back against attempts by defendants to remove Bitar.

“Hezbollah resorted to the judiciary to confront Bitar's discretion, but the rulings show that the entire judiciary is politicized,” Nasrallah said. “This was evident over the past couple of days when the judiciary rejected all requests to dismiss Bitar.”

He once again claimed that the US, represented by its embassy in Lebanon, was supporting Bitar.

“The investigation is trying to accuse Hezbollah of being involved in the blast. The current judicial process is on a discretionary path that does not lead to any justice or truth.”

Speaking about the Tayouneh incident, which occurred when Hezbollah supporters took to the streets and clashed with residents of Ain Al-Rummaneh, Nasrallah said Hezbollah did not want personal revenge, but that many people involved had not been handed over to the judiciary and they were still in Maarab, a reference to Lebanese Forces party leader Samir Geagea.

“The extent of recklessness, in this case, is an invitation to the families of the victims to take matters into their own hands,” Nasrallah said.

The party has been disrupting Cabinet sessions and preventing the resignation of Information Minister George Kordahi to fix Lebanon's relationship with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.


UAE, Turkey deepen economic ties with investment deals

The investment deals were agreed during a visit to Ankara for discussions with President Tayyip Erdogan by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. (Reuters)
The investment deals were agreed during a visit to Ankara for discussions with President Tayyip Erdogan by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. (Reuters)
Updated 28 November 2021

UAE, Turkey deepen economic ties with investment deals

The investment deals were agreed during a visit to Ankara for discussions with President Tayyip Erdogan by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. (Reuters)
  • Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s Abu Dhabi visit in mid-December is a significant step, analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA: Turkey welcomed Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the UAE’s de facto ruler, on Nov. 24, marking the highest-level visit to Ankara since a nearly decade-long disagreement between the two countries.

The visit represents a new page in Turkey-UAE economic relations with the signature of several investment accords that will be supported with a $10 billion fund.

The agreements concentrated on strategic sectors such as energy, ports and logistics, petrochemicals, technology, food and health care, as well as some cooperation deals between stock exchanges and central banks with a potential swap agreement on the horizon.

Dr. Robert C. Mogielnicki, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, said that Turkey was a big market that the UAE could not afford to ignore if it wanted to get the most out of economic engagement with the broader Middle East and North Africa region.

“Turkey likewise wants to shore up stable trade and investment partners given the volatility and uncertainty plaguing its domestic economy,” Mogielnicki told Arab News.

Considering the huge potential of the accords, especially in times of economic hardship for Turkey with its lira plumbing new lows this week, to what extent this economic rapprochement that unlocked billions of dollars will be supported by political contacts remains to be seen.

Simultaneously, the Emirati economy minister Abdulla bin Touq Al-Mari held a meeting with Turkish Trade Minister Mehmet Mus, just after the Turkey-UAE Joint Economic Commission meeting in Dubai.

“Today, we are starting a new era in sustainable economic partnership between the two countries,” Al-Mari said.

Sovereign wealth funds of the UAE have already made huge investments in Turkish online grocer Getir and e-commerce giant Trendyol.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute, thinks that the UAE signaling that Abu Dhabi is willing to invest 10 billion dollars in Turkey could be a shot in the arm for the Turkish economy, coupled with sound economic policies in Ankara.

“It will be not for complete recovery of the Turkish economy but will just help to prevent further deterioration nowadays,” he told Arab News.

However, Mogielnicki thinks that the Emirati-Turkish rapprochement is unlikely to have a major impact on Turkey’s currency crisis, which is more closely related to political dynamics surrounding the central bank and US interest rates.

“But an economic vote of confidence from the Emiratis won’t hurt,” he said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will visit Abu Dhabi in mid-December when hopes are pinned on mutual steps for initiating political rapprochement.

Melahat Kemal, an Istanbul-based researcher on Turkey-MENA relations, said that Turkey and the UAE had to settle some of their key political disputes to sustain the economic benefits of this latest wave of agreements.

“As a first step, they need to develop a consensus over their policies in the Syrian and Libyan conflict and gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean,” she told Arab News.

“There is still no political statement from the leaders regarding these hot topics. Turkish authorities rather prefer to compartmentalize their rapprochement by focusing merely on the monetary side of the relations.”

The trade volume of the two countries increased by 21 percent last year compared to 2019, and doubled in the first half of 2021 compared to the same period the previous year.

Both sides are working to diversify non-oil trade as Turkey is a key market for Emirati products to reach Asia and Europe, while the UAE helps Turkish goods opening up to the Middle Eastern and African markets.

According to Kemal, the political rapprochement requires confidence-building measures on a mutual basis, and in the short term relations are likely to proceed merely on economic fronts that could contribute to stability in the region.

“The visit of Cavusoglu in December is a significant step toward this direction,” she said.

Cagaptay agreed but said that there was a long way to go as both countries did not see eye-to-eye on a number of issues.

“In three war zones they have different views, with the UAE moving forward to normalize ties with Syria’s Assad regime while Turkey is still remaining hostile to him,” he said.

“In the Libyan and Yemeni civil wars, they also have opposing interests,” he said.

According to Cagaptay, the Muslim Brotherhood issue will be a litmus test for political normalization.

“Turkey also should end its support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood that is seen by the UAE as the greatest security threat both domestically and internationally,” he said.

With the US shifting pivot from the Middle East to the Pacific, Arab countries are trying to de-escalate tensions in the region and pursue normalization efforts.

Ankara has also taken some steps to restrict the activities of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood on Turkish soil — an incentive for the Gulf countries to reconcile with Turkey.

According to Mogielnicki, since early 2021 there has been a broad realization that diplomatic tensions and conflicts in the region have reached a point of diminishing returns.

“Lingering conflicts have the potential to hamper the all-important economic recovery efforts in the region. Gulf states like the UAE want to ensure that its foreign policy decisions going forward are good for business,” he said.