Iraq’s Shiite divide makes forging government tough task

Iraq’s Shiite divide makes forging government tough task
Iraq's new parliament held its first session on Sunday, nearly three months after Iraqis voted in a general election. (AP)
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Updated 11 January 2022

Iraq’s Shiite divide makes forging government tough task

Iraq’s Shiite divide makes forging government tough task
  • Country is mired in corruption, economic crisis, with threats of violence lingering
  • One of parliament’s first tasks must be to elect president, who will then name a PM

BAGHDAD: Three tense months after legislative elections, Iraq’s parliament has finally held its inaugural session — but opening debates swiftly descended into furious arguments between
Shiite factions.

In multi-confessional and multi-ethnic Iraq, the formation of governments has involved complex negotiations ever since the 2003 US-led invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

Parliament only met for the first time since the October 10 vote on Sunday, after Iraq’s top court rejected a complaint of electoral irregularities filed by the Shiite and pro-Iran Hashd Al-Shaabi, a former paramilitary alliance.

Political analysts warn there are still several hard steps ahead before the formation of a new government.

Iraq is trying to emerge from almost two decades of conflict but is mired in corruption, economic crisis, with threats of violence lingering.

The newly elected members of parliament met for a swearing-in ceremony and to elect their speaker, but the debate soon turned ugly.

Videos filmed by MPs showing lawmakers becoming verbally aggressive with each other, highlighting divisions between Shiite groupings.

Iraq’s post-election period has been marred by high tensions, violence and allegations of vote fraud.

One of parliament’s first tasks must be to elect the country’s president, who will then name a prime minister tasked with forming a new government.

Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, who once led an anti-US militia and who opposes all foreign interference, has repeatedly said that the next prime minister will be chosen by his movement.

It won the largest share with 73 out of the assembly’s 329 seats, more than a fifth of the total.

But the Coordination Framework, including pro-Iran groups such as the Fatah (Conquest) Alliance, the political arm of the pro-Tehran Hashd Al-Shaabi, insist their coalition is bigger. The Coordination Framework claimed they can muster the backing of 88 lawmakers to make them the largest bloc.

That prompted fury from Sadr’s movement. In the ensuing chaos, MP Mahmud Al-Mashhadani, the oldest member of parliament who was therefore chairing the opening session, was taken ill.

One lawmaker alleged Mashhadani was “attacked,” state media said he fainted, and he was rushed to hospital where he was reportedly in a stable condition.

When the parliamentary session resumed an hour later, lawmakers reelected as speaker influential Sunni MP Mohammed Al-Halbussi of the Taqadom party.

Coordination Framework MPs boycotted the vote.

No single party holds an outright majority, so the next leader will be voted in by whichever coalition can negotiate allies to become the biggest bloc.

In previous parliaments, parties from Iraq’s Shiite majority have struck compromise deals to work together and form a government.

But Sadr has hinted he prefers an alliance with Sunni groups including Taqadom as well as the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

“In theory, they could push through and have their president elected and their prime minister designated,” said political scientist Hamza Haddad.

One leader in the Shiite Coordination Framework, speaking on condition of anonymity, admitted that if Sadr presses ahead with a coalition including Sunni parties and the KDP, they will be able to choose the government.

However, if Sadr works with Shiite parties as in past parliaments, then the Coordination Framework “will have the upper hand,” the leader added.

If the Coordination Framework had a choice, a leading contender would be ex-prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki, a figure close to Iran whose own group won 33 seats.

Maliki would be unthinkable for Sadrists.

They, however, have not put forward any name to replace current Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, who has not clearly said whether he wants to remain in power.

Al-Khadimi, a former intelligence chief, is Shiite like all his predecessors. He was confirmed in the last parliament by a coalition of Shiite-majority lawmakers.

“As long as the two Shiite sides remain divided, that could lead to more violence,” the political analyst Haddad said.

There has already been unrest following the election.

Al-Kadhimi escaped unhurt when an explosive-packed drone hit the prime minister’s residence in November during what his office called an “assassination attempt.”

No group has claimed the attack.

“It is difficult to see either side quietly allowing the other to lead a government formation without the other,” Haddad added, noting that both Sadr and the Conquest Alliance have armed backers.

“The biggest fear would be fighting,” he said.


UN: Syria civilian death toll over 306,000 since 2011

UN: Syria civilian death toll over 306,000 since 2011
Updated 21 min 58 sec ago

UN: Syria civilian death toll over 306,000 since 2011

UN: Syria civilian death toll over 306,000 since 2011
  • Toll includes those killed as a direct result of war operations and not those who died from lack of access to basic needs

GENEVA: The UN human rights office said on Tuesday that 306,887 civilians had been killed in Syria during the conflict since March 2011 in what it said was the highest estimate yet.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said this analysis would give a “clearer sense of the severity and scale of the conflict.”
The toll included those killed as a direct result of war operations and not those who died from lack of health care or access to food or clean water.


US drone strike kills militant leader in Syria

US drone strike kills militant leader in Syria
Updated 28 June 2022

US drone strike kills militant leader in Syria

US drone strike kills militant leader in Syria
  • The strike took out a man described as a leader of the Hurras Al-Deen group
  • Hurras Al-Deen is a relatively small but powerful armed group led by Al-Qaeda loyalists

IDLIB, Syria: A US drone strike in northwestern Syria killed a Yemeni leader of a local militant group affiliated to Al-Qaeda, the US military and a Syrian war monitor said.
The strike, carried out on Monday just before midnight (2100 GMT) on the eastern edge of the city of Idlib, took out a man described as a leader of the Hurras Al-Deen group.
“Abu Hamzah Al-Yemeni was traveling alone on a motorcycle at the time of the strike,” US Central Command said in a statement, adding that an “initial review indicates no civilian casualties.”
The US is “highly confident” that the strike, carried out from a drone, killed Abu Hamzah Al-Yemeni, a US official with knowledge of the operation told CNN, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a wide network of sources inside Syria, confirmed on Tuesday that Yemeni was killed in the attack, saying it was the second such attempt to neutralize him after a similar strike last year.
An AFP correspondent in Idlib said that members of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), a rival militant group that dominates the area, gathered at the scene of the strike shortly after it happened and took away Yemeni’s charred remains.
HTS, whose leadership includes many ex-members of Al-Qaeda’s former Syria franchise, has tried to cast itself as a credible political force in the Idlib region.
Since a 2020 cease-fire agreement reached by Moscow and Turkey, the main foreign broker in northern Syria, HTS has come under pressure to crack down on the myriad of other militant factions still present in the Idlib region.
Monday’s strike was the second US operation in June to target a senior militant in Syria.
US forces captured Hani Ahmed Al-Kurdi, a leader of the Daesh group, on June 16 during a raid in Aleppo province.
They also killed Daesh leader Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashimi Al-Qurashi during an operation in Atme, a region of Idlib province, on February 3.
Hurras Al-Deen is a relatively small but powerful armed group led by Al-Qaeda loyalists.
It is estimated to have 2,000 to 2,500 fighters in rebel-held Syria, according to the UN.


First flight of Hajj pilgrims from Dubai departs on Thursday

First flight of Hajj pilgrims from Dubai departs on Thursday
Updated 28 June 2022

First flight of Hajj pilgrims from Dubai departs on Thursday

First flight of Hajj pilgrims from Dubai departs on Thursday

DUBAI: The Dubai Airports’ Hajj Committee said the first flight carrying Hajj pilgrims is scheduled to depart Dubai for Madinah on Thursday, an official statement said. 

The Hajj Committee at Dubai Airports announced that it finalized preparations that would ensure a “smooth and seamless airport experience” for pilgrims traveling to Saudi Arabia. 

The Committee said the operator has earmarked dedicated counters at check-in, immigration, and security, while special departure gates have been arranged to accommodate passengers traveling on Hajj flights.

Mohammad Al Marzouqi, Head of the Hajj Committee at Dubai Airports, urged pilgrims to arrive at the airport four hours before their scheduled departure to ensure they have adequate time to complete travel procedures. 

The travelers must make sure they have their passport, Emirates ID, vaccinations cards and Hajj Permit ready before they arrive at the airport, Al Marzouqi added.

The Saudia airline will operate the first official Hajj flight from Dubai, departing from DXB with a Dubai government delegation for Madinah on June 30.


Israeli parliament votes to dissolve, hold new elections

Israeli parliament votes to dissolve, hold new elections
Updated 28 June 2022

Israeli parliament votes to dissolve, hold new elections

Israeli parliament votes to dissolve, hold new elections
  • The opposition’s readiness to dissolve parliament suggested that Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to form a new government had stalled

JERUSALEM: The Israeli parliament unanimously approved early Tuesday a draft bill to dissolve parliament, a key legislative step that pushes the country closer toward its fifth election in less than four years.
Members of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s outgoing coalition and the opposition led by ex-premier Benjamin Netanyahu have been sparring in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, since last week over a dissolution bill.
The coalition said it wanted quick approval of the law after Bennett announced last week that his year-old, ideologically divided eight-party alliance was no longer tenable.
But Netanyahu and his allies have been holding talks seeking to form a new Netanyahu-led government within the current parliament, which would avert new elections.
The sides have traded legislative jabs but finally agreed late Monday to advance a bill that would be finalized as law by the end of Wednesday.
The opposition’s readiness to dissolve parliament suggested that Netanyahu’s efforts to form a new government had stalled.
Early Tuesday, the Knesset House committee approved the bill. It was then brought to the plenum for its first reading, which it passed 53-0.
According to the bill, parliament would dissolve, with new elections to be held on October 25 or November 1, with the date to be set after further negotiations.
The bill must then be approved in two further full Knesset votes.
At midnight after the bill’s secures final approval, Bennett will hand power to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, in accordance with the power-sharing deal they agreed following inconclusive elections last year.
The Bennett coalition, a motley alliance of religious nationalists, secular hawks, centrists, doves and Arab Islamists, was imperilled by its ideological divides from its outset.
The final straw, according to the premier, was a failure to renew a measure that ensures Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank live under Israeli law.
Bennett, the former head of a settler lobby group, said the measure’s expiration on June 30 would have brought security risks and “constitutional chaos.”
Dissolving parliament before the expiration date means the so-called West Bank law will remain in force until a new government takes office.


Dubai Customs make 936 drug seizures in just 4 months 

Dubai Customs make 936 drug seizures in just 4 months 
At Dubai International Airport, Dubai Customs officers thwarted an attempt to smuggle 97 capsules of heroin. (File/AFP)
Updated 28 June 2022

Dubai Customs make 936 drug seizures in just 4 months 

Dubai Customs make 936 drug seizures in just 4 months 

DUBAI: Dubai Customs have made 936 drug seizures at its customs ports in the first four months of 2022, state news agency WAM reported. 
 Dubai Customs successfully thwarted hundreds of attempts to smuggle narcotic substances, including tramadol tablets, captagon, opium, heroin, hemp seeds, crystal meth, marijuana, and other narcotics, according to WAM. 
The major seizures in the first four months of 2022 included an attempt to smuggle amphetamines into the country in 2,968 boxes of coffee creamer, which was discovered at Jebel Ali port.  
At Dubai International Airport, Dubai Customs officers thwarted an attempt to smuggle 97 capsules of heroin weighing at 955 grams that a passenger had swallowed. 
The Inland Customs Centers Management made 10 seizures of crystal meth during the first four months of this year.
An African passenger at Dubai International Airport was caught trying to smuggle 42 kilograms of marijuana hidden inside bags of dried hot peppers. 
With the use of early warning technology represented by the Smart Risk Engine, authorities were able to identify all suspicious shipments in advance, WAM reported. 

 


The customs centers are provided with the latest inspection devices, including an advanced container inspection system – the latest integrated global system for scanning and inspecting containers and moving trucks. 
Between January and April 2022, the Passenger Operations Department made 222 seizures, while the Inland Customs Centers Management made 501 seizures. During those four months, the Air Cargo Centers Management made 207 seizures, and the Sea Customs Centers Management made six seizures. 
The latest seizures are part of Dubai Customs’ aim to counter all forms of smuggling attempts, especially narcotics, and protect society and the national economy from their negative effects, the WAM report said. 
“Protecting the community is a major strategic goal in Dubai Customs and its five-year plan, and we are giving this role a great priority in light of the increasing risks, and as part of our commitment to our national duty,” said Ahmed Mahboob Musabih, Director-General of Dubai Customs and CEO of Ports, Customs and Free Zone Corporation.