Iraq exhumes remains of Saddam-era victims from mass grave

Iraq exhumes remains of Saddam-era victims from mass grave
A forensic expert working for the Iraqi authorities, works at a mass grave where human remains were exhumed, near the southern city of Najaf, on Saturday. (AFP)
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Updated 14 May 2022

Iraq exhumes remains of Saddam-era victims from mass grave

Iraq exhumes remains of Saddam-era victims from mass grave
  • The mass grave was first discovered in April near the southern city of Najaf, during work to build a residential compound
  • Calling the burial "the scene of the crime", Naeli said the mass grave dates back to the "1991 popular (Shiite) uprising" against Saddam

NAJAF, Iraq: Iraqi authorities have exhumed the remains of 15 people from a mass grave believed to hold dozens more likely killed under dictator Saddam Hussein, an official said Saturday.
The mass grave was first discovered in April near the southern city of Najaf, during work to build a residential compound.
It is believed to date back to the 1990s, when Saddam unleashed a deadly campaign against members of the majority Shiite Muslim community in southern Iraq that left nearly 100,000 dead.
“There could be 100 victims in this grave. It is an estimation, the number could be higher due to the large size of the area,” said Abdul Ilah Al-Naeli, who heads a government foundation tasked with finding mass graves and identifying the remains.
Calling the burial “the scene of the crime,” Naeli said the mass grave dates back to the “1991 popular (Shiite) uprising” against Saddam.
An AFP correspondent saw skulls and other human remains near the construction site where cement buildings have been erected.
According to Iraqi authorities, Saddam’s regime forcibly disappeared more than one million people — including from the Kurdish minority — in the 1980s and 1990s, and many of their families are still trying to ascertain what happened to them.
Iraq pays tribute to the missing on May 16, which is known in the war-wracked country as the National Day of Mass Graves.
Saddam was toppled in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and executed in December 2006 after being convicted by an Iraqi court of crimes against humanity.
The oil-rich country has been hit by waves of conflict in subsequent decades, culminating in the fight against the Daesh group, which ended in 2017.
Daesh alone left behind an estimated 200 mass graves that could hold up to 12,000 bodies, the United Nations has said.
Authorities in Iraq are frequently announcing the discovery of mass graves, the latest in March when the remains of 85 Daesh militants and their relatives were exhumed in the northern city of Mosul.


Lebanon markets keep an eye on serious measures to rein in dollar

People walk past closed or half-open shops in the popular market of the Burj Hammoud neighbourhood of Lebanon's capital Beirut.
People walk past closed or half-open shops in the popular market of the Burj Hammoud neighbourhood of Lebanon's capital Beirut.
Updated 16 sec ago

Lebanon markets keep an eye on serious measures to rein in dollar

People walk past closed or half-open shops in the popular market of the Burj Hammoud neighbourhood of Lebanon's capital Beirut.
  • Parliament speaker focused on renewing his term while Lebanon races against ‘big collapse,’ national bloc says

BEIRUT: The dollar exchange rate continued its fall on the black market in Lebanon on Saturday, recording 27,650 pounds against the dollar, a drop of 11,000 pounds in less than 18 hours.

The drop was a way of easing people’s anger and calming the markets a few days before the newly elected parliament convenes on Tuesday to elect a speaker, a deputy speaker and the parliamentary committees.

The Lebanese National Bloc said that Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri was focused on renewing his term, while the country was racing against what it termed as “a big collapse” and the health sector was warning of the imminent collapse of hospitals.

Berri is expected to win reelection for the sixth time, despite opposition from Christian parties and opposition parliamentary blocs.

Berri should receive around 60 votes from members of his bloc, Hezbollah’s deputies and his allies’ deputies, far less than the 98 votes out of 128 he obtained in the previous parliament.

One political observer said that the position of deputy speaker, which is reserved for an Orthodox deputy, had almost been secured for MP Elias Bou Saab from the Free Patriotic Movement bloc, although the bloc refuses to vote for Berri as speaker.

On Friday, the dollar exchange rate exceeded 38,000 pounds, creating unprecedented chaos in all sectors and leading to popular anger.

The dollar rate started to decrease rapidly after central bank governor Riad Salameh announced on Friday that individuals and institutions are able buy dollars from banks at the Sayrafa rate on a daily basis.

Commercial markets witnessed a state of shock on Saturday. Some shops stopped selling goods as they waited to see if the dollar rate would stabilize at the beginning of next week.

An employee in a private company said that she converted her LBP salary when the dollar rate was at its peak on Friday, fearing that it might lose more of its value if she kept the sum in Lebanese pounds.

However, the significant drop of the exchange rate by 10,000 Lebanese pounds on Friday night shocked her, as the value of her salary significantly depreciated.

Finance Minister Youssef Khalil estimated the black market exchange volume at $5 million per day.

The trading volume on the Sayrafa platform exceeds tens of millions of dollars per day, he said.

“This means that the incontrollable increase of the dollar rate is not normal, which supports the hypothesis that some people would create this exchange rate gap and are responsible for the high black-market exchange rate for political and commercial reasons or to create panic in markets.”

Economic expert Walid Abou Sleiman said that the central bank was intervening in the market to absorb the money supply in Lebanese pounds to prevent speculation and to reduce the margin in the financial market — namely the Sayrafa platform — where the rate exceeded 12,000 Lebanese pounds.

This procedure might be temporary, and contributes to the decrease of the dollar rate, he said, but added: “What matters is sustainability.”

Abou Sleiman said that “combating speculation does not happen through these procedures, but through a central platform that limits the trading for purchases and sales.”

The central bank governor has asked banks to keep their branches and funds open until 6 p.m. for three consecutive days from Monday to meet citizens’ requests to buy dollars at the Sayrafa price.

The governor’s circulars are postponing the “explosion for a few days,” the Lebanese National Bloc pointed out.

The bloc believes that the “collapse scenario could have been avoided if the needed reforms to restructure debt and the banking sector had been applied, in addition to taking the necessary decisions to unify the exchange rate and strengthen the administrative and judicial surveillance.”

The bloc also believed it could have also been avoided if Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s Cabinet had not waited until its last session to propose its financial rescue plan in an attempt to circumvent the people and the international community, when throughout its mandate, it was busy protecting cartels and bankers.

“The solution is to elect the parliament bodies and committees within the next week and start the electoral consultations to form a rescue government that does not adopt sectarian allocation,” it said.

It called for implementing the financial reforms requested by the IMF and the formulation of an integrated plan to strengthen the economy.


Iran says crew of two seized Greek tankers not detained and are on board

Iran says crew of two seized Greek tankers not detained and are on board
Updated 28 May 2022

Iran says crew of two seized Greek tankers not detained and are on board

Iran says crew of two seized Greek tankers not detained and are on board
  • Iranian forces seized two Greek tankers in the Gulf on Friday
  • Greece said on Friday an Iranian navy helicopter landed on Greek-flagged vessel Delta Poseidon in international waters, and took the crew hostage

DUBAI: Iran’s state maritime body said on Saturday the crew of two Greek tankers seized by its Revolutionary Guards on Friday had not been detained, and were in good health and being cared for on board their vessels.
Iranian forces seized two Greek tankers in the Gulf on Friday, shortly after Tehran warned it would take “punitive action” against Athens over the confiscation of Iranian oil by the United States from a tanker held off the Greek coast.
“The crew of the two Greek tankers have not been arrested, and all crew members ... are in good health and are being protected, and provided with necessary services while on board, in accordance with international law,” Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization said in a statement carried by state media.
The two vessels were stopped over unspecified “maritime violations,” the body said.
Greece said on Friday an Iranian navy helicopter landed on Greek-flagged vessel Delta Poseidon in international waters, and took the crew hostage. It said a similar incident took place on another Greek-flagged vessel near Iran, without naming the ship. Athens said both actions violated international law.
Greek authorities last month impounded the Iranian-flagged Pegas off Greece due to European Union sanctions. The United States later confiscated the Iranian oil cargo held onboard, Reuters reported on Thursday.
The Pegas and its Russian crew were later released, but the seizure inflamed tensions as Iran and world powers seek to revive a 2015 nuclear deal.
Separately, Nour News, affiliated to an Iranian state security body, said: “Iran will not remain passive in the face of any threat to its interests, and testing Iran’s will is a strategic error that will entail heavy costs for the United States and its entourage.”
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh tweeted: “Our ties must not be hampered by deeply shortsighted miscalculations, including highway robbery on the command of a 3rd party.”
In 2019, Iran seized a British tanker near the Strait of Hormuz for alleged violations two weeks after British forces detained an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar, accusing it of shipping oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions. Both vessels were later released.


Turkey’s Erdogan discusses advancing cooperation with UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed

Turkey’s Erdogan discusses advancing cooperation with UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed
Updated 28 May 2022

Turkey’s Erdogan discusses advancing cooperation with UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed

Turkey’s Erdogan discusses advancing cooperation with UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed
  • ‘We have achieved an 82 percent growth in trade exchanges within two years,’ the UAE’s top diplomat said
  • Emirati-Turkish relations are steadily growing and evolving

LONDON: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan received on Saturday Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE’s minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, in Istanbul, the state news agency WAM reported.
The two discussed the prospects of advancing cooperation between Turkey and the UAE across all fields and discussed regional issues and the importance of enhancing efforts to establish peace, security and stability.
The Ukrainian crisis and global developments were also discussed.


The UAE’s foreign affairs minister visited his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu and explored avenues of cooperation between the countries and prospects to advance relations.
Sheikh Abdullah and Cavusoglu addressed the latest global developments, including those relevant to the stability of energy supplies and food markets in the world, and the global efforts made to reach a political settlement to the crisis in Ukraine.
The UAE’s top diplomat stressed that Emirati-Turkish relations were steadily growing and evolving, and both leaderships were determined to establish a sustainable model of a win-win partnership.
In their joint news conference, Sheikh Abdullah said: “I hope that we can work together to finalize the trade partnership agreement between our countries, whereby we can double our trade exchanges.”
Sheikh Abdullah highlighted renewable energy as one of the sectors where both nations were interested in strengthening their bilateral relations.
“This sector is not only successful from a commercial point of view, but is also consequential to our countries that are both working toward reducing carbon emissions in the world.”


Sheikh Abdullah praised the increase in the volume of trade between the two countries to about AED50 billion. “We have achieved an 82 percent growth in trade exchanges within two years,” he said.
Cavusoglu said that the talks with Sheikh Abdullah touched on many issues related to collaboration in sectors such as trade, economy, technology and energy, stressing that the UAE was Turkey’s largest trade partner in the region.
He indicated that Turkish investors were keen to increase their investment in the UAE.
In response to a question about the future of relations between the two countries, Sheikh Abdullah said: “We talked about some ideas, especially with regards to renewable, solar and electric energy. One of the world’s key companies working in this field today, namely the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar), is highly interested in seeking business opportunities in Turkey.”
He added that Turkey had great potential in the field of tourism.


“Our interest is not only focused on working in Turkey, but also working with Turkey in other parts of the world, including Africa, Latin America, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and South Asia.”
On his recent visit to Israel, Cavusoglu said that dialogue was necessary and fruitful. “Differences might exist, but severing relations is not good. We have conveyed the message to our Palestinian brothers as well as to the Israelis; and we will work to take additional steps in collaboration with Egypt in this regard.”
Sheikh Abdullah said: “There is no doubt that encouraging a return to the peace process and dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis is extremely important.”
He said that Turkey was making efforts on the stability of Libya. “With regards to Yemen, we have expressed our full solidarity with the UAE and Saudi Arabia following the terrorist attacks on the two countries.”


Yemeni parties conclude initial round of discussions to reopen key roads

Yemeni parties conclude initial round of discussions to reopen key roads
Updated 28 May 2022

Yemeni parties conclude initial round of discussions to reopen key roads

Yemeni parties conclude initial round of discussions to reopen key roads
  • The discussions began on Wednesday, and are part of the UN-brokered truce that came into effect on April 2
  • Taiz governor said a military operation would break the siege of Taiz if talks did not lead to reopening roads

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: Representatives from the Yemeni government and the Houthis convened in Amman on Saturday to discuss a final draft of an agreement on opening roads in Taiz and elsewhere.

The discussions on opening the regions’ roads began on Wednesday, and are part of the UN-brokered truce that came into effect on April 2.

The talks were on the verge of collapse on Friday, with the Yemeni government threatening to walk away after the Houthis refused to open the main roads that link the city of Taiz with Hodeidah, Aden and Sanaa, suggesting only opening a narrow mountain route.

Maj. Mohammed Abdullah Al-Mahmoudi, deputy head of the Yemeni government delegation on Taiz, told Arab News that it had insisted on lifting the Houthis’ siege of the city by opening the main roads.

“The Houthis want to impose their conditions,” Al-Mahmoudi said.

Taiz Gov. Nabil Shamsan said a military operation would break the siege of Taiz if the talks in Amman did not lead to the reopening roads.

“As Taiz holds an olive branch today, it also possesses a shield and a sword. Taiz is currently fortified by an unprecedented national alignment that is growing every moment,” the governor tweeted.

Other military officials and activists also demanded the use of military force to end the siege.

“The least costly solution to lift the siege on Taiz is to return to the military option by supporting the forces to get rid of the Houthi shame. And this is the safest solution not only for Taiz, but for all Yemen,” Ibrahim Abdul Gader, an activist, tweeted.

Dozens of human rights groups, activists, government officials and Taiz residents have launched a new campaign on social media, using hashtag #Siege_of_Taiz_crime, to pressure the world to order the Houthis to open roads in the city.

Yemenis widely circulated images of cars loaded with goods and fuel overturning on the steep and unpaved slopes drivers were forced to turn to after the Houthis blocked the city’s main entrances.

Marwan Ali Noman, deputy permanent representative of Yemen to the UN, described the siege of the city as “ a war crime” that must be ended.

“The siege by #Houthis on #Taiz in #Yemen for more than 7 years now is a smirch on humanity. This war crime must end now,” Noman tweeted.

Yemenis say that many residents in Taiz evacuated their homes near the Houthi checkpoints that blockade the city, fleeing from snipers and landmines.

The online campaign also criticized the international community for not aggressively pushing to end the siege as it did for opening Sanaa airport and Hodeidah port.

“#Taiz has been besieged by #Houthis since 2015 amid international silence that turns this tragedy into a sub-issue which receives little attention. Unfortunately, this file is only discussed marginally when there are international efforts to end this war,” Mohammed Al-Dhabyani, a Yemeni TV anchor, tweeted.


Iran shows off underground drone base, but not its location – state media

Iran shows off underground drone base, but not its location – state media
Updated 28 May 2022

Iran shows off underground drone base, but not its location – state media

Iran shows off underground drone base, but not its location – state media
  • State TV said 100 drones were being kept in the heart of the Zagros mountains, including Ababil-5

The Iranian army has given some details — but not the exact location — of an underground base for its military drones, state media reported on Saturday, amid simmering tensions in the Gulf.
State TV said 100 drones were being kept in the heart of the Zagros mountains, including Ababil-5, which it said were fitted with Qaem-9 missiles, an Iranian-made version of air-to-surface US Hellfire.
“No doubt the drones of Islamic Republic of Iran’s armed forces are the region’s most powerful,” army commander Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi said. “Our capability to upgrade drones is unstoppable,” he added.
The Iranian state TV correspondent said he had made the 45-minute helicopter flight on Thursday from Kermanshah in western Iran to a secret underground drone site. He was allowed to take blindfolds off only upon arrival at the base, he said.
TV footage showed rows of drones fitted with missiles in a tunnel, which it said was several hundred meters underground.
The TV report came a day after Iranian Revolutionary Guards seized two Greek tankers in the Gulf, in an apparent retaliation for the confiscation of Iranian oil by the United States from a tanker held off the Greek coast.
Greek authorities last month impounded the Iranian-flagged Pegas, with 19 Russian crew members on board, due to European Union sanctions. The United States later confiscated the Iranian oil cargo held onboard and plans to send it to the United States on another vessel.
The Pegas was later released, but the seizure inflamed tensions at a delicate time, with Iran and world powers seeking to revive a nuclear deal that former US President Donald Trump abandoned, reimposing sanctions on Tehran.