Iraq’s Sadr demands new polls as political crisis escalates

Iraq’s Sadr demands new polls as political crisis escalates
Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr’s supporters occupy the Iraqi parliament for a fifth consecutive day, in protest at a nomination for prime minister by a rival Shiite faction, in Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone, on Wednesday. (AFP)
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Updated 03 August 2022

Iraq’s Sadr demands new polls as political crisis escalates

Iraq’s Sadr demands new polls as political crisis escalates
  • Nearly 10 months on from the last elections, the country still has no government, new prime minister or new president
  • Sadr called for a "revolutionary and peaceful process, then early democratic elections after a dissolution of parliament"

BAGHDAD: Powerful Shiite leader Moqtada Sadr, whose bloc won the most seats in Iraq’s elections last year, demanded Wednesday that parliament be dissolved and new national polls be called.
Nearly 10 months on from the last elections, the country still has no government, new prime minister or new president, due to repeated squabbles between factions over forming a coalition.
In the latest political turmoil to strike the oil-rich but war-scarred nation, Sadr called for a “revolutionary and peaceful process, then early democratic elections after a dissolution of parliament.”
His televised speech came as calls for dialogue intensify after his supporters occupied parliament for a fifth consecutive day, in protest at a nomination for prime minister by a rival Shiite faction, the Iran-backed Coordination Framework.
However, parliament can only be dissolved by a majority vote, according to the constitution. Such a vote can take place at the request of a third of lawmakers, or by the prime minster with the president’s agreement.
“I am certain that the majority of the population is exasperated by the ruling class in its entirety, including some (politicians) belonging to my movement,” Sadr said.
“From now on there will be no more old-guard politicians, whatever their affiliation,” he added.
Sadr’s bloc emerged from elections in October as the biggest faction, but it was still far short of a majority.
In June, his 73 lawmakers quit, ostensibly in a bid to break the political logjam.
Sadr, who once led an anti-US militia and who has millions of devoted followers, noted also that he had “no interest” in negotiating with his rivals.
Along with their sit-in, the cleric’s supporters have set up an encampment outside parliament with tents and food stalls, and Sadr on Wednesday called on them to continue.
“The revolutionaries and protesters participating in the sit-in must stay and continue their camp until the demands are realized,” he said.
In multi-confessional and multi-ethnic Iraq, government formation has involved complex negotiations since a 2003 US-led invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
The resignation of Sadr’s lawmakers led to the pro-Iran bloc becoming the largest in parliament, but still there was no agreement on new top posts.
The Sadrist camp was outraged by the Coordination Framework last week nominating former minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani as prime minister.
The Coordination Framework is a grouping that includes former prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki, a long-standing foe of Sadr, and the Hashed Al-Shaabi, a former paramilitary network now integrated into the security forces.
Outgoing prime minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi has called for a “national dialogue” in a bid to bring all sides together to talk, and on Wednesday he spoke with President Barham Saleh.
Both men stressed the importance of “guaranteeing security and stability” in the country, according to the Iraqi News Agency.
Sadr’s foe Al-Maliki said late Wednesday “serious dialogue giving hope for resolving differences... begins with respect for constitutional institutions.”
Thousands of Coordination Framework supporters have held counter-protests in Baghdad against the occupation of parliament.
“Don’t believe the rumors that I don’t want dialogue,” Sadr said on Wednesday.
“But we have already tried and experienced dialogue with them,” he added. “It has brought nothing to us and to the nation — only ruin and corruption.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the United Nations mission in Iraq called on leaders to “prioritize (the) national interest” and end the long-running power struggle.
“Meaningful dialogue among all Iraqi parties is now more urgent than ever, as recent events have demonstrated the rapid risk of escalation in this tense political climate,” the UN mission warned.
French President Emmanuel Macron also spoke with political leaders on Wednesday, saying that “dialogue and consultation” was the only way out of the crisis.


Lebanon expects US mediator offer for maritime border with Israel within days

Lebanon expects US mediator offer for maritime border with Israel within days
Updated 21 sec ago

Lebanon expects US mediator offer for maritime border with Israel within days

Lebanon expects US mediator offer for maritime border with Israel within days

DUBAI: Lebanon expects a written offer from US mediator Amos Hochstein concerning the demarcation of a maritime border with Israel by the end of the week, Lebanon’s presidency tweeted on Monday.
Lebanon’s deputy speaker of parliament Elias Bou Saab met with Hochstein last week during a visit to New York and briefed President Michel Aoun on the outcome, the presidency added.
Hochstein has been shuttling between Lebanon and Israel — enemy states with a history of conflict — in a bid to forge a compromise over the maritime boundary that would allow both to explore for offshore energy reserves.
A deal would defuse one potential source of conflict between Israel and the heavily armed, Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, which has warned against any Israeli exploration and extraction in the disputed waters.


Lebanese banks reopen partially after weeklong closure

Lebanese banks reopen partially after weeklong closure
Updated 3 min 20 sec ago

Lebanese banks reopen partially after weeklong closure

Lebanese banks reopen partially after weeklong closure
BEIRUT: Banks in crisis-hit Lebanon partially reopened Monday following a weeklong closure amid a wave of heists in which assailants stormed at least seven bank branches earlier this month, demanding to withdraw their trapped savings.
The Association of Banks in Lebanon said last Monday it was going on strike amid bank holdups by depositors and activists — a sign of growing chaos in the tiny Mideast nation.
Lebanon’s cash-strapped banks had last closed for a prolonged period back in October 2019, for two weeks, during mass anti-government protests triggered by the crisis. That year, the banks imposed strict limits on cash withdrawals, tying up the savings of millions of people.
The country’s economy has since spiraled, with about three-quarters of the population plunged into poverty. The Lebanese pound has lost over 90 percent of its value against the dollar.
The frustrations boiled over this month, with angry and desperate depositors — including one armed with a hunting rifle — started holding up the banks. One of them, Sali Hafez, broke into a Beirut bank branch with a fake pistol and retrieved some $13,000 in her savings to cover her sister’s cancer treatment.
However, only a handful of bank branches opened Monday — accepting only customers with prior appointments for corporate transactions. The partial reopening was to continue indefinitely, until banks can secure the safety of their employees.
Crowds of anxious Lebanese gathered around ATM machines.
“I’ve been here for three hours, and they won’t let me in or schedule an appoint,” Fadi Al-Osta told The Associated Press outside a bank branch in Beirut. “The security guards can let us in one at a time and check for weapons. Isn’t that their job?”
George Al-Hajj, president of Lebanon’s Federation of Bank Employees Syndicates, said branches have downsized, to have a larger number of security guards per branch.
“Our goal isn’t to harm anyone, but we want to go to work feeling safe and secure,” Al-Hajj said. “We’re also human beings.”
Tensions were simmering in the southern city of Sidon, where State Security forces armed with assault rifles stood outside some bank branches. Some police officers and army soldiers, whose salaries have lost over 90 percent of their value, unsuccessfully tried to break into a bank branch to collect small cash bonus recently granted by the government.
Lebanon’s talks with the International Monetary Fund on a bailout have progressed sluggishly, with authorities failing to implement critical reforms, including restructuring the banking sector and lifting banking secrecy laws. Last week, a visiting IMF delegation criticized the government’s slowness to implement desperately-needed financial reforms.

Iran says US trying to violate sovereignty over unrest, warns of response

Iran says US trying to violate sovereignty over unrest, warns of response
Updated 13 min 37 sec ago

Iran says US trying to violate sovereignty over unrest, warns of response

Iran says US trying to violate sovereignty over unrest, warns of response
  • Iran has said the United States was supporting rioters and seeking to destablize the Islamic Republic

DUBAI: US attempts to violate Iran’s sovereignty over the issue of protests triggered by the death of a woman in police custody will not go unanswered, the foreign ministry said on Monday.
Iran has been rocked by nationwide demonstrations sparked by the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini, after she was detained by morality police enforcing the Islamic Republic’s strict restrictions on women’s dress.
The case has drawn international condemnation. Iran has said the United States was supporting rioters and seeking to destablize the Islamic Republic.
“Washington is always trying to weaken Iran’s stability and security although it has been unsuccessful,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani told Nour news, which is affiliated with a top security body, in a statement.


Syria cholera death toll rises to 29 — health ministry

Syria cholera death toll rises to 29 — health ministry
Updated 47 min 13 sec ago

Syria cholera death toll rises to 29 — health ministry

Syria cholera death toll rises to 29 — health ministry
  • The highly contagious disease has also spread to the country’s Kurdish-held and opposition areas in north and northwestern Syria

AMMAN: A cholera outbreak in several regions of Syria has killed 29 people, the Syrian health ministry said on Monday in what the UN has called the worst outbreak in the war-torn country for years.
Rapid assessment testing confirmed 338 cases since the outbreak was first recorded last month, with the bulk of deaths and cases in the northern Aleppo province, the ministry said in a statement.
It said 230 cases were in Aleppo province where 25 people were confirmed dead. The rest were spread across the country.
The United Nations this month said the outbreak was believed be linked to irrigation of crops using contaminated water and people drinking unsafe water from the Euphrates river which bisects Syria from the north to the east.
The highly contagious disease has also spread to the country’s Kurdish-held and opposition areas in north and northwestern Syria where millions have been displaced by the decade-old conflict, medical officials said.
Suspected cholera cases have risen to 2,092 in the northeast of Syria since the outbreak was announced this month, said the US-based International Rescue Committee (IRC) which operates in the northern region.
It said there were fears about significant under-reporting of cases.
The widespread destruction of national water infrastructure after more than a decade of war means much of the Syrian population is reliant on unsafe water sources.
Prior to the recent cholera outbreak, the water crisis had caused an increase in diseases such as diarrhea, malnutrition and skin conditions in the region, according to the World Health Organization.


Egypt to release new batch of 39 pretrial detainees: Presidential Pardon Committee  

Egypt to release new batch of 39 pretrial detainees: Presidential Pardon Committee  
Updated 26 September 2022

Egypt to release new batch of 39 pretrial detainees: Presidential Pardon Committee  

Egypt to release new batch of 39 pretrial detainees: Presidential Pardon Committee  
  • MP Tarek El-Khouly said the move was in cooperation with state authorities and the country’s Public Prosecution

DUBAI: Egypt has ordered the release of 39 pretrial detainees on Monday. 
MP Tarek El-Khouly, a member of the Presidential Pardon Committee, said the move was in cooperation with state authorities and the country’s Public Prosecution. 
Egypt’s Public Prosecution has ordered the release of hundreds of pretrial detainees in groups since May. 
This comes as the government and various political forces prepare for extensive national political dialogue that will focus on political, economic, and social issues. 
Since its inception in 2016, the committee has received the names of prisoners eligible for presidential pardon consideration from different parties and political forces, including the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), the parliament’s Human Rights Committee, as well as directly through its own official website.