Tens of thousands pray in show of force by Iraq cleric Sadr

Tens of thousands pray in show of force by Iraq cleric Sadr
Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr’s mass prayer rally follows his demand for early elections. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 05 August 2022

Tens of thousands pray in show of force by Iraq cleric Sadr

Tens of thousands pray in show of force by Iraq cleric Sadr
  • Shiite cleric has for months been in a political standoff with a rival Shiite alliance backed by Iran
  • Worshippers converged on a vast square inside the normally secure Green Zone

BAGHDAD: Tens of thousands attended mass prayers Friday in Baghdad’s Green Zone in a new power play by Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr after his adversaries conditionally backed his call for early elections.
Sadr, a longtime political and religious force in the oil-rich but war-scarred country, has for months been in a political standoff with a rival Shiite alliance backed by Iran.
Worshippers converged on a vast square inside the normally secure Green Zone, home to government and diplomatic buildings, including the parliament which his followers began occupying on July 30.
“Yes, yes to reform! Sadr’s followers chanted during the prayers.
“No, no to corruption.”
After the prayers, hundreds returned to parliament’s vicinity, where tents were still erected and food served to protesters pursuing their sit-in among the gardens of the complex.
Sadr’s mass prayer rally follows his demand for early elections — a possibility that the rival bloc says it is conditionally open to, despite the last national polls only taking place about 10 months ago.
Months of post-election negotiations between Sadr’s bloc — the largest in parliament — and other factions failed to produce a new government, prime minister and president.
The political tensions come as Iraq remains beset by rampant corruption, crumbling infrastructure and unemployment.
As a result of past deals, the Sadrists also have representatives at the highest levels of government ministries and have been accused by opponents of being as corrupt as other political forces.
Supporters of Sadr, however, are ready to follow him almost blindly and view him as a champion of the anti-corruption fight.
Speaking from a dais, the imam who led the prayer endorsed Sadr’s call for early elections.
“Iraq is a prisoner of the corrupt,” the imam said, denouncing “the scandalous deterioration of public services, health and education.”
Sheikh Ali Al-Atabi, 38, joined the throng to support Sadr. Calling people to Friday prayers is “part of his repertoire” when he “wants to use the people for something,” Atabi explained.
A similar prayer call and pressure tactic from Sadr in mid-July drew hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshippers to Sadr City, a Baghdad district named after his assassinated father.
Qassem Abu Mustafa, 40, described the latest gathering as “a thorn” jabbing “the enemy to demand legislative elections and reforms.”
The faithful, mostly men but with some women, used umbrellas to protect themselves from Baghdad’s 42 degrees Celsius (108 Fahrenheit) heat.
Some waved Iraqi flags and carried portraits of their leader.
“Whatever Mr. Sadr’s opinion, we are with him,” Abu Mustafa said.
Sadr’s bloc emerged from the October elections as parliament’s biggest, but still far short of a majority.
In June, his 73 lawmakers quit in a bid to break the logjam. That led to a rival Shiite bloc, the pro-Iran Coordination Framework, becoming the largest in the legislature.
The Coordination Framework’s nomination of former cabinet minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani as prime minister angered the Sadr bloc and triggered the occupation of parliament by his supporters.
With armed groups linked to the various political factions in Iraq, the United Nations has warned that tensions could escalate.
On Wednesday Sadr called for the dissolution of parliament and new polls. The Coordination Framework late Thursday said they were open to that idea, signalling a potential deescalation.
But “a national consensus on the question and providing a safe environment” were prerequisites for such polls, it said.
The Framework stressed the importance of “not disrupting the functioning” of constitutional institutions — a clear reference to the occupation of parliament by Sadr’s followers.
The Coordination Framework includes lawmakers from the party of former prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki, a longtime foe of Sadr, and the Hashed Al-Shaabi, a pro-Iran ex-paramilitary network now integrated into the security forces.
Outgoing parliamentary speaker Mohammed Al-Halbussi, a member of the minority Sunni community, on Twitter expressed support for new elections.
He said it is “impossible to ignore the will of the masses.”


Japan, Jordan foreign ministers discuss Middle East peace

Japan, Jordan foreign ministers discuss Middle East peace
Updated 1 min 9 sec ago

Japan, Jordan foreign ministers discuss Middle East peace

Japan, Jordan foreign ministers discuss Middle East peace

DUBAI: Japan’s Foreign Minister HAYASHI Yoshimasa met with Jordan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Ayman Safadi on Sept. 22.

The two officials met in New York during the United Nations General Assembly and discussed the development of the relationship between Jordan and Japan.

Minister Hayashi expressed his gratitude for King Abdullah II’s visit to Japan to attend the state funeral for former Prime Minister ABE on Sept. 27.

The two also exchanged views on Israel and Palestine, reaffirming their commitment to achieving peace in the region based on a “two-state solution.”

Hayashi said that Jordan’s role in hosting a large number of refugees is important for the stability of the region, and also explained Japan’s support this year through UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) in light of the global food and fuel price hikes that are making life more difficult for the refugees.

In response, minister Safadi appreciated Japan’s position and contribution regarding the Middle East Peace.

The ministers reviewed the Japan-Egypt-Jordan trilateral consultations on the Middle East, the second DG-level meeting of which was held this month, andwelcomed their efforts are coming to fruition and concurred to further promote cooperation among the three parties.

The ministers agreed to hold the third Strategic Dialogue between the foreign ministers in the near future to further strengthen bilateral relations and regional stability, and confirmed that they will continue to work closely together.

Originally published in Arab News Japan


Iran says 450 protesters arrested in northern province

Iran says 450 protesters arrested in northern province
Updated 26 min 30 sec ago

Iran says 450 protesters arrested in northern province

Iran says 450 protesters arrested in northern province
  • Hundreds of demonstrators, reformist activists and journalists have been arrested during the demonstrations across the country since unrest first broke out after Mahsa Amini’s death was announced on September 16

TEHRAN: Authorities in a northern Iran province have arrested 450 people during more than 10 days of protests following a young Kurdish woman’s death in morality policy custody, state media reported Monday.
Hundreds of demonstrators, reformist activists and journalists have been arrested during the mostly night-time demonstrations across the country since unrest first broke out after Mahsa Amini’s death was announced on September 16.
Amini, whose Kurdish first name was Jhina, was detained three days before that in Tehran for allegedly breaching rules mandating hijab head coverings and modest dress.
“During the troubles of the past days, 450 rioters have been arrested in Mazandaran,” the northern province’s chief prosecutor, Mohammad Karimi, was quoted as saying by official news agency IRNA.
They “have attacked government buildings and damaged public property in several parts of Mazandaran,” he added.
Local media reported that protesters were shouting anti-regime slogans, and Karimi said they were led by “foreign anti-revolutionary agents.”
On Saturday, authorities in the neighboring Guilan province announced the arrest of 739 people, including 60 women.
Iran’s judiciary chief, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, on Sunday “emphasised the need for decisive action without leniency” against the core instigators of the “riots,” the judiciary’s Mizan Online website said.
At least 41 people have died since the unrest began, mostly protesters but including members of the Islamic republic’s security forces, according to an official toll.
Photos published Monday by the Tasnim news agency showed protesters in Qom, a holy Shiite city about 150 kilometers (90 miles) south of the capital Tehran.
Security forces have released these images of “lead instigators,” Tasnim reported, asking residents to “identify them and inform the authorities.”


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 26 September 2022

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 26 September 2022

Lebanese banks reopen partially after weeklong closure

Lebanese banks reopen partially after weeklong closure
  • Lebanon’s talks with the International Monetary Fund on a bailout have progressed sluggishly

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 26 September 2022

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.