Bloodied and terror-stricken Iraqi schoolchildren embody the human cost of Iranian aggression

Special Bloodied and terror-stricken Iraqi schoolchildren embody the human cost of Iranian aggression
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Several schoolchildren have been hiding for fear of more bombings from drones.
Special Bloodied and terror-stricken Iraqi schoolchildren embody the human cost of Iranian aggression
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A wounded man receives treatment at a hospital following strikes by Iranian forces on the village of Altun Kupri in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan Region on Sept.28, 2022. (AFP)
Special Bloodied and terror-stricken Iraqi schoolchildren embody the human cost of Iranian aggression
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A wounded man receives treatment at a hospital following strikes by Iranian forces on the village of Altun Kupri in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan Region on Sept.28, 2022. (AFP)
Special Bloodied and terror-stricken Iraqi schoolchildren embody the human cost of Iranian aggression
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Smoke rises from the Iraqi Kurdistan headquarters of the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) after Iran's Revolutionary Guards' strike on Sept. 28, 2022. (Reuters)
Special Bloodied and terror-stricken Iraqi schoolchildren embody the human cost of Iranian aggression
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Terrified Kurdish school children shelter on hillside after the Iranian drone strike in the town of Koya in Iraqi Kurdistan. (Supplied)
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Updated 03 October 2022

Bloodied and terror-stricken Iraqi schoolchildren embody the human cost of Iranian aggression

Bloodied and terror-stricken Iraqi schoolchildren embody the human cost of Iranian aggression
  • Civilians died when Iran launched a massive aerial assault on northern Iraq on Wednesday 
  • Analysts say strikes were intended to divert attention from protests roiling the Islamic Republic

IRBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan: The photo of a blood-stained Kurdish girl, whose school in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan Region was attacked on Wednesday by Iranian drones and missiles, has put a human face on the mounting cost of Tehran’s indiscriminate assault on the semi-autonomous region.

Clips posted by journalists showed terror-stricken Kurdish school children being escorted to safety and sheltering on hillsides near the town of Koya, which analysts described as an intolerable act of aggression aimed at diverting international attention away from the ongoing protests roiling the Islamic Republic.

Mobile phone footage shared with local news channels shows primary school children screaming in response to nearby explosions as panicked parents and teachers try to usher them away.

On Wednesday, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) launched several Fateh 360 ballistic missiles, a new missile Iran only test-fired for the first time earlier in September, and Shahed 136 suicide drones, the same recently deployed by Russia in the Ukraine war, at targets throughout the Kurdistan Region of neighboring Iraq.

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The purported targets were the headquarters of Iranian Kurdish dissident groups. At least 14 people are reported to have been killed and 58 injured, including women and children.

Kurdish dissident groups targeted in the strikes include the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), the Kurdistan Freedom Party, and Komala. According to local reports, Rozhhalat primary school in Koya, which is situated close to the KDPI’s main base in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, was also hit in what experts believe was a deliberate attack. 

“It appears that Iran acted upon geospatial intelligence for the strikes, but it remains to be known how precise such intelligence was,” Ceng Sagnic, head of analysis at TAM-C Solutions, a multinational geopolitical intelligence and consultancy firm, told Arab News.

“It is fairly unlikely that targeted locations were randomly selected for strikes since they occurred in areas with high KDPI activity, which may suggest that a school was selected on purpose.”

He added: “Iran had previously targeted civilian-populated areas of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, in attempts to pressure both the local population and the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) against Iranian Kurdish dissident groups.”

Osamah Golpy, a Kurdish journalist who was in Koya on Wednesday, said most of the previous attacks Iran carried out against dissident bases in Iraqi Kurdistan were “almost always done at night.”

“This time Iran chose to attack in the daytime since it wanted media coverage, as if to send a message,” he told Arab News. “Iran wanted to show it can carry out attacks against the Peshmerga (the KRG’s armed forces) and civilians to terrorize the (Iranian Kurdish) dissident groups and send a message to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, including the population.”

The attacks coincided with anti-regime protests across Iran following the death of 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police, who had detained her on the grounds that she was wearing her mandatory hijab improperly.

The Iranian strikes on Iraq’s Kurdistan Region were broadcast live on Iranian television throughout the day. Golpy believes this was an intentional move on Tehran’s part to “set the agenda.”

“There is less coverage of the protests and more coverage of Iranian attacks inside Iraqi Kurdistan,” he said. “My understanding is that it was intentional and it was timed to send these messages to various stakeholders, including the Kurdistan Region and the Iranian Kurdish dissident groups.”

Sagnic of TAM-C Solutions also suspects the attacks by the IRGC are designed to deflect attention from the ongoing domestic protests. “Iran’s widespread cross-border strikes overlapping with the largest anti-regime protest movement do not seem to be a mere coincidence,” he said.




Handout picture provided by the Iranian Army office on August 25, 2022 shows the launch of a military UAV during a drill at an undisclosed location in Iran. (AFP)

“Iran has particularly been using cross-border attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan as a diversionary tool for public opinion during times of crises, with most of these attacks being portrayed as retaliation against the US and Israel.”

Sagnic believes that a “similar but expanded campaign” was likely the reason for the latest strikes, which he added is “underscored by a failed attempt to target US military facilities in (the Iraqi Kurdish capital) Irbil.”

He added: “In my opinion, Iran may have attempted to change the course of the public debate domestically by pointing to an outside ‘enemy’ said to be supported by the West. Tehran’s claims that the current public unrest is fueled by the US complements this theory.”




A partial view shows the aftermath of Iranian cross-border attacks in Zargwez, where exiled Iranian Kurdish parties maintain offices, around 15 km from Sulaimaniyah, Iraq on Sept.  28, 2022. (AFP)

Sagnic does not believe that Iran launched the cross-border assault as a preemptive move to deter or prevent Iranian Kurdish groups from actively intervening in Iran’s western Kurdish-majority region.

“I think attacks in Koya have more to do with the image that Iran wants to portray with regard to the purported foreign enemy and the involvement of dissidents rather than preventing further intervention by Kurdish groups stationed in Iraqi Kurdistan,” he said.

Although Sagnic does not believe Wednesday’s attacks are unprecedented, he says the timing was “rather interesting” and suggested it may “show a certain level of panic within the regime establishment.”

“In my understanding, Tehran’s main goal was to claim to its own public that the unrest is rooted outside Iran, hence required cross-border retaliations,” he said.

“Indeed there remains a strong probability that Iran may attempt to advance the policy of linking the current unrest to extraterritorial actors, and conduct continued cross-border attacks to condition the public opinion. Therefore more attacks in the Kurdistan Region, especially in Irbil where the closest large-scale Western military and diplomatic presence to Iran is located.”




Iranian Americans rally in Washington, DC, in support of the Iranian resistance movement and to denounce the death of Mahsa Amini under the custody of Iranian religious police. (AFP)

Kurdish journalist Golpy concurs, saying that the timing of the attacks on a neighboring country appears to be more than a mere coincidence while mass protests are taking place within Iran’s own borders.

“Almost every time when there are protests, the regime tries to contain and somehow address the issue within the country,” said Golpy. “Of course they have always blamed external stakeholders such as Israel and the US, but they never take action against the alleged external actors.

“But this time, I think for the first time, Iran tried to address the issue outside of its borders by attacking these Kurdish dissident groups, which, in my understanding, is a sign of weakness.”

 

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Iran faces condemnation, more protests after execution

Iran faces condemnation, more protests after execution
Updated 09 December 2022

Iran faces condemnation, more protests after execution

Iran faces condemnation, more protests after execution
  • Mohsen Shekari was hanged after being convicted for blocking Tehran street and wounding paramilitary
  • The announcement sparked international outcry and warnings

PARIS: Iran faced international condemnation Friday after carrying out its first known execution over protests that have shaken the regime for nearly three months, leading to calls for even more demonstrations.
Protests have swept Iran since the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd who died in mid-September after her arrest for an alleged breach of the country’s strict dress code for women.
Mohsen Shekari was hanged Thursday after being convicted for blocking a Tehran street and wounding a paramilitary on September 25, after a legal process that rights groups denounced as a show trial.
The judiciary said the 23-year-old was arrested after striking a member of the Basij — a paramilitary force linked to the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — with a machete, a wound that required 13 stitches.
He was convicted last month of “moharebeh,” or “enmity against God” — a capital offense in the Islamic republic.
The announcement sparked an international outcry and warnings from human rights groups that more hangings were imminent.
Amnesty International said it was “horrified” by the execution, which followed Shekari’s condemnation in a “grossly unfair sham trial.”
“His execution exposes the inhumanity of Iran’s so-called justice system” where many others face “the same fate,” it added.
Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR), urged a strong international reaction to deter the Islamic republic from carrying out more executions.
“Mohsen Shekari was executed after a hasty and unfair trial without a lawyer,” he said.
Shekari’s body was buried 24 hours after his execution in the presence of a few family members and security forces in Tehran’s Behesht-e Zahra cemetery, the 1500tasvir social media monitor reported.
His execution has triggered fresh protests and calls for more demonstrations.
Overnight, protesters took to the street where Shekari was arrested, shouting, “They took away our Mohsen and brought back his body,” in a video shared by 1500tasvir.
Elsewhere, chants of “Death to the dictator” and “Death to Sepah” were heard at a demonstration in Tehran’s Chitgar district, in reference to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
Hamed Esmaeilion, an Iranian-Canadian activist who has organized mass protests in Berlin, Paris and other cities, said more demonstrations would be held at the weekend.
“Regardless of belief and ideology, let’s join these gatherings in protest against the brutal execution of #MohsenShekari,” he tweeted.
1500tasvir said Shekari’s execution happened with such haste that his family had still been waiting to hear the outcome of his appeal.
It posted harrowing footage of what it said was the moment his family learnt the news outside their home in Tehran, with a woman doubled up in pain and grief, repeatedly screaming the name “Mohsen!“
Western governments also expressed anger.
Washington called Shekari’s execution “a grim escalation” and vowed to hold the Iranian regime to account for violence “against its own people.”
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni expressed indignation at “this unacceptable repression” which, she said, would not quash the protesters’ demands.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock had a similar message.
“The threat of execution will not suffocate the will for freedom,” she tweeted, criticizing a “perfidious summary trial.”
“The Iranian regime’s contempt for human life is boundless,” Baerbock added.
Germany also summoned the Iranian ambassador, a diplomatic source said, without providing further details.
UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly expressed outrage and urged the world not to ignore “the abhorrent violence committed by the Iranian regime against its own people.”
The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said it deplored Shekari’s hanging.
According to rights group Amnesty International, Iran executes more people annually than any nation other than China.
IHR, which says the security forces have killed at least 458 people in the protest crackdown, this week warned Iran had already executed more than 500 people in 2022, a sharp jump on last year’s figure.
At least a dozen other people are currently at risk of execution after being sentenced to hang in connection with the protests, human rights groups warned.


Iranian women in anti-regime protests being targeted in breasts and genitalia, say medics

Iranian women in anti-regime protests being targeted in breasts and genitalia, say medics
Updated 09 December 2022

Iranian women in anti-regime protests being targeted in breasts and genitalia, say medics

Iranian women in anti-regime protests being targeted in breasts and genitalia, say medics
  • Doctors and nurses, working in secret to avoid arrest and potential punishment, said they have noted the practice

LONDON: Women are being targeted at anti-regime protests by Iranian security forces focusing their shotgun fire at faces, breasts and genitals, according to interviews with medics across the country.

Doctors and nurses, working in secret to avoid arrest and potential punishment, said they have noted the practice after noticing women arriving for treatment with different wounds.

The medics said men more commonly had shotgun wounds to their legs, buttocks and backs, while shots to the eyes of women, men and children were also common.

The Guardian reportedly spoke to 10 medical professionals, who warned that the severity of the injuries could leave hundreds of young Iranians with permanent damage.

“I treated a woman in her early 20s, who was shot in her genitals by two pellets. Ten other pellets were lodged in her inner thigh,” one doctor told the newspaper.

“These 10 pellets were easily removed, but those two were a challenge because they were wedged in between her urethra and vaginal opening.”

Photographs seen by The Guardian showed bullet wounds all over bodies from so-called birdshot pellets, with X-rays showing evidence of tiny shot-balls in flesh.

Another doctor from Karaj, a city near Tehran, said medics believed security forces were shooting at the genitals of women because they have “an inferiority complex and they want to get rid of their sexual complexes by hurting these young people.”

Protests have been raging across Iran demanding the overthrow of the clerical rulers of the country following the death in morality police custody of Mahsa Amini.

The Iranian woman was arrested for not properly covering her hair, and the doctor who treated her wounds told The Guardian they found the experience of treating Amini “harrowing,” adding: “She could have been my own daughter.”

Meanwhile, the first death penalty on a demonstrator involved in the recent protests was carried out on Thursday by the Tehran regime.


China can help bring end to Yemen war, says official

China can help bring end to Yemen war, says official
Updated 08 December 2022

China can help bring end to Yemen war, says official

China can help bring end to Yemen war, says official
  • Beijing can persuade Tehran to stop supporting Houthis, government analyst tells Arab News

RIYADH: Yemeni experts and officials have called on China to do more to help bring an end to the country’s civil war by helping peace talks and by increasing economic and humanitarian aid.

“Yemen needs China’s assistance,” Najeeb Ghallab, undersecretary at Yemen’s Information Ministry and a political analyst, told Arab News.

“Achieving peace in Yemen is in China’s interest because it will revitalize Yemen’s ports, which would aid China’s Belt and Road Initiative and open the nation to Chinese businesses.” 

His comments come as Rashad Al-Alimi, the leader of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, is traveling to Riyadh to attend an Arab-Chinese summit on Friday.

Ghallab said that can press Iran to cease supplying and funding its proxy militias across the Middle East, including Yemen. “China can persuade Iran to stop supporting its organizations, particularly the Houthis in Yemen,” he said.

The UN Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg’s efforts to end the war have come to a standstill after the Houthis refused to extend a ceasefire that ended in October, and threatened to strike oil infrastructure in regions under government control. 

The Houthis have said they would not extend the ceasefire until the government pays public workers in regions the group controls.

Al-Alimi is expected to update President Xi Jinping on Houthi efforts to thwart peace, and to request Chinese assistance to end the conflict and aid Yemen’s recovery.

China has taken a neutral stance from the warring parties for almost a decade but backed international peace measures to bring an end to the conflict.

Beijing typically expresses support for the UN-led efforts to end the war and urges the internationally recognized government of Yemen and the Iran-backed Houthis to achieve peace. 

In 2011, China backed the GCC-brokered peace initiative that led to the removal of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh after major demonstrations inspired by the Arab Spring. 

It voted in favor of UN Security Council Resolution 2216 in 2015, which condemned the Houthi takeover and reduced penalties on Houthi leaders and Ahmed Saleh, the son of the former president’s son.

Samuel Ramani, associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, told Arab News, however said that Beijing has maintained a pragmatic and impartial approach to the conflict to retain connections with regional powers, including Iran.

“China wants to balance positive relations with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran, and likely views detachment from the Yemen war as the most effective means of preserving good relations with all regional powers,” he said.

“China is very selective in its engagement in conflict resolution in the Middle East and is unlikely to transfer its somewhat more assertive role in promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace to the Yemeni theatre.”

He added that for the time being, its role will be limited to areas that do not indicate support for any group, such as humanitarian aid and economic investment.


Lebanon MPs again fail to fill vacant presidency

Lebanon MPs again fail to fill vacant presidency
Updated 08 December 2022

Lebanon MPs again fail to fill vacant presidency

Lebanon MPs again fail to fill vacant presidency
  • Ninth session to elect president: Hezbollah opponent Moawad’s votes are equal to ‘blank’ votes
  • Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri reiterates calls for dialogue among MPs to find consensus candidate 

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s divided parliament failed to elect a new president on Thursday for a ninth time, with many MPs spoiling their ballots, including one who cast a vote for “Nelson Mandela.”

Hezbollah opponent Michel Moawad won the support of 39 MPs, but fell well short of the required majority.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri adjourned the session and announced a new meeting next Thursday, the last session for 2022.

Berri reiterated calls for dialogue among MPs to find a consensus candidate to prevent the process dragging on for months.

Only 105 of 128 MPs showed up for the vote on Thursday and many of them spoilt their ballots.

For the first time, and after eight parliamentary sessions, the number of blank ballots cast by Hezbollah and its allies was equal to the number of votes received by Mouawad.

This tie came against the backdrop of the dispute that arose between Hezbollah and its Christian ally in Lebanon, the Free Patriotic Movement, since the Cabinet session last Monday.

According to a parliamentary observer, the FPM decided to stop casting blank ballots as before and distribute its votes in a calculated manner.

Although the session failed to elect a president, the FPM’s move sent a calculated message to Hezbollah on its open decisions by leaking some of its deputies’ votes in favor of Mouawad, thereby reducing the number of blank votes, the observer said.

The winning candidate requires at least 86 votes in the first round of voting, and an absolute majority of 65 votes in subsequent rounds.

The parliament again failed to hold a second round for loss of quorum after the withdrawal of Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and MPs from other blocs.

Nine MPs voted for “The New Lebanon,” five for Issam Khalifeh and three for the customs chief Badri Daher, who is in detention in relation to the investigation into the Beirut port explosion.

Former deputy Ziad Baroud, legal expert and candidate Salah Honein, and activist and candidate Fawzi Bou Malhab received one vote each.

One vote contained the inscription “For Lebanon,” and another “the agreement.” One vote was cast for “Nelson Mandela,” in addition to canceled votes.

The results of the ballot showed that the FPM deputies amounting to 17 chose their options carefully, as they did not direct all their votes toward Mouawad.

Some votes containing the inscriptions “Mouawad,” “Michel” and “Mouawad Badri Daher” were annulled, among others.

Hezbollah and the FPM deputies did not give any statement after the session, but engaged in a quick side talk.

The Amal Movement MPs avoided discussing the dispute between Hezbollah and the FPM.

MP Ali Hassan Khalil said every party should review its stances, so “we can move forward with this dialogue.”

He said: “We are keen on preserving the relationships between the political forces and we don’t intervene in this matter.

“Everyone should know that the only way to overcome this crisis is through dialogue and communication.”

Mouawad said that “what happened emphasized the solid stances of the blocs voting for me. Some wanted to send a message but they cannot keep doing so till the end. What is happening is disgusting.”

The MP said that he is refusing to get caught up in what he calls “the votes exchange.”

He said: “What is needed is a sovereign president and not a consensual one in the negative sense.”

The dispute between Hezbollah and the FPM has deteriorated to this point for the first time.

A few hours before the parliamentary session, Hezbollah issued a statement in response to Gebran Bassil’s harsh criticism of the party, accusing it of failing to fulfill its promises.

The accusation came against the backdrop of Hezbollah’s participation in the Cabinet’s session seen by the FPM as an illegal way to take over the presidential prerogatives.

Hezbollah affirmed in its statement that the party did not promise anyone that the cabinet won’t convene unless upon the approval of all its components, and therefore, there was no reason for Bassil to consider this move a broken promise.”

The statement added: “Hezbollah didn’t promise the FPM that it won’t attend the Cabinet’s urgent meetings if the ministers of the party (the FPM) boycott it.”

Hezbollah said that “using the language of betrayel and distrust is an unwise and inappropriate behavior.”

Hezbollah said “what Lebanon needs today is communication and dialogue.”

Lebanon has been quick to confirm the safety of Rafik Hariri International Airport and those traveling through it.

Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said that they will continue to “combat smuggling at all border crossings in cooperation with all security and military bodies.”

He made the remarks after inspecting the airport security service and meeting with officers on Thursday.

The visit followed a report on Al-Arabiya–Al-Hadath channel that security sources warned that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were using Iranian airline Meraj flights to transport weapons and equipment to Hezbollah.

Regarding the landing of Iranian airline flights linked to the Revolutionary Guards at Beirut airport, Mawlawi said: “We are keen on enforcing the laws and protecting Lebanon.”

Fadi Al-Hassan, Lebanon’s Civil Aviation director-general, denied the claims.

Al-Hassan said the timing of the “baseless” report harmed the airport’s reputation.

The Meraj company is not affiliated with any party, he said.

The airline operated its first flight to Beirut’s international airport on Nov. 14, and meets all the security requirements, Al-Hassan said.

David Hill, former US assistant secretary of state, met with Berri in other developments.

Hill said in a statement that the situation in Lebanon was not hopeless and that political will is needed to carry out reforms.


Egypt says it is not at risk of bankruptcy

Egypt says it is not at risk of bankruptcy
Updated 08 December 2022

Egypt says it is not at risk of bankruptcy

Egypt says it is not at risk of bankruptcy
  • Cabinet says external debt structure is positive amid rising inflation
  • The Cabinet added that Egypt aimed to maintain fiscal discipline and reduce the budget deficit to 5.6 percent of GDP

CAIRO: Egypt’s government has rejected claims that the country is exposed to bankruptcy risk due to its debts and the cost of servicing them during rate rises and inflation.
It also cited a report on the performance of the Egyptian economy from June to November.
The Cabinet said Egypt’s ratio of external debt to GDP was 34.1 percent, below the maximum risk limit of 50 percent.
The report said the structure and diversity of Egypt’s external debt instruments including loans, deposits, issued bonds and short-term credit facilities, were positive.
The Cabinet said that most of Egypt’s external debt was medium and long-term. Around two-thirds of foreign debt was also at fixed interest rates — which mitigates the risks of international rate increases.
It added: “In light of the successive economic crises that the world witnessed during the previous periods, governments all over the world tended to adopt expansionary economic policies to mitigate the consequences of the negative effects of these economic crises on families and companies.
“Such policies led to a significant rise in levels of global indebtedness, which rose to a record 350 percent of the global GDP by the end of the second quarter of 2022.”
The Cabinet added that Egypt aimed to maintain fiscal discipline, reduce the budget deficit to 5.6 percent of GDP, and achieve the first surplus from the state’s general budget permanently at 0.2 percent of the GDP.
These measures would contribute to reducing indebtedness and achieving financial and economic stability for the country’s general budget and ensure safety for current and future generations, said the statement.
The Cabinet statement came as Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics announced on Thursday that the general index of consumer prices rose by 2.5 percent to 140.7 points in November.
The annual inflation rate in November rose to 19.2 percent, compared to 16.3 percent in October, said an agency statement.
The annual inflation rate in urban areas rose during November to 18.7 percent, compared to 16.2 percent in October.
The agency’s statement attributed the rise to prices increase for bread and grain by 52.1 percent, meat and poultry by 30.3 percent, fish and seafood by 38 percent, dairy products and eggs by 40 percent, and coffee and tea by 23.1 percent.
It also cited price increases in tobacco products by 0.3 percent, clothing by 2.1 percent, footwear by 1.3 percent, home furnishings by 2.6 percent, and appliances by 3.1 percent.