Salt, drought decimate buffaloes in Iraq’s southern marshes

Salt, drought decimate buffaloes in Iraq’s southern marshes
A drought that experts believe is spurred by climate change and invading salt, coupled with a lack of political agreement between Iraq and Turkiye, is endangering the marshes in Iraq. (AP)
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Updated 23 November 2022

Salt, drought decimate buffaloes in Iraq’s southern marshes

Salt, drought decimate buffaloes in Iraq’s southern marshes
  • Wetlands were reborn when dams Saddam built to drain area and root out rebels were dismantled

CHIBAYISH, Iraq: Abbas Hashem fixed his worried gaze on the horizon — the day was almost gone and still, there was no sign of the last of his water buffaloes. He knows that when his animals don’t come back from roaming the marshes of this part of Iraq, they must be dead.

The dry earth is cracked beneath his feet and thick layers of salt coat shriveled reeds in the Chibayish wetlands amid this year’s dire shortages in freshwater flows from the Tigris River.

Hashem already lost five buffaloes from his herd of 20 since May, weakened with hunger and poisoned by the salty water seeping into the low-lying marshes. Other buffalo herders in the area say their animals have died too, or produce milk that’s unfit to sell.

“This place used to be full of life,” he said. “Now it’s a desert, a graveyard.”

The wetlands — a lush remnant of the cradle of civilization and a sharp contrast to the desert that prevails elsewhere in the Middle East — were reborn after the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein, when dams he had built to drain the area and root out Shiite rebels were dismantled.

But today, a drought that experts believe is spurred by climate change and invading salt, coupled with a lack of political agreement between Iraq and Turkiye, is endangering the marshes, which surround the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in southern Iraq.

This year, acute water shortages — the worst in 40 years, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization — have driven buffalo herders deeper into poverty and debt, forcing many to leave their homes and migrate to nearby cities to look for work.

The rural communities that rely on farming and herding have long been alienated from officials in Baghdad, perpetually engaged in political crises. And when the government this year introduced harsh water rationing policies, the people in the region only became more desperate.

Oil-rich Iraq has not rebuilt the country’s antiquated water supply and irrigation infrastructure and hopes for a water-sharing agreement for Tigris with upstream neighbor Turkiye have dwindled, hampered by intransigence and often conflicting political allegiances in Iraq.

In the marshes, where rearing of water buffaloes has been the way of life for generations, the anger toward the government is palpable.

Hamza Noor found a patch where a trickle of freshwater flows. The 33-year-old sets out five times a day in his small boat across the marshes, filling up canisters with water and bringing it back for his animals.

Between Noor and his two brothers, the family lost 20 buffaloes since May, he said. But unlike other herders who left for the city, he is staying. “I don’t know any other job,” he said.

Ahmed Mutliq, feels the same way. The 30-year-old grew up in the marshes and says he’s seen dry periods years before.

“But nothing compares to this year,” he said. He urged the authorities to release more water from upstream reservoirs, blaming provinces to the north and neighboring countries for “taking water from us.”

Provincial officials, disempowered in Iraq’s highly centralized government, have no answers.

“We feel embarrassed,” said Salah Farhad, the head of Dhi Qar province’s agriculture directorate. “Farmers ask us for more water, and we can’t do anything.”

Iraq relies on the Tigris-Euphrates river basin for drinking water, irrigation and sanitation for its entire population of 40 million. 

Competing claims over the basin, which stretches from Turkiye and cuts across Syria and Iran before reaching Iraq, have complicated Baghdad’s ability to make a water plan.

Ankara and Baghdad have not been able to agree on a fixed amount of flow rate for the Tigris. Turkiye is bound by a 1987 agreement to release 500 cubic meters per second toward Syria, which then divides the water with Iraq.

But Ankara has failed to meet its obligation in recent years due to declining water levels, and rejects any future sharing agreements that forces it to release a fixed number.

Iraq’s annual water plan prioritizes setting aside enough drinking water for the nation first, then supplying the agriculture sector and also discharging enough fresh water to the marshes to minimize salinity there. This year, the amounts were cut by half.

The salinity in the marshes has further spiked with water-stressed Iran diverting water from its Karkheh River, which also feeds into Iraq’s marshes. Iraq has made even less headway on sharing water resources with Iran.

“With Turkiye, there is dialogue, but many delays,” said Hatem Hamid, who heads the Iraqi Water Ministry’s key department responsible for formulating the water plan. “With Iran, there is nothing.”

Two officials at the legal department in Iraq’s Foreign Ministry, which deals with complaints against other countries, said attempts to engage with Iran over water-sharing were halted by higher-ups, including the office of then-Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi.

“They told us not to speak to Iran about it,” said one of the officials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss legal issues.

Iraq’s needs are so dire that several Western countries and aid organizations are trying to provide development assistance for Iraq to upgrade its aging water infrastructure and modernize ancient farming practices.


Israel police say 42 arrested after Jerusalem synagogue shooting

Israel police say 42 arrested after Jerusalem synagogue shooting
Updated 38 min 28 sec ago

Israel police say 42 arrested after Jerusalem synagogue shooting

Israel police say 42 arrested after Jerusalem synagogue shooting
  • Police identified the gunman as a 21-year-old resident of east Jerusalem
  • He was killed by police following a brief chase after the shooting

JERUSALEM: Israel police said Saturday they arrested dozens of people after a Palestinian gunman killed seven people outside a synagogue in one of the deadliest attacks in Jerusalem in years.
Police identified the gunman as a 21-year-old resident of east Jerusalem, the sector of the city annexed by Israel after the 1967 Six-Day War.
There has been no indication that he had prior involvement in militant activity or was a member of an established Palestinian armed group.
He was killed by police following a brief chase after the shooting.
In a statement, police said they had arrested “42 people for questioning” overnight, “some of them members of the terrorist’s family.”
Others detained included residents of the gunman’s neighborhood, police said.
In a separate statement, police said the force had been placed on the “highest level” of alert following the attack in Neve Yaakov neighborhood of east Jerusalem.
Israel’s police chief Kobi Shabtai called the shooting “one of the worst attacks (Israel) has encountered in recent years.”


Arab-American leaders urge Blinken to hold Israel accountable

Arab-American leaders urge Blinken to hold Israel accountable
Updated 28 January 2023

Arab-American leaders urge Blinken to hold Israel accountable

Arab-American leaders urge Blinken to hold Israel accountable

CHICAGO: Leaders of several Arab-American organizations met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday to express concerns over the escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians and demand that Israel’s government be held accountable for it.

More than 29 Palestinians have been killed in the past four weeks and scores have been seriously injured. Several Israeli Jews were killed on Friday, allegedly by a suspected Palestinian gunman.

Blinken is planning to travel to the Middle East on Sunday, Jan. 29, and then scheduled to meet Israeli leaders on Monday and Palestinian leaders on Tuesday. He is the second member of the Biden administration to visit the region in the past two weeks. White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan was there two weeks ago.

Jim Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute — the AAI — one of the leaders attending the briefing with Blinken in Washington D.C., said that the group pressed the secretary to impose “consequences” on Israel’s government for the violent actions targeting Palestinian civilians.

“We were pleased for the opportunity to make our views known to the secretary but the emphasis was on the need for consequences,” Zogby told Arab News.

“Absence consequences for bad behavior, Israel operates with impunity and Palestinians lose hope. We offered specific suggestions on things they might do. Consequences are important. Israel should be made to pay for bad behavior.”

Zogby said that the group also pressed Blinken on the issue of the construction in Jerusalem of the US Embassy, noting that the land where the embassy is being built is owned by Palestinians, including Palestinian Americans.

In a statement the group said that Blinken’s planned trip was being “upstaged by the recent Israeli undercover military raid in Jenin that resulted in the killing of 10 Palestinians, including civilians.”

Members of the delegation expressed concern about US policy objectives and the situation in Palestine, not just in Jenin but also the mass displacement of Palestinians from Masafer Yatta in the West Bank.

“The group made it clear to the secretary that the US has a responsibility to act to restrain Israel’s aggressive behaviors toward the captive Palestinian people. Decades of US acquiescence to Israel’s policies of settlement expansion, land confiscation, home demolitions, and a range of other human rights violations have led to an Israeli sense of impunity and Palestinian despair,” the statement said.

“If the administration is to fulfill its commitment to the equal worth of Israelis and Palestinians and their rights to security, prosperity, and dignity, the group insisted that the secretary demonstrate firmness and resolve to rein in Israeli behavior.”

Other issues brought up during the meeting included Israel’s application for the US Visa Waiver Program. The program allows easy access for Israeli citizens to travel to the US but Arab leaders argued that Israel has made it extremely difficult for Arab-Americans to travel to Israel.

“Last year, Israel published military rules regarding its restrictions on visitors to the West Bank, which make clear that American citizens are discriminated against in entry to the West Bank if they indicate an intention to visit Palestinians. Those visiting Israelis face no similar restrictions,” the group said.

State Department Assistant Secretary Barbara Leaf provided details of Blinken’s planned trip during a briefing late on Thursday.

“On January 29th to 30th, the secretary will go to Cairo, where he will meet with President El-Sisi, Foreign Minister Shoukry, as well as senior Egyptian officials. In those meetings, we expect that he will underscore our commitment to continuing to advance the strategic partnership we have with Egypt and to working with Egypt to promote peace and security in the region, whether it’s in support of elections in Libya or the ongoing Sudanese-led political process, or in working to ensure a calm in the Gaza Strip,” Leaf said.

“In Cairo, the secretary will also meet with Egyptian youth leaders and with Egyptian human rights defenders to underscore our commitment to human rights and our continued support for civil society and, of course, the enduring importance of people-to-people ties between our countries.”

Leaf said that Blinken will travel to Jerusalem and Ramallah from Jan. 30-31.

“In Jerusalem, he’s going to have an opportunity to meet up with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, of course, the prime minister is just a month into his tenure as prime minister. He’ll also meet with the foreign minister and other senior Israeli leaders,” Leaf said.

“In those meetings, the secretary will highlight the special nature of the 75-year bilateral relationship with Israel and our unstinting commitment to Israel’s security and democracy. He will also underscore the United States commitment to countering the continued spectrum of threats posed by Iran to Israel, the US, and the wider region, and ensuring Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon.”

Other groups represented during the meeting along with the AAI were AMIDEAST, the Palestinian American Congress, the Arab Center of Washington D.C., and the Al-Bireh Society.


Iran cleric ‘opposes use of violence to impose hijab’

Iran cleric ‘opposes use of violence to impose hijab’
Updated 28 January 2023

Iran cleric ‘opposes use of violence to impose hijab’

Iran cleric ‘opposes use of violence to impose hijab’
  • Iran has accused its foreign foes, including the US and Israel, of fomenting the protests that erupted over Amini’s death in the custody of the country’s morality police

TEHRAN: One of Iran’s top clerics, Nasser Makarem, has spoken out against the use of violence to force women into wearing the veil.
Iran has witnessed a wave of nationwide protests since the Sept. 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old ethnic Kurd, after her arrest for an alleged breach of the regime’s dress code for women.
Hundreds of people have been killed, including dozens of security personnel, and thousands have been arrested in the protests, which authorities generally refer to a “riots.”
Makarem, a prominent cleric, said that he “does not consider violence and pressure to be effective in the hijab issue.”
“The president and ministers should know that they are in a difficult situation; it is true the enemy is very active, but not all avenues are closed,” he said, quoted by the IRNA news agency.

FASTFACT

Iran’s Tourism and Heritage Minister Ezzatollah Zarghami earlier called for greater tolerance toward women not wearing mandatory headscarves.

“The hijab issue is currently linked to political issues, and some people say that if they can remove the veil, the regime’s system will be weakened,” the cleric added.
Iran’s Tourism and Heritage Minister Ezzatollah Zarghami earlier called for greater tolerance toward women not wearing mandatory headscarves.
Earlier this month, however, Iran’s prosecutor general had called for police to “firmly punish any hijab violators.”
Iran has accused its foreign foes, including the US and Israel, of fomenting the protests that erupted over Amini’s death in the custody of the country’s morality police.
The cleric’s remarks came as Israeli President Isaac Herzog urged the NATO military alliance to toughen its approach to Iran, as Tehran supplies drones to Russia for its war on Ukraine.
“The crisis there goes beyond the boundaries of Ukraine, with the Iranian threat now at Europe’s doorstep,” Herzog said on a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels.
“The illusion of distance can no longer hold. NATO must take the strongest possible stance against the Iranian regime including through economic, legal and political sanctions and credible military deterrence.”
The figurehead leader became on Thursday the first Israeli president to brief NATO’s main decision-making body.
“A terrible war continues to cause needless human suffering and compromise the well-being and welfare of millions,” Herzog said.
“Our hearts continue to go out to the people of Ukraine as they defend their homes and their country,” he said.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said he had discussed “our support for Ukraine” with Herzog.
“The Ukrainian people are bravely defending their homeland and NATO allies and partners are helping to support their right to self defence,” he said.
The NATO secretary general said Herzog’s visit was a sign of the US-led alliance’s “deepening partnership” with Israel.
Herzog pointed to bolstering cooperation on cyber-security, threats from space, drones, and energy resilience.
He said the two sides were slated to sign a new cooperation agreement “in just a couple of months, which lengthens the period of cooperation and expands it reach.”

 


All eyes on turnout as Tunisia votes again after boycott

All eyes on turnout as Tunisia votes again after boycott
Updated 28 January 2023

All eyes on turnout as Tunisia votes again after boycott

All eyes on turnout as Tunisia votes again after boycott
  • Lawyer and political expert Hamadi Redissi said the new assembly would 'not have to approve the government, nor can it censor it without a two-thirds majority' of both parliament & a council of regional representatives, whose make-up has yet to be defined

TUNIS: Tunisians are to vote again on Sunday in elections for a parliament stripped of its powers, the final pillar of President Kais Saied’s remake of politics in the country.
The second-round vote comes as Tunisia grapples with a grave economic crisis and deep political divisions over Saied’s actions in July 2021.
Some 262 candidates, including just 34 women, are running for 131 seats in an election whose first round last month saw just 11.2 percent of registered voters take part.
That was the lowest turnout of any national vote since the 2011 revolt that overthrew Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
The final round comes 18 months after Saied sacked the government and suspended parliament, later moving to dominate the judiciary and bringing in a constitution last July that gave his office almost unlimited executive power.
Youssef Cherif, the director of Columbia Global Centers in Tunis, said Tunisians had a “lack of interest” in politics.
“This parliament will have very little legitimacy, and the president, who is all-powerful thanks to the 2022 constitution, will be able to control it as he sees fit,” he said.
Lawyer and political expert Hamadi Redissi said the new assembly would “not have to approve the government, nor can it censor it without a two-thirds majority” of both parliament and a council of regional representatives, whose make-up has yet to be defined.
The legislature will have almost zero power to hold the president to account.
As during the first round, most political parties — which have been sidelined by a system that bans candidates from declaring allegiance to a political grouping — called for a boycott.
On the streets of Tunis, campaigning has been muted, with few posters on the walls and few well-known candidates.
And despite Saied’s break with the traditional political class, many Tunisians are sceptical of all politicians.
“I don’t feel I can trust anyone, so I’m not going to vote,” said carpenter Ridha.
The electoral board has organised televised debates to try to spark interest among those voters who supported Saied’s bid for the presidency in 2019.
But Tunisians, struggling with inflation of over 10 percent and repeated shortages of basic goods from milk to petrol as well as transport workers’ and teachers’ strikes, have more urgent priorities than politics.
Last week’s delivery of 170 trucks of food, a gift from the Tripoli-based government of war-torn Libya, was seen by many as a humiliation.
Redissi said the country was on “the edge of collapse.”
“Along with soaring prices, we’re seeing shortages and the president is pathetically blaming ‘speculators, traitors and saboteurs’,” he said.
But Cherif said that, despite widespread discontent, it was “possible that the status quo will continue as long as the average Tunisian doesn’t see a credible alternative to President Saied.”
Saied faced calls to quit after the first round of the election, but the opposition remains divided into three blocs: the National Salvation Front including the Ennahda party, a grouping of leftist parties, and the Free Destourian Party, seen as nostalgic for Ben Ali’s tough rule.
The election takes place in the shadow of Tunisia’s drawn-out negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout worth some $2 billion.
Cherif said the talks were stumbling over the United States’ concerns for the future of Tunisian democracy and Saied’s apparent reluctance to “accept the IMF’s diktats” on politically sensitive issues including subsidy reform.
Redissi said there was a “blatant discrepancy” between Saied’s rhetoric against the IMF and the program his government proposed to the lender “on the sly.”
“We have a president who opposes his own government,” he said.
He said the country’s only hope lay in a “rescue plan” proposed by the powerful UGTT trade union federation, the League for Human Rights, Tunisia’s Bar Association and the socio-economic rights group FTDES.

 


Syrian regime guilty of chemical attack on Douma, weapons watchdog concludes

Syrian regime guilty of chemical attack on Douma, weapons watchdog concludes
Updated 28 January 2023

Syrian regime guilty of chemical attack on Douma, weapons watchdog concludes

Syrian regime guilty of chemical attack on Douma, weapons watchdog concludes
  • Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said it is up to the international community to take action over the 2018 attack in which 50 people died
  • Stephane Dujarric once again called on the Syrian government to fully comply with Security Council Resolution 2118 and destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles

NEW YORK: There are “reasonable grounds” to believe the Syrian Arab Air Force was responsible for a chemical weapons attack on Douma almost five years ago, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said on Friday.
Its Investigation and Identification Team, which is responsible for identifying the perpetrators of such attacks in Syria, concluded that on the evening of April 7, 2018, at least one helicopter belonging to the elite Syrian “Tiger Forces” unit dropped two yellow cylinders filled with toxic chlorine gas onto two residential buildings in the city.
Fernando Arias, the OPCW’s director-general, said: “The world now knows the facts — it is up to the international community to take action, at the OPCW and beyond.”
The Douma attack resulted in the confirmed deaths of 43 identified civilians. Some estimates put the true death toll at 50. At least 100 people were injured.
The IIT said that it reached its conclusion on the basis of “reasonable grounds,” which is the standard of proof consistently adopted by international fact-finding bodies and commissions of inquiry.
The IIT report, the team’s third, said that investigators, analysts and several external independent experts scrutinized the physical evidence of the attack, which included environmental and biomedical samples, witness statements and other verified data, such as forensic analyzes and satellite images.
The OPCW said: “The IIT considered a range of possible scenarios and tested their validity against the evidence they gathered and analyzed to reach their conclusion: That the Syrian Arab Air Forces are the perpetrators of this attack.”
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told Arab News: “It’s sad that in the 21st century we need to repeat this, but the use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anyone, under any circumstances is intolerable.
“Impunity for the use of chemical weapons is also unacceptable and it’s imperative that those who have used chemical weapons are identified and held accountable.”
He reiterated calls for the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 2118, which was unanimously adopted in September 2013 after a UN investigation confirmed the use of chemical weapons against civilians in a Damascus suburb the previous month. Images of the victims, including children, suffocating after breathing in a nerve agent caused outrage worldwide.
The resolution called on the Syrian regime to destroy its stockpiles of chemical weapons by mid-2014 and set out punitive measures in the event of non-compliance. It also banned Syrian authorities from using, developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling or retaining any chemical weapons, or transferring them to other states or non-state actors.
In October 2013, the Syria regime submitted to the OPCW a formal initial declaration of its chemical weapons program, including a plan for the destruction of stockpiles.
Almost 10 years later, the UN’s disarmament chief, Izumi Nakamitsu, continues to assert that the regime’s declaration cannot be considered accurate or complete. She said “gaps, inconsistencies
and discrepancies” were identified that continue to cast doubt on the true extent of the destruction of chemical weapons by the regime.
Dujarric called on the Syrian government to cooperate fully with the OPCW. The organization has for months complained that its attempts to schedule talks in Damascus about the issue have been blocked by the “continued refusal” of Syrian authorities to issue an entry visa for one member of its Declaration Assessment Team. The Syrian government accuses the team of being biased and unprofessional.
Dujarric reiterated the full support of the UN for “the integrity, the professionalism, the impartiality, the objectivity and the independence of the work of the OPCW.”
The IIT is a fact-finding entity, not a prosecutorial or judicial body, and does not make recommendations for future action, which is an issue for the policy-making bodies of the OPCW.