LONDON: A group of 1,200 university students in Iran have been struck by a food poisoning outbreak on the eve of anti-regime demonstrations set to be held throughout the country, the Daily Telegraph reported.
The students at Kharazmi and Arak universities, as well as four other institutions, threw their provided food onto surrounding streets in protest, with the country’s national student union accusing authorities of deliberately poisoning people.
In a statement, the union said: “Our past experiences of similar incidents at the Isfahan university negates the authorities’ reason for this mass food poisoning.”
Officials have blamed the outbreak on water-borne bacteria.
However, clinics in several affected universities have also closed or run out of supplies to treat dehydration and other associated symptoms of food poisoning, in a sign that the outbreak may have been a deliberate strategy to thwart the national protest movement.
It came as a three-day nationwide strike was due to begin on Wednesday, intensifying public pressure against the regime.
Meanwhile, Iranian authorities denied reports that the regime would disband the country’s morality police.
The religious force was behind the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in custody in September, triggering mass protests.
A state broadcaster said: “No official in the Islamic Republic of Iran has confirmed the closure of the morality police.
“Some foreign media have tried to characterize the attorney general’s statement as the Islamic Republic’s withdrawal from its hijab (laws) and influenced by the recent riots.”
As more Iranian public figures show support for the protest movement, authorities on Monday closed two businesses belonging to former national football team star Ali Daei.
The ex-striker, who scored 109 international goals, said last week that he had faced threats after showing public support for the anti-regime movement.
A jewelry store as well as a restaurant belonging to Daei were closed during the move by authorities.
A state news agency said: “Following the cooperation with anti-revolutionary groups in cyberspace to disrupt peace and business of the market, a judicial order was issued to seal Noor Jewelry Gallery.”
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack
Updated 01 February 2023
IRBIL, Iraq: Unidentified attackers fired eight rockets at a Turkish military base in northern Iraq on Wednesday, two of which landed inside the facility, the Counter-Terrorism Group, a security organization in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, said.
A Turkish security source said the attack had caused no damage and there were no casualties in the base, without going into further detail.
An Iraqi security source who declined to be identified said an Iraqi contractor in the base had been wounded.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in the early hours on the Zilkan base, which hosts Turkish troops in Ninevah province of northern Iraq.
Turkiye has been carrying out operations in Iraq for decades against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has bases in the region. It is designated a terrorist group by Turkiye, the United States, and the European Union.
The group launched an insurgency in southeast Turkiye in 1984 in which more than 40,000 people have been killed.
Abbas succession battle could ‘collapse’ Palestinian Authority: think tank
Abbas heads the PA, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Fatah, the secular political movement founded by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Updated 01 February 2023
RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: The future battle to succeed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas could trigger “mass protest, repression” and the outright collapse of the Palestinian Authority, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said Wednesday.
The think tank released its forecast a day after the aging and increasingly unpopular 87-year-old Abbas met in Ramallah with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was in the region to urge calm amid a spike in Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Given Abbas’s age and persistent rumors about his poor health, speculation on his successor is common in the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority (PA) is based.
The Brussels-based ICG predicted in its report that “elections based on legal procedures” were “the least likely” outcome when Abbas vacates the presidency.
Abbas heads the PA, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Fatah, the secular political movement founded by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Abbas was elected president after Arafat died in 2004. Palestinians have had no presidential elections since.
The report says Abbas, who has been unwilling to designate a successor, has also “hollowed out or disabled the institutions and procedures that would otherwise decide who will take his place.”
It is therefore “unclear who will succeed him, and by what process,” ICG said, warning of a possible “descent into mass protest, repression, violence and even the PA’s collapse.”
According to the report, any last-ditch effort to name a successor to ease a transition process “would go awry.”
Abbas has repeatedly called off plans to hold presidential polls, as recently as 2021 when he scrapped scheduled elections citing Israel’s refusal to allow voting in annexed east Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as their future capital.
Palestinian experts widely suspected Abbas backed away from the polls over fears Fatah would be trounced by Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip.
While Abbas has not named a successor, he has elevated PA civil affairs minister Hussein Al-Sheikh, who he tapped for the number two spot in the PLO.
The ICG report names Sheikh and PA intelligence chief Majid Faraj as possible successors.
Though the two men hold significant power within the PA and are seen as able to work with the international community, the report notes “neither has been able to win much support in Palestinian society.”
It identifies second-tier “would-be successors,” among them Palestinian Football Association chief Jibril Rajoub, prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh and Mohammed Dahlan, a former Gaza security chief exiled to the United Arab Emirates after falling out with Abbas.
“Each of these men has his own network,” the report says, but none “could stand on his own.”
Iraqi PM says banking reforms reveal fraudulent dollar transactions
Iraq has in recent months been making efforts to ensure its banking system is compliant with the international electronic transfer system known as SWIFT
Updated 01 February 2023
BAGHDAD: Iraq’s premier said Tuesday that new banking regulations had revealed fraudulent dollar transactions made from his country, as the fresh controls coincide with a drop in the local currency’s value.
Iraq has in recent months been making efforts to ensure its banking system is compliant with the international electronic transfer system known as SWIFT.
Referring to the new controls, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani hailed “a real reform of the banking system,” but denounced “falsified invoices, money going out fraudulently,” in particular as foreign currency payments for imports.
“That is a reality,” he said in an interview on state television.
The adoption of the SWIFT system was supposed to allow for greater transparency, tackle money laundering and help to enforce international sanctions, such as those against Iran and Russia.
An adviser to Sudani had said that since mid-November, Iraqi banks wanting to access dollar reserves stored in the United States must make transfers using the electronic system.
The US Federal Reserve will then examine the requests and block them if it finds them suspicious.
According to the adviser, the Fed had so far rejected 80 percent of the transfer requests over concerns of the funds’ final recipients.
Before the introduction of the new regulations, “we were selling $200 million or $300 million a day,” Sudani said.
“Now, the central bank provides $30 million, $40 million, $50 million,” he said, questioning: “What were we importing in a single day for $300 million?“
“There are products that were entering (Iraq) for prices that make no sense. Clearly, the objective was to take foreign currency out of Iraq,” he said. “This must stop.”
Money may have been transported to Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan province “and from there to neighboring countries,” Sudani said, without specifying whether he was referring to Turkiye, Iran or war-torn Syria.
He said the new controls had been planned for two years, in accordance with an agreement between Iraq’s central bank and US financial authorities, and deplored previous failures to put them in place.
Iraq, which is trying to move past four decades of war and unrest, is plagued by endemic corruption.
The official exchange rate is fixed by the government at 1,470 dinars to the dollar, but the currency was trading at around 1,680 on Tuesday on unofficial markets amid dollar scarcity.
The drop has sparked sporadic protests by Iraqis worried about their purchasing power.
Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein and the new central bank chief will be among a delegation traveling to Washington on February 7 to discuss the new mechanism and the fluctuating exchange rate, Sudani said.
DUBAI: For decades, the Middle East and North Africa region has struggled to meet its growing water needs. With populations booming and natural sources of freshwater rapidly depleting, finding sustainable solutions to address the precarious state of the region’s water security is more urgent than ever.
Water insecurity has exacerbated conflicts and political tensions in many Arab countries, significantly impacting the health and well-being of its people. In nations such as Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and even several of the Gulf states, many communities lack access to plentiful clean water.
While about 40 percent of the global population experiences water scarcity, the MENA region is considered among the world’s most water-insecure, with about 90 percent of children living in areas of high or extremely high water stress. According to UNICEF, the region is home to 11 of the world’s 17 most water-stressed countries.
“Countries with rapid population growth, an arid climate, and heavily water-consuming agricultural activities are at a much higher risk of facing significant water scarcity before 2050. These nations will therefore require larger counter operations in order to negate the pending impact,” Walid Saad, CEO and co-founder of World of Farming, told Arab News.
“This is a challenge that requires a collaborative approach between public and private sector organizations, and the implementation of technology and innovative solutions across industries, to help ensure greater water efficiency and security for future generations.”
A 2020 report by Orient Planet Research found that the Gulf Cooperation Council area’s water needs will reach 33,733 cubic meters per year by 2050. However, the region’s projected future storage is just 25,855 cubic meters.
This means the region needs to boost its water stocks by 77 percent to meet the requirements of its population within the next 30 years.
Identifying ways to mitigate and adapt to climate pressures has become a top priority for regional governments. The coming year is expected to be one of the hottest on record, with extreme weather events likely to grow in scale and frequency and, in the process, exacerbate existing problems of the water-stressed region.
11 World’s most water-stressed countries (out of a total of 17) that are in MENA region.
90% Children in areas of high or extremely high water stress in MENA.
77% Increase in water stocks needed by 2050 to meet GCC population’s requirements.
By the end of the century, scientists expect average temperatures in the Middle East to rise by 5 degrees Celsius, making parts of the region potentially uninhabitable if action is not taken urgently to tackle the causes of man-made climate change.
In addition to extreme weather, climate-related water scarcity is expected to wipe up to 14 percent off the region’s gross domestic product over the coming 30 years, according to the World Bank.
As about 60 percent of the region’s freshwater originates from external territories, international relations also play a crucial role in water security.
The Nile River, for instance, runs through or along the border of 10 other African countries before it reaches Egypt, making Ethiopia’s GERD dam project a point of contention, while Iraq and Syria are fed by the Tigris and Euphrates, which both originate in neighboring Turkiye where large dam projects are also underway.
Jordan and the West Bank, meanwhile, rely on the Jordan River, whose source lies in Israeli territory. Conflicts, rivalries and failures to cooperate on shared water access can lead to pollutants, fish-stock depletion and water shortages further downstream.
In the face of these challenges, several Arab governments are now prioritizing investment in new innovations and technologies to help conserve freshwater sources, recycle and reuse wastewater, and reduce the environmental harm of desalinating seawater.
“Technologies such as membrane bioreactors, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet disinfection are being used to treat wastewater to a high standard, making it suitable for reuse in irrigation, industrial and even potable uses,” Fawzi Al-Dibis, manager of sustainability and climate change at WSP Middle East, told Arab News.
Another solution is localized greywater treatment, which allows for the use and reuse of water at source, thereby avoiding additional pumping costs. At present, about 80 percent of the world’s wastewater is being discharged untreated into the environment, according to the UN.
Atmospheric water harvesting is another promising means of overcoming water scarcity by collecting water from the air through various methods, including condensation, dew collection and fog harvesting.
Agriculture accounts for almost 80 percent of the MENA region’s water usage, compared to the 70 percent global average. According to the World Bank, freshwater is being drawn from natural underground aquifers faster than it can be replenished.
To monitor and control this dwindling resource, new smart water management systems, employing artificial intelligence technology, are being developed, Al-Dibis told Arab News.
“These technologies help to analyze data from various sources, such as weather forecasts and sensor networks, to make more accurate predictions of water availability, and to optimize the distribution and use of water resources,” he said.
If farming and irrigation can be made more sustainable, Saad says that the region could also reduce its carbon footprint by growing more of its own crops, thereby cutting its reliance on imported goods.
“The use of smart irrigation and automation in agriculture provides savings in water consumption by optimizing the amount of water needed, in controlled time periods,” he said. The process can be automated using remote wireless sensors that gather live data to make accurate predictions regarding irrigation schedule, location and requirements.
A more holistic approach, implementing “a closed-loop system” in agricultural operations, could reduce the strain on all elements of water supply in the region and ease the existing reliance on transportation, outsourcing, and infrastructure beyond the local ecosystem.
Clean technologies and other innovations are also being deployed to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other harmful byproducts during the desalination process. “Fortunately, the science of new materials is offering new solutions to current desalination plants,” Al-Dibis said.
Saad concurs that leveraging new technologies is crucial to reducing the region’s dependence on desalination to meet its water needs. “The Middle East is leading the charge for many of these developments, spurred on by the drier climate and heavy reliance on importation,” he said.
The UAE launched its Net Zero 2050 strategy in 2021, aiming to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in line with its global climate commitments and to address its own environmental challenges.
The UAE’s water table has dropped by about 1 meter a year over the past 30 years, giving the country less than 50 years until all its natural freshwater resources are depleted.
Similarly, Saudi Arabia has rolled out its Vision 2030 initiative, part of which focuses on the optimal use of water resources, reducing consumption and using renewable water, together with its Saudi Green and Middle East Green initiatives.
The Kingdom’s NEOM smart city giga-project taking shape on the Red Sea coast also aims to reduce average water loss from 30 percent to 3 percent by building infrastructure and optioning innovative technology through ENOWA, its energy and water subsidiary.
“This endeavor will provide a blueprint for achieving sustainable water and resource management at scale, and once achieved, a success model the rest of the world may adopt or adapt,” Saad said.
While acknowledging that technology and real-time innovation are essential to reducing water waste, Saad believes the preservation of natural resources can only be achieved through cooperation between governments, businesses and consumers.
“The decisions we make when we source and consume our food and the way we live our day-to-day lives can all have an impact,” he said.
“Everyone can contribute to the overall goal of sustainability by addressing our own day-to-day habits and decisions.”
Turkish military’s push into Iraqi territory risks deeper conflict
Escalation risks further destabilizing a region where foreign powers have intervened with impunity
Updated 31 January 2023
SARARO, Iraq: Looming over the deserted village of Sararo in northern Iraq, three Turkish military outposts break the skyline, part of an incursion that forced the residents to flee last year after days of shelling.
The outposts are just some of the dozens of new military bases Turkiye has established on Iraqi soil in the past two years as it steps up its decades-long offensive against Kurdish militants sheltered in the remote and rugged region.
“When Turkiye first came to the area, they set up small portable tents, but in the spring, they set up outposts with bricks and cement,” Sararo’s mayor Abdulrahman Hussein Rashid said in December during a visit to the village, where shell casings and shrapnel still litter the ground.
“They have drones and cameras operating 24/7. They know everything that’s going on,” he said, as drones buzzed overhead in the mountainous terrain 5 km from the frontier.
Turkiye’s advances across the increasingly depopulated border of Iraqi Kurdistan attract little global attention compared to its incursions into Syria or the battle against Daesh, but the escalation risks further destabilizing a region where foreign powers have intervened with impunity, analysts say.
Turkiye could become further embroiled if its new Iraqi bases come under sustained attack, while its growing presence may also embolden Iran to expand military action in Iraq against groups it accuses of fomenting unrest at home, Kurdish officials say.
The former secretary general for Kurdistan’s Peshmerga forces, Jabar Manda, said Turkiye had 29 outposts in Iraq until 2019 but the number has mushroomed as Ankara tries to stop the Kurdistan Workers’ Party launching attacks on its own territory.
“Year after year the outposts have been increasing after the escalation of battles between Turkish forces and the PKK,” he said, estimating the current number at 87, mostly in a strip of border territory about 150 km long and 30 km deep.
A Kurdish official, who declined to be named, also said Turkiye now had about 80 outposts in Iraq. Another Kurdish official said at least 50 had been built in the last two years and that Turkiye’s presence was becoming more permanent.
Asked to comment on its bases in Iraq, Turkiye’s Defense Ministry said its operations there were in line with article 51 of the UN Charter, which gives member states the right to self defense in the event of attacks.
“Our fight against terrorism in northern Iraq is carried out in coordination and close cooperation with the Iraqi authorities,” the ministry said in a statement, which did not address questions about the figures cited by Kurdish officials.
Turkiye’s presence in northern Iraq, which has long been outside the direct control of the Baghdad government, dates back to the 1990s when former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein let Turkish forces advance 5 km into the country to fight the PKK.
Since then, Turkiye has built a significant presence, including one base at Bashiqa 80 km inside Iraq, where it says Turkish troops were part of an international mission to train and equip Iraqi forces to fight Daesh. Turkiye said it worked to avoid civilian casualties through its coordination with Iraqi authorities.
A report published in August by a coalition of NGOs, End Cross-Border Bombing, said at least 98 civilians were killed between 2015 and 2021. The International Crisis Group, which gave a similar civilian death toll, said 1,180 PKK militants were killed between 2015 and 2023.
According to an official with Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government, the conflict has also emptied at least 800 villages since 2015, when a ceasefire between Turkiye and the PKK broke down, driving thousands of people from their homes.
Beyond the humanitarian impact, Turkiye’s incursion risks widening the conflict by giving carte blanche to regional rival Iran to step up intelligence operations inside Iraq and take its own military action, Kurdish officials say.
Tehran has already fired missiles at bases of Kurdish groups it accuses of involvement in protests against its restrictions on women, displacing hundreds of Iranian Kurds and killing some.
Pro-Iranian militias in Iraq also have a pretext to respond to Turkiye’s presence, analysts say, raising the prospect of escalation between Turkish troops and groups besides the PKK.
Hamdi Malik, a specialist on Iraqi Shiite militias at the Washington Institute, said pro-Iranian groups such as Liwa Ahrar Al-Iraq (Free People of Iraq Brigade) and Ahrar Sinjar (Free People of Sinjar) rebranded themselves last year as the resistance against the Turkish presence.
According to a Washington Institute report, attacks on Turkish military facilities in Iraq increased from an average of 1.5 strikes per month at the start of 2022 to seven in April. If the groups, which are deeply hostile to Washington, step up operations that would also undermine the influence of the United States and its 2,000 troops in Iraq, said Mustafa Gurbuz, a nonresident fellow at the Arab Center Washington.
“Turkiye is underestimating the strength of opposition and the fact that these facilities will become targets in the future and more so as hostilities increase,” said Sajad Jiyad, Baghdad-based analyst for The Century Foundation, a US think tank.
Northern Iraq’s fragmented politics mean that neither the federal government in Baghdad nor the KRG regional authority are strong enough to challenge Turkiye’s presence — or to meet Ankara’s goal of containing the PKK themselves.
The Baghdad government has complained about Ankara’s incursions but has little authority in the mainly Kurdish north, while the region’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party does not have the firepower to challenge the PKK, despite seeing it as a potent and populist rival.
The KDP has historically cooperated with Turkiye but has limited influence over a neighbor which wields far greater military and economic clout.
“We ask all foreign military groups — including the PKK — to not drag the Kurdistan Region into any kind of conflicts or tensions,” KRG spokesman Jotiar Adil said.
“The PKK are the main reason that pushed Turkiye to enter our territories in the Kurdistan Region. Therefore, we think the PKK should leave,” he said. “We are not a side in this long-standing conflict and we have no plans to be on any side.”
Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister Masrour Barzani said the conflict between Turkiye and the PKK was a matter of concern, but less pressing than the threat from Daesh.
Hariam Mahmoud, a leading figure in the Kurdistan Liberation Movement, a civilian opposition group in Iraq influenced by the ideas of jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, said no matter how much Turkiye squeezes them they will continue to resist.
“In our opinion, this is an occupation and fighting resistance is a legitimate right,” said Mahmoud, who lives in Garmiyan district south of Sulaimaniya.
Civilians, meanwhile, continue to pay the price. Ramzan Ali, 72, was irrigating his field in Hirure a few km from Sararo in 2021, when he heard a huge blast. The next thing he remembers is being on the ground covered in blood.
He said a Turkish shell had crashed into his property — a regular occurrence when Turkish troops respond to PKK attacks with artillery.