20 years after US-led invasion toppled Saddam, Iraq far from ‘liberal democracy’

20 years after US-led invasion toppled Saddam, Iraq far from ‘liberal democracy’
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Women hand out small Kurdistan flags to men gathering in Arbil on March 11, 2023, during a commemoration marking the 32nd anniversary of an uprising against the regime of toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. (AFP)
20 years after US-led invasion toppled Saddam, Iraq far from ‘liberal democracy’
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Members of an Iraqi Kurdish dance group perform during a commemoration in Arbil on March 11, 2023marking the 32nd anniversary of an uprising against the regime of toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. ()AFP)
20 years after US-led invasion toppled Saddam, Iraq far from ‘liberal democracy’
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Vehicles drive past political graffiti murals along an underpass in Baghdad's Tahrir square on March 9, 2023. (AFP)
20 years after US-led invasion toppled Saddam, Iraq far from ‘liberal democracy’
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A vehicle drives past the iconic Freedom Monument, a 50-meter long bas relief that honors the 1950 revolution which overthrew Iraq's monarchy, in Baghdad's Tahrir Square on March 9, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 12 March 2023

20 years after US-led invasion toppled Saddam, Iraq far from ‘liberal democracy’

20 years after US-led invasion toppled Saddam, Iraq far from ‘liberal democracy’
  • By the time the US withdrew under Barack Obama in 2011, more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed, says the Iraq Body Count group
  • “The US simply did not understand the nature of Iraqi society, the nature of the regime they were overthrowing,” says California professor

BAGHDAD: Twenty years after the US-led invasion of Iraq toppled Saddam Hussein, the oil-rich country remains deeply scarred by the conflict and, while closer to the United States, far from the liberal democracy Washington had envisioned.
President George W. Bush’s war, launched in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, is seared in memory for its “shock and awe” strikes, the toppling of a giant Saddam statue, and the years of bloody sectarian turmoil that followed.
The decision after the March 20, 2003 ground invasion to dismantle Iraq’s state, party and military apparatus deepened the chaos that fueled years of bloodletting, from which the jihadist Daesh group later emerged.
The US forces, backed mainly by British troops, never found the weapons of mass destruction that had been the justification for the war, and eventually left Iraq, liberated from a dictator but marred by instability and also under the sway of Washington’s arch-enemy Iran.
“The US simply did not understand the nature of Iraqi society, the nature of the regime they were overthrowing,” said Samuel Helfont, assistant professor of strategy at the Naval Postgraduate School in California.
Bush — whose father had gone to war with Iraq in 1990-91 after Saddam’s attack on Kuwait — declared he wanted to impose “liberal democracy,” but that drive petered out even if Saddam was overthrown quickly, Helfont said.
“Building democracy takes time and building a democracy doesn’t create a utopia overnight,” said Hamzeh Haddad, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Instead of discovering nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, the assault by the US-led international coalition opened a Pandora’s box, traumatized Iraqis, and alienated some traditional US allies.




Iraqi Kurdish women perform during a ceremony to mark the 32nd anniversary of an uprising against the regime of Saddam Hussein in Irbil on March 11, 2023. (AFP)

Major violence flared again in Iraq after the deadly February 2006 bombing of a Muslim Shiite shrine in Samarra north of Baghdad, which sparked a civil war that lasted two years.
By the time the US withdrew under Barack Obama in 2011, more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed, says the Iraq Body Count group. The United States claimed nearly 4,500 deaths on their side.

More horrors came to Iraq when the Daesh group declared its “caliphate” and in 2014 swept across nearly a third of the country — a savage reign that only ended in Iraq in 2017 after a gruelling military campaign.
Today some 2,500 US forces are based in Iraq — not as occupiers, but in an advisory, non-combat role in the international coalition against IS, whose remnant cells continue to launch sporadic bombings and other attacks.
The years of violence have deeply altered society in Iraq, long home to a diverse mix of ethnic and religious groups. The minority Yazidis were targeted in what the UN called a genocidal campaign, and much of the once vibrant Christian community has been driven out.




An aerial picture shows mourners carrying coffins during a mass funeral for Yazidi victims of the Daesh group whose remains were found in a mass grave, in the northern Iraqi village of Kojo in Sinjar district, on Dec. 9, 2021. (AFP)

Tensions also simmer between the Baghdad federal government and the autonomous Kurdish authority of northern Iraq, especially over oil exports.
In October 2019, young Iraqis led a nationwide protest movement that vented frustration at inept governance, endemic corruption and interference by Iran, sparking a bloody crackdown that left hundreds dead.
Despite Iraq’s immense oil and gas reserves, about one third of the population of 42 million lives in poverty, while some 35 percent of young people are unemployed, says the UN.
Politics remain chaotic, and parliament took a year, marred by post-election infighting, before it swore in a new government last October.
Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani has vowed to fight graft in Iraq, which ranks near the bottom of Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, at 157 out of 180 countries.
“Every Iraqi can tell you that corruption began to thrive ... in the 1990s” when Iraq was under international sanctions, said Haddad, adding that graft is more in focus now “because Iraq is open to the world.”
Iraq is battered by other challenges, from its devastated infrastructure and daily power outages to water scarcity and the ravages of climate change.




The crackdown on corruption and violence by Iraq's current Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani has given hope to the nation deeply scarred by multi-sided conflict. (AFP)

And yet, said Haddad, today’s Iraq is a “democratizing state” which needs time to mature because “democracy is messy.”

A major unintended consequence of the US invasion has been a huge rise in the influence its arch foe Iran now wields in Iraq.
Iran and Iraq fought a protracted war in the 1980s, but the neighbors also have close cultural and religious ties as majority Shiite countries.
Iraq became a key economic lifeline for the Islamic republic as it was hit by sanctions over its contested nuclear program, while Iran provides Iraq with gas and electricity as well as consumer goods.
Politically, Iraq’s Shiite parties, freed from the yoke of Sunni dictator Saddam, have become “the most powerful players,” says Hamdi Malik, associate fellow at the Washington Institute.




Vehicles drive along al-Firdous square in Baghdad on March 9, 2023 with a prominent billboard showing the slain head of Iran's "Quds Force" Qasem Soleimani (2nd-R) and the Iraqi Hashed al-Shaabi forces commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (2nd-L). (AFP)

Iran-backed groups have managed to maintain a certain “cohesion” despite infighting after the last elections, he said, adding that “Iran is playing a crucial role” in making sure the cohesion lasts.
By contrast, Iraq’s minority “Kurds and Sunnis are not strong players, mainly because they suffer from serious internal schisms,” said Malik.
Pro-Iran parties dominate Iraq’s parliament, and more than 150,000 fighters of the former Iran-backed Hashed Al-Shaabi paramilitary forces have been integrated into the state military.
Baghdad must now manage relations with both Washington and Tehran, says a Western diplomat in Iraq speaking on condition of anonymity.
“It is trying to strike a balance in its relations with Iran, its Sunni neighbors and the West,” the diplomat said. “It’s a very delicate exercise.”
 


Israeli soldiers to join Moroccan war games for first time

Israeli soldiers to join Moroccan war games for first time
Updated 06 June 2023

Israeli soldiers to join Moroccan war games for first time

Israeli soldiers to join Moroccan war games for first time
  • Morocco and Israel have been working to boost cooperation in the military, security, trade and tourism fields since they normalized ties in December 2020

RABAT: Israeli soldiers will for the first time take part in military exercises in Morocco when the biggest war games event in Africa kicks off Tuesday, the Israeli army said.
“This is the first time that the IDF is taking an active part in the ‘African Lion’ international exercise,” said a statement from the Israeli army late Monday.
“A delegation of 12 soldiers and commanders from the Golani Reconnaissance Battalion” — an elite infantry unit — has been sent to participate alongside some 8,000 soldiers from 18 countries.
The event — now in its 19th edition — is organized by Morocco and the United States.
“During the next two weeks, the soldiers will focus on training in various combat challenges that combine urban warfare and underground warfare, in which they will conclude in a common exercise for all participating armies,” read the Israeli statement.
Israel participated in the event last year, however only as international military observers, without soldiers taking part on the ground.
According to the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces (FAR), the war games include exercises in operational planning and fighting weapons of mass destruction, tactical land, sea, air and special forces training, as well as airborne operations.
Morocco and Israel have been working to boost cooperation in the military, security, trade and tourism fields since they normalized ties in December 2020.


How conflict is jeopardizing Sudan’s museums and cultural heritage

How conflict is jeopardizing Sudan’s museums and cultural heritage
Updated 06 June 2023

How conflict is jeopardizing Sudan’s museums and cultural heritage

How conflict is jeopardizing Sudan’s museums and cultural heritage
  • Priceless archives have already been ravaged by fire and looting since the conflict began on April 15
  • Experts fear artifacts spanning Sudan’s 6,000-year history could face similar fate to Syria’s antiquities

JUBA, South Sudan: Sudan’s rich cultural heritage is at risk of irreparable damage from the conflict raging for more than a month now as museums lack adequate protection from looters and vandalism.

The clashes have caused widespread suffering and misery, destroyed infrastructure and property, and sparked a humanitarian emergency. However, the two feuding factions, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), continue to ignore international calls for dialogue.

In the latest troubling development, RSF fighters seized control of the Sudan National Museum in the capital, Khartoum, on Friday. Although they assured that no harm had been done and steps had been taken to protect the artifacts, including ancient mummies, there is no way to verify those claims.

The museum houses a diverse collection of statues, pottery, ancient murals, and artifacts dating from the Stone Age as well as the Christian and Islamic periods.

An elephant skull displayed at Sudan National History Museum. (Supplied)

The conflict initially erupted in Khartoum but quickly spread to other states and cities, causing significant casualties. Multiple ceasefire deals have been announced and quickly broken. Nearly one million people have been displaced.

As diplomats scramble to bring the warring parties back to the negotiating table and aid agencies deploy assistance to help those in need, Sudan’s heritage sites and ancient collections have little protection from theft and destruction.

“The Sudan National Museum has become a battleground,” Khalid Albaih, a Sudanese political cartoonist and civil rights activist, told Arab News.

Smoke billows in southern Khartoum on May 29, 2023, amid ongoing fighting between two rival generals in Sudan. (AFP)

The location of the museum — in close proximity to the SAF’s Khartoum headquarters — made it at once vulnerable to accidental damage and difficult for officials to guard its collections.

“This further exacerbated the danger, as anyone found near the premises risked immediate harm, as tragically witnessed when a university student was fatally shot,” said Albaih.

Established in 1971, the museum is the largest in Sudan, housing an extensive collection of Nubian artifacts spanning thousands of years. It offers a comprehensive account of Sudan’s captivating history from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic, Kerma culture, and medieval Makuria.

Besides the national museum, the Presidential Palace Museum, chronicling Sudan’s modern history, the Ethnographic Museum, established in 1956 to celebrate the nation’s ethnic diversity, and the Sudan Natural History Museum are also at risk.

Sara A. K. Saeed, director of the Natural History Museum, recently drew the world’s attention via Twitter to the fact that Sudan’s “museums are now without guards to protect them from looting and vandalism.”

She raised particular concern about the welfare of the live animals held within the museum’s collections, which include several species of reptiles, birds, mammals, snakes and scorpions for research purposes, and which now face neglect and starvation.

The entry of SAF fighters into the Sudan National Museum happened just days after a building in Omdurman, northwest of Khartoum, housing archives that included priceless documents chronicling Sudan’s colonial past, was ravaged by fire and looters.

Home to some 200 pyramids — almost twice the number in Egypt — and the legendary Kingdom of Kush, Sudan is one of the world’s most precious reservoirs of human culture and civilization.

Without pressure from the international community on the warring parties to guarantee the preservation of historical artifacts, experts fear the unchecked conflict could erase 6,000 years of Sudanese history, in echoes of the destruction visited upon Syria over the past decade.

The civil war and concurrent Daesh insurgency devastated ancient heritage sites across Syria, including the monumental ruins of Palmyra and much of the historic center of Aleppo. Many objects looted by militants found their way onto the black market.

A file photo taken on March 31, 2016, shows a photographer holding his picture of the Temple of Bel taken on March 14, 2014 in front of the remains of the historic temple after it was destroyed by Daesh group in September 2015 in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. (AFP)

Christopher A. Marinello, a renowned lawyer known for his tireless work recovering looted artworks, told Arab News that “looters will dig up objects to sell quickly for survival, often at a fraction of their true value.

“These objects find their way to countries such as Libya and Turkiye before reaching the West,” he said, adding that this illicit trade could exacerbate security problems, as the proceeds from such sales could end up funding international terrorism.

International agencies have several mechanisms in place designed to prevent the destruction of heritage in wartime.

“Prior to any conflict, it is crucial to conduct documentation and cataloging of cultural sites, ensuring that proper records are maintained,” Bastien Varoutsikos, director of strategic development at the Aliph Foundation, a network dedicated to protecting cultural heritage in conflict areas, told Arab News.

The Aliph Foundation has been actively involved in various projects in Sudan since 2020, protecting, among others, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Meroe against the threat of Nile flooding and human activities.

FASTFACTS

  • Museums in Sudan are at risk of irreparable harm, officials warn.
  • Archives in Omdurman have already been ravaged by fire and looting.
  • Experts say collective memory, identity and history must be safeguarded.

Meanwhile, the Western Sudan Community Museums project, funded by Aliph, focuses on community engagement and the establishment of museums celebrating the region’s unique heritage.

The agency has also implemented capacity-building programs across Sudan to provide professional training in heritage protection, including the utilization of digital preservation methods to help safeguard sites.

Anwar Sabik, field projects manager at the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, emphasized the need “to keep experienced professionals working on cultural heritage close to these invaluable treasures, not only to prevent material damage but also to preserve Sudan’s knowledge and expertise.”

Since 2018, the agency has gone beyond the traditional role of museums by providing a community dimension.

“The aim has been to transform museums into vibrant hubs where people can gather, celebrate their intangible cultural heritage, and foster a sense of community,” Sabik told Arab News.

Now, with the violence in Sudan showing no sign of abating, all of this work could now be at risk.

A man visits the Khalifa House ethnographic museum in Omdurman, the twin city of Sudan’s capital, on January 18, 2022. (AFP)

Without proper protection and preservation, the conflict threatens to erase not only tangible artifacts but also the intangible fabric of Sudanese society. Traditional practices, customs, and oral histories that have been passed down through generations could disappear forever.

“The disappearance of these invaluable resources would inflict an irreparable loss upon Sudan and the world,” said Sabik. “Perhaps, Sudan has already lost a part of it as a result of the mass displacement.”

According to Varoutsikos, although reports of unprotected museums and archaeological sites have surfaced, documented instances of actual looting remain, mercifully, limited.

“In times of conflict, it is challenging to confirm looting occurrences without concrete evidence,” he told Arab News.

To combat the illicit market for cultural goods, Varoutsikos says, governments must implement stringent measures that make it difficult for these illegally acquired items to find a market.

“Decision-makers in each country play a crucial role in enacting and enforcing such measures,” he said. Heightened vigilance among customs and law-enforcement agencies worldwide is one such measure.

However, “determining the demand on the black market, particularly in the Middle East, is challenging due to the abundance of valuable items that attract interest,” Varoutsikos said.

Sudan National History Museum. (Supplied)

Matters are complicated further, as looted artifacts are often stored for extended periods before being sold to avoid attracting attention. Caution is also essential in the market due to the prevalence of fake items, which impacts sellers and buyers alike.

How the warring parties and the international community choose to respond to these calls for action could determine what sort of society emerges when peace finally returns — one that is united by its shared heritage, or one that is torn asunder.

“Sudan’s museums and the invaluable artifacts they house are not just a reflection of the past,” Varoutsikos said. “They have the power to shape the future.”

 


Kuwait’s foreign minister and US Navy chief discuss security cooperation

Kuwait’s foreign minister and US Navy chief discuss security cooperation
Updated 05 June 2023

Kuwait’s foreign minister and US Navy chief discuss security cooperation

Kuwait’s foreign minister and US Navy chief discuss security cooperation
  • Sheikh Salem emphasized the importance of strengthening the security of waterways in the Gulf region

KUWAIT: Kuwaiti Foreign Affairs Minister Sheikh Salem Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and Brad Cooper, commander of US Naval Forces Central Command, met on Monday to discuss the relationship between their countries in the realm of naval security, and ways in which cooperation might be enhanced.

The minister emphasized the importance of strengthening the security of waterways and ensuring the freedom and safety of movement of vessels in the Gulf region.

Cooper praised the bilateral ties between the nations and thanked the leadership, government and people of Kuwait for hosting US armed forces.
 


Yemen’s Lahj security forces seize drone parts bound for Houthis 

Images of seized drone parts destined for the Houthis. (Supplied)
Images of seized drone parts destined for the Houthis. (Supplied)
Updated 05 June 2023

Yemen’s Lahj security forces seize drone parts bound for Houthis 

Images of seized drone parts destined for the Houthis. (Supplied)
  • Rights groups call for impartial investigation of prisoner’s death within militia-run jail in Ibb province

AL-MUKALLA: Security forces in Yemen’s Lahj province on Sunday intercepted a shipment of drone components headed for the Houthis, the latest in a series of similar interceptions of weapons and explosives bound for Houthi-controlled areas. 

The Giants Brigade’s 2nd Brigade in Lahj halted a van transporting sealed boxes from Aden, and after opening the boxes, soldiers discovered motors, batteries, cameras, and other drone parts, and the shipment was buried within toys and covered with motorcycles.

Despite scrutiny at Aden port or other government-controlled entrance points, many local officials and journalists believe the Houthis were able to transport weapons into Yemen through government-controlled areas. 

“The event (in Lahj) demonstrates that the Houthi militia is still preparing for war rather than peace,” Fatehi bin Lazerq, editor of Aden Al-Ghad newspaper, told Arab News, adding that if multiple military and security forces cooperate, the shipment would not have had to travel through dozens of checkpoints in government-controlled areas.

“If we presume that the shipment left the port of Aden or another province, it must have passed through dozens of security checkpoints. As a result, it throws light on the fact that the Houthi(s are) still transporting … weaponry through legitimate government channels, owing to a lack of cooperation among security services.”

It comes as security officials at Yemen’s Shehin Border Crossing with Oman revealed the seizure of 355 kg of potassium permanganate, an ingredient that can be used in the manufacturing of cocaine, which was hidden among cargo on two vehicles bound for Houthi-controlled Sanaa.

During the past eight years, many supplies of weapons or drugs meant for the Houthis have been intercepted in government-controlled areas such as Marib, Hadramout and Mahra.

Separately, human rights groups have called for an impartial investigation into a prisoner’s death within a Houthi-run jail in the province of Ibb, accusing the Houthis of deliberately neglecting captives until they died.

Yemenis say that Faisal Al-Sabri, a prisoner in Ibb City’s Central Prison, was transferred to a city hospital after suffering a stroke and was left handcuffed in the hospital’s corridor due to a “lack of empty beds.”

The Houthis later returned him to the prison, where he died. 

Yemeni activists shared a photo of a handcuffed man wearing a blue prison uniform with an intravenous drip in his arm and lying on the ground, in what appeared to be the hospital in Ibb.

Human rights group Rights Radar said in a statement: “Rights Radar demands a probe into the circumstances behind the death of prisoner Faisal Al-Sabri, who died at the Central Prison in Ibb Governorate, central Yemen, just days after suffering a stroke and not receiving the proper treatment.”

Dozens of former detainees in Houthi jails have died soon after their release from illnesses contracted while in prison.

Many more Yemenis have perished in Houthi detention centers, either as a consequence of torture or because the Houthis denied them life-saving medicine. 


Abu Dhabi civil defense dealing with fire in Mussafah Industrial area: Police

Abu Dhabi civil defense dealing with fire in Mussafah Industrial area: Police
Updated 05 June 2023

Abu Dhabi civil defense dealing with fire in Mussafah Industrial area: Police

Abu Dhabi civil defense dealing with fire in Mussafah Industrial area: Police
  • ‘Relevant authorities have begun work’: ADCD statement

ABU DHABI: Abu Dhabi police and civil defense are dealing with a fire that broke out at a warehouse in the Mussafah industrial area, Abu Dhabi Police said on Twitter late on Monday.

“The relevant authorities have begun work and emphasize the importance of seeking information from official sources,” the police said.

No further details were available.