UK, Iraq agree to increase cooperation on combating drug trafficking, terrorism

While Iraq has in recent years primarily served as a transit country for drugs there have been some indications that Iraq is also moving into production. (File/AFP)
While Iraq has in recent years primarily served as a transit country for drugs there have been some indications that Iraq is also moving into production. (File/AFP)
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Updated 21 August 2023
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UK, Iraq agree to increase cooperation on combating drug trafficking, terrorism

There have been some indications that Iraq is also moving into drug production. (File/AFP)
  • Tugendhat said British officials “want to build on our strong counterterrorism cooperation” and expand the countries’ security relationship

BAGHDAD: Britain’s security minister on Monday pledged more UK support for Iraq’s security forces in combatting drug production and trafficking..
In a visit to Baghdad on Monday, Security Minister Tom Tugendhat said British officials “want to build on our strong counterterrorism cooperation” and expand the countries’ security relationship to “identify and address shared serious organized crime threats” including “human smuggling, trafficking, narcotics and money laundering that work together as a criminal network that undermines the entire state of Iraq.”
While Iraq has in recent years primarily served as a transit country for drugs — particularly the amphetamine Captagon, which is largely produced in neighboring Syria — there have been some indications that Iraq is also moving into production.
Tugendhat pointed to the discovery by Iraqi authorities last month of a factory that was producing Captagon in Iraq.
“There is always an overlap between drugs, human trafficking, terrorism and violence,” Tugendhat told the Associated Press. “We are seeing criminal groups, human trafficking and drugs affecting not just Iraq, but the whole region and many of our friends and allies in the region.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani said in a statement that his country has made “significant efforts” to combat drugs and human trafficking.
Sudani said the Iraqi and British interior ministries were preparing to sign agreements outlining their cooperation on these issues.
A British official who spoke on condition of anonymity according to regulations said the agreements would focus on information sharing to support counter terrorism and on “serious organized crime.”


Supporters of Hezbollah and Amal protest in Beirut against security plan

Members of the Lebanese security forces man a checkpoint on an avenue in the capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
Members of the Lebanese security forces man a checkpoint on an avenue in the capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
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Supporters of Hezbollah and Amal protest in Beirut against security plan

Members of the Lebanese security forces man a checkpoint on an avenue in the capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
  • Security Forces warn against attacks on their units and members
  • MP fears concerted campaign against interior minister

BEIRUT: Motorcycle owners in Beirut and the southern suburbs have protested against a security plan launched by the Ministry of Interior in the capital since Monday.

The protests reached their peak with gunfire being exchanged between the protesters and the internal security forces in the heart of the southern suburbs of Beirut.

The situation worsened on Sunday as protesters marched to the Ministry of Interior, claiming that the decision to confiscate unregistered motorcycles was being made randomly and arbitrarily while the vehicle registration office had been closed for years.

Thousands of young men and women have turned to using motorcycles as an alternative to cars since 2019 amid Lebanon’s economic crisis.

The shift has led to a rise in motorcycle thieves targeting people at the entrances of Beirut, particularly on the airport road and highways to the suburbs.

A Lebanese security source said that thieves often seek refuge in Palestinian refugee camps at the entrances of Beirut or in slums in the southern suburbs of Beirut, where illegal weapons are prevalent.

Social media activists shared videos of security forces confiscating motorcycles, while owners claimed the registration service was inaccessible, leading to a lack of registration.

For more than four years, tens of thousands of transactions have accumulated in the vehicle registration department without market licenses, car books, electronic stickers or license plates being issued.

This is due to the crisis of fluctuating exchange rates between the government and contractors — especially contracts in dollars.

In addition to this crisis, corruption investigations are being conducted.

The southern suburbs of Beirut, a stronghold for Hezbollah and the Amal Movement supporters, saw clashes between protesters and security forces on Saturday night.

The supporters held motorcycle rallies to oppose the security plan.

Protesters gathered around the Al-Marija Police Station to chant the message to Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi that the situation was not under his control.

The Internal Security Forces said that the protesters fired in the air, and the police officers fired in the air to remove them from the site. There was no deaths or injuries among the protesters or the police, as claimed by some social media sites, according to authorities.

The security plan started on May 15, following a meeting of security service leaders 10 days before.

The meeting focused on Beirut’s security due to the increase in pickpocketing, theft, weapon threats and drug trafficking using motorcycles.

The security plan is based on strict measures aimed at maintaining security.

Traffic police units in Beirut and the southern suburbs conduct patrols day and night, with support from various units of the Internal Security Forces, such as the Fuhud forces, the judicial police and others.

Protesters have been blocking main roads with burning tires during afternoon rush hours for days.

Some affected roads include Sports City Road, Mazraa Corniche and the Mar Mikhael-Chiyah intersection.

A political observer expressed concern that “the protest in the heart of the southern suburb of Beirut against one of the state’s police stations may have been carried out with direct cover from Hezbollah, which rejects any disturbance to this environment. Hezbollah maintains a stable security grip in the southern suburb of Beirut while focusing on its war on the southern front against the Israeli army.”

One of the most prominent objections was a statement by the mayor of Ghobeiry, Maan Al-Khalil, who is close to Hezbollah.

The mayor protested against “the confiscation of motorcycles and vehicles belonging to the municipality and driven by municipal employees.”

Beirut MP Nabil Badr said that there was a campaign targeting the interior minister, who is committed to safeguarding the Lebanese people’s safety.

The MP said: “From the start of the security operation, we have urged a comprehensive effort in government agencies, particularly the Car and Motorcycle Registration Department, to help citizens resolve their breaches. The minister has acknowledged the issues and assured that the strict measures will be eased.”

Badr fears that “the campaign aims to create complete chaos in the streets of the capital and its suburbs among those affected by the imposition of security and state prestige. This is something we categorically reject.”

In a statement released on Sunday, the Internal Security Forces rejected “any attacks on their units and members, regardless of the excuses.”

They said that the security plan was requested to protect citizens on public roads from theft, robbery and reckless motorcycle riders, as well as their failure to wear helmets, which has led to an increase in traffic accident deaths.

The security plan aimed to protect people, they said, not to seek revenge or retaliate against them, and, according to authorities, has resulted in a significant decrease in crimes.

 

 


Hundreds rally in support of Tunisia president

Hundreds rally in support of Tunisia president
Updated 15 min 9 sec ago
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Hundreds rally in support of Tunisia president

Hundreds rally in support of Tunisia president
  • ‘No to foreign interference, because we are a sovereign state,’ say protesters

TUNIS: Hundreds of people rallied Sunday in downtown Tunis in support of President Kais Saied.

President Saied on Thursday blasted the international criticism as foreign “interference” and ordered the Tunisian Foreign Ministry to summon the ambassadors of several countries.

“No to foreign interference, because we are a sovereign state,” said Saber Rzigue, a protester on Sunday.

“We support the Tunisian leadership, particularly President Kais Saied.”

“We are against foreign interference and against traitors, even if they are Tunisian,” said Mohamed Hentati, another protester.

“Today, we want to contribute to history and stand against anyone who wants to occupy our country and try to change its social fabric,” he added.

Sunday’s rally also came after a protest and strike by lawyers earlier in the week over police raids and arrests in the national bar association.

But Saied replied on Thursday by saying the arresting of two lawyers was “in full respect for Tunisian law, which guarantees equality and the right to a fair trial.”

Demonstrators on Sunday defended the president. “Kais Saied is above all of us,” said Mahmoud, a protester who chose not to give his full name.

“It is in him that we trust. He brought us security and peace.”

Separately, Tunisia recovered the bodies of four migrants off the country’s coast, the national guard said, amid an increase in migrant boats heading from Tunisia toward Italy in recent weeks.

The force said the coast guard separately rescued 52 migrants. The national guard arrested nine smugglers, and boats were seized.

At least 23 Tunisian migrants were missing after setting off in a boat for Italy, the national guard said.

Tunisia is facing a migration crisis and has replaced Libya as the main departure point for people fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East in the hope of a better life in Europe. 


UN aid chief warns of ‘apocalyptic’ consequences of Gaza shortages

UN aid chief warns of ‘apocalyptic’ consequences of Gaza shortages
Updated 19 May 2024
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UN aid chief warns of ‘apocalyptic’ consequences of Gaza shortages

UN aid chief warns of ‘apocalyptic’ consequences of Gaza shortages
  • Famine is “looming,” UN’s humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said

DOHA: The stranglehold on aid reaching Gaza threatens an “apocalyptic” outcome, the UN’s humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said on Sunday as he warned of famine in the besieged territory.
“If fuel runs out, aid doesn’t get to the people where they need it, that famine, which we have talked about for so long, and which is looming, will not be looming anymore. It will be present,” Griffiths said.
“And I think our worry, as citizens of the international community, is that the consequence is going to be really, really hard. Hard, difficult, and apocalyptic,” he told AFP on the sidelines of meetings with Qatari officials in Doha.
An Israeli incursion into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, launched in the face of international outcry, has deepened an already perilous humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
Griffith, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said some 50 trucks of aid per day could reach the hardest-hit north of Gaza through the reopened Erez crossing.
But battles near the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings in Gaza’s south meant the vital routes were “effectively blocked,” he explained.
“So aid getting in through land routes to the south and for Rafah, and the people dislodged by Rafah is almost nil,” Griffiths added.

The UN said on Saturday that 800,000 people had been “forced to flee” Israel’s assault on Hamas militants in Rafah.
With fuel, food and medicine running out, Griffiths said the military action in the southern Gazan city was “exactly what we feared it would be.”
“And we all said that very clearly, that a Rafah operation is a disaster in humanitarian terms, a disaster for the people already displaced to Rafah. This is now their fourth or fifth displacement,” he said.
With key land crossings closed, some relief supplies began flowing in this week via a temporary, floating pier constructed by the United States.
Griffiths said the maritime operation was “beginning to bring in some truck loads of aid” but he cautioned “it’s not a replacement for the land routes.”
The war began after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 35,386 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to data provided by the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Out of 252 people taken hostage from Israel during the October 7 attack, 124 remain held in Gaza including 37 the army says are dead.
On Thursday, the Arab League called for a UN peacekeeping force to be deployed in the Palestinian territories and for an international conference to resolve the Palestinian issue on the basis of the two-state solution.
Griffiths said the statement from the 22-member bloc in Manama was “very important because it focused on the future.”

He explained there were a “number of different conferences being mooted and potentially planned” to discuss humanitarian arrangements in Gaza, including in Jordan.
“I feel very strongly and I know that the Secretary-General feels very strongly that the United Nations needs to be present at the table when all these things are being discussed,” the UN aid chief said.
But he cautioned on the likelihood of a UN peacekeeping force for the Palestinian territories. A proposed deployment could be blocked by a veto from permanent Security Council members, while it would also require the acceptance from the warring parties of the UN’s presence.
The UN announced in March that Griffiths, a British barrister, would step down in June over health concerns.
He said that in recent years he had observed that “the norms that were built up very painfully, indeed since the founding of the United Nations... but particularly in the last couple of decades, seem to have been set aside.”
“There is no consensus on methods of dialogue and negotiation, or mediation, which need to be, in my view, prioritized. And so we have an angry world,” Griffiths said.


UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza

UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza
Updated 19 May 2024
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UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza

UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza
  • Shipment arrived via the maritime corridor from Larnaca in Cyprus

DUBAI: A UAE aid shipment carrying 252 tons of food arrived in Gaza bound for the north of the enclave, Emirates News Agency reported on Sunday.

The shipment arrived via the maritime corridor from Larnaca in Cyprus. The delivery involved cooperation from the US, Cyprus, UK, EU and UN.

The supplies were unloaded at UN warehouses in Deir Al-Balah and are awaiting distribution to Palestinians in need.

Emirati Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem Al-Hashimy said that the food supplies will be delivered and distributed in collaboration with international partners and humanitarian organizations, as part of the UAE’s efforts to provide relief and address the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

The UAE, in accordance with its historical commitment to the Palestinian people and under the guidance of its leadership, continues to provide urgent humanitarian aid and supplies to Gaza, she added.

Since the war began in October, the UAE has delivered more than 32,000 tons of urgent humanitarian supplies, including food, relief and medical supplies, via 260 flights, 49 airdrops and 1,243 trucks.

The UAE delivery came as Israel closed the Rafah border crossing. The World Health Organization said on Friday that it has received no medical supplies in the Gaza Strip for 10 days.
 


Intense search for Iran’s President Raisi after helicopter ‘accident’

The helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi takes off at the Iranian border with Azerbaijan.
The helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi takes off at the Iranian border with Azerbaijan.
Updated 19 May 2024
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Intense search for Iran’s President Raisi after helicopter ‘accident’

The helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi takes off at the Iranian border with Azerbaijan.
  • Expressions of concern and offers to help came from abroad, including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Qatar and Turkiye, as well as from the European Union

TEHRAN: Iran launched a large-scale search and rescue effort to scour a fog-shrouded mountain area after President Ebrahim Raisi’s helicopter went missing Sunday in what state media described as an “accident.”
Fears grew for the 63-year-old ultraconservative after contact was lost with the helicopter carrying him as well as Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and others in East Azerbaijan province, reports said.
The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, urged Iranians to “not worry” about the leadership of the Islamic republic, saying “there will be no disruption in the country’s work.”
“We hope that Almighty God will bring our dear president and his companions back in full health into the arms of the nation,” he said in on state TV.
Expressions of concern and offers to help came from abroad, including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Qatar and Turkiye, as well as from the European Union which said it activated its rapid response mapping service to aid in the search effort.
State television reported that “an accident happened to the helicopter carrying the president” in the Jolfa region of the western province, while some officials described it as a “hard landing.”
“The harsh weather conditions and heavy fog have made it difficult for the rescue teams to reach the accident site,” said one broadcaster.
More than 40 rescue teams using search dogs and drones were sent to the site, reported the IRNA news agency as TV stations showed pictures of rows of waiting emergency response vehicles.
Raisi was visiting the province where he inaugurated a dam project together with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, on the border between the two countries.
Raisi’s convoy included three helicopters, and the other two had “reached their destination safely,” according to Tasnim news agency.
Foreign countries were closely following the search effort at a time of high regional tensions over the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas since October 7 that has drawn in other armed groups in the Middle East.
A US State Department spokesman said: “We are closely following reports of a possible hard landing of a helicopter in Iran carrying the Iranian president and foreign minister.
“We have no further comment at this time.”
An Iranian Red Crescent team was seen walking up a slope in thick fog and drizzling rain, while other live footage showed worshippers reciting prayers in the holy city of Mashhad, Raisi’s hometown.
In neighboring Iraq, Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani “instructed the interior ministry and the Iraqi Red Crescent and other relevant authorities to offer available resources... to aid in the search.”
Azeri President Aliyev said in a post on X that “we were profoundly troubled by the news of a helicopter carrying the top delegation crash-landing in Iran.”
“Our prayers to Allah Almighty are with President Ebrahim Raisi and the accompanying delegation,” he said, noting that his country “stands ready to offer any assistance needed.”
The accident happened in the mountainous protected forest area of Dizmar near the town of Varzaghan, said the official IRNA news agency.
Military personnel along with the Revolutionary Guards and police had also deployed teams to the area, said army chief-of-staff Mohammad Bagheri.
Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said one of the helicopters “made a hard landing due to bad weather conditions” and that it was “difficult to establish communication” with the aircraft.
Raisi has been president since 2021 when he succeeded the moderate Hassan Rouhani, for a term during which Iran has faced crisis and conflict.
He took the reins of a country in the grip of a deep social crisis and an economy strained by US sanctions against Tehran over its contested nuclear program.
Iran saw a wave of mass protests triggered by the death in custody of Iranian-Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in September 2022 after her arrest for allegedly flouting dress rules for women.