Iraq seeks quick exit of US forces, but no deadline set, PM says

Iraq seeks quick exit of US forces, but no deadline set, PM says
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani speaks during an interview with Reuters in Baghdad, Iraq January 9, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 10 January 2024
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Iraq seeks quick exit of US forces, but no deadline set, PM says

Iraq seeks quick exit of US forces, but no deadline set, PM says
  • The Pentagon on Monday said it had no plans to withdraw US troops, which are in Iraq at the invitation of its government

BAGHDAD: Iraq wants a quick and orderly negotiated exit of US-led military forces from its soil but has not set a deadline, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani said, describing their presence as destabilizing amid regional spillover from the Gaza war.

Longstanding calls by mostly Shiite factions, many close to Iran, for the US-led coalition’s departure have gained steam after a series of US strikes on Iran-linked militant groups that are also part of Iraq’s formal security forces.

Those strikes, which came in response to dozens of drone and missile attacks on US forces since Israel launched its Gaza campaign, have raised fears that Iraq could once again become a theater for regional conflict.

“There is a need to reorganize this relationship so that it is not a target or justification for any party, internal or foreign, to tamper with stability in Iraq and the region,” Al-Sudani said in an interview in Baghdad.

Giving the first details of his thinking about the future of the coalition since his Jan. 5 announcement that Iraq would begin the process of closing it down, Al-Sudani said the exit should be negotiated under “a process of understanding and dialogue.”

“Let’s agree on a time frame (for the coalition’s exit) that is, honestly, quick, so that they don’t remain long and the attacks keep happening,” he said, noting that only an end to Israel’s war on Gaza would stop the risk of regional escalation.

“This (end of the Gaza war) is the only solution. Otherwise, we will see more expansion of the arena of conflict in a sensitive region for the world that holds much of its energy supply,” Al-Sudani said.

A US withdrawal would likely increase concern in Washington about the influence of arch foe Iran over Iraq’s ruling elite. Iran-backed Shiite groups gained strength in Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion.

The Pentagon on Monday said it had no plans to withdraw US troops, which are in Iraq at the invitation of its government.

Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest oil producer, has been among the fiercest critics of Israel’s Gaza campaign, describing the mass killing and displacement of Palestinian civilians as a textbook case of genocide, claims Israel vehemently denies.

But Iraq’s government has repeatedly also said the attacks by armed groups on foreign forces and diplomatic missions in Iraq were illegal and went against the country’s interests, and says it has arrested some perpetrators and prevented attacks.

At the same time, Baghdad has condemned US strikes on bases used by the groups, as well as a recent strike against a senior militia commander in the heart of Baghdad, as grave violations of sovereignty.

Critics say the armed groups, including Kataeb Hezbollah and Haraket Hezbollah Al-Nujaba, use their status as members of the Popular Mobilization Forces, a state security force that began as a grouping of militias in 2014, as a cover.

Al-Sudani said he was seeking the coalition’s exit because Iraq could now defend itself from terrorism and should exert full sovereignty over its territory — thereby avoiding giving anyone an excuse to draw Iraq into regional conflict.

“Ending its presence will prevent more tensions and the entanglement of internal and regional security issues,” he said.

He added that Iraq was open to establishing bilateral relations and engaging in security cooperation with coalition nations, including the US. 

“The US is not an enemy to us and we are not at war with it, but if these tensions continue it will definitely impact and create a gap in this relationship.”


Israel supreme court rules religious seminary students must be drafted to military

Israel supreme court rules religious seminary students must be drafted to military
Updated 16 sec ago
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Israel supreme court rules religious seminary students must be drafted to military

Israel supreme court rules religious seminary students must be drafted to military

Israel’s Supreme Court rules military must draft ultra-Orthodox, a ruling that could split Netanyahu’s coalition.


Israeli airstrikes kill at least 24 in Gaza City, say Gaza officials

Israeli airstrikes kill at least 24 in Gaza City, say Gaza officials
Updated 2 min 33 sec ago
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Israeli airstrikes kill at least 24 in Gaza City, say Gaza officials

Israeli airstrikes kill at least 24 in Gaza City, say Gaza officials
  • Israeli airstrikes hit two schools, a house in Gaza City
  • Tanks plow deeper into Rafah in southern Gaza
CAIRO: Israeli forces killed at least 24 Palestinians in three separate airstrikes on Gaza City early on Tuesday, health officials said, while tanks deepened their incursion into the town of Rafah in the south of the enclave.
Two of the strikes hit two schools in Gaza City, killing at least 14 people, medics said. Another strike on a house in the Shati (Beach) camp, one of the Gaza Strip’s eight historic refugee camps, killed 10 others.
The house in Shati belonged to the extended family of Hamas political chief, Ismail Haniyeh, who is based in Qatar, killing one of his sisters along with other relatives too, family members and medics said.
Haniyeh, who leads Hamas’ diplomacy and is the public face of the militant Islamist group that has been running Gaza, has lost many of his relatives in Israeli air strikes since Oct. 7, including three of his sons.
Israel’s military said its forces had targeted militants overnight in Gaza City who had been involved in the planning of attacks on Israel. The militants included some involved in holding hostages captive and some who had taken part in Hamas’ cross-border attack on Oct. 7.
The Israeli Air Force struck two structures “used by Hamas terrorists in Shati and Daraj Tuffah in the northern Gaza Strip. The terrorists operated inside school compounds that were used by Hamas as a shield for its terrorist activities,” the military statement said.
Hamas denies using civilian facilities such as schools and hospitals for military purposes.
More than eight months into the fighting, international mediation backed by the United States has so far failed to bring a ceasefire agreement. Hamas says any agreement must bring an end to the war, while Israel says it will agree only temporary pauses in fighting until Hamas is eradicated.

SHORTAGES OF MEDICINE
Israel’s ground and air campaign in Gaza was triggered when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
The Israeli offensive in retaliation has killed almost 37,600 people, according to Palestinian health authorities, and has left the tiny, densely populated Gaza Strip in ruins.
Gaza’s health ministry said on Tuesday that hospitals and medical centers in the enclave were experiencing a severe shortage of medicines and medical supplies due to the continued Israeli offensive, Israel’s control and closure of all crossings and its targeting of the health sector in Gaza.
In particularly short supply are medications needed for emergency, anaesthesia, intensive care and operations, the ministry said in a statement, while cancer patients were unable to travel to hospitals.
Since early May, fighting has focused on Rafah, on Gaza’s southern edge abutting the border with Egypt, where around half of the enclave’s 2.3 million people have been sheltering after fleeing other areas.
Residents said fierce fighting had taken place overnight in western areas of Rafah, where tanks have extended their incursion in recent days, blowing up several homes in the area.

Palestinian leader Abbas to visit Moscow, Russian agencies report

Palestinian leader Abbas to visit Moscow, Russian agencies report
Updated 52 min 32 sec ago
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Palestinian leader Abbas to visit Moscow, Russian agencies report

Palestinian leader Abbas to visit Moscow, Russian agencies report
  • TASS said Ushakov did not disclose the timing but said the dates had been agreed

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will visit Russia, Russian news agencies reported on Tuesday, citing Kremlin foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov.
TASS said Ushakov did not disclose the timing but said the dates had been agreed. Another state agency, RIA, said Abbas had planned to come to Russia in November last year, but the visit was postponed at the request of the Palestinian side.
Russia says it wants to help resolve the conflict in the Middle East and that peace will not be possible without the establishment of a Palestinian state.


Jordan bans 10 people from traveling, charges 28 others with human trafficking and fraud in pilgrims case

Jordan bans 10 people from traveling, charges 28 others with human trafficking and fraud in pilgrims case
Updated 13 min 53 sec ago
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Jordan bans 10 people from traveling, charges 28 others with human trafficking and fraud in pilgrims case

Jordan bans 10 people from traveling, charges 28 others with human trafficking and fraud in pilgrims case
  • Defendants are involved in sending Jordanians to perform Hajj pilgrimage outside of country's official quota

CAIRO: Jordan said it barred 10 people from traveling and charged 28 others with human trafficking and fraud who are involved in sending Jordanians to perform Hajj pilgrimage outisde of country's official quota, Petra News Agency reported. 

The Public Prosecution announced the results of what it called preliminary investigations into the case of Jordanians traveling to perform Hajj rituals “outside the official mission during the current year 2024, which resulted in the death of 99 people,” citing the latest figures issued by the Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriate Affairs.

It said on Tuesday that the Public Prosecution as a result of the investigation, charged a felony of human trafficking and a misdemeanor of fraud against 28 defendants.

It added that the prosecution decided to arrest 19 people, including a woman, and prevent 10 people from traveling pending the investigation case.

The Public Prosecution will also commission the Anti-Cybercrime Unit to monitor and track the testimonies of the victims and videos related to promoting illegal Hajj on social media platforms.

Tourism companies around the world deceived foreign visitors to Saudi Arabia by issuing visas not intended for Hajj, while encouraging them to violate regulations by staying in Makkah two months before the pilgrimage, a Ministry of Interior spokesman said on Monday.

The security spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior Colonel Talal bin Abdul Mohsen bin Shalhoub said 1,301 people died during Hajj including 1,079 pilgrims who did not have Hajj permits. Those who died and were unauthorized to perform Hajj made up 83 percent of the total deaths.


Blinken emphasized to Israel’s Gallant the need for post-war Gaza plan

Blinken emphasized to Israel’s Gallant the need for post-war Gaza plan
Updated 25 June 2024
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Blinken emphasized to Israel’s Gallant the need for post-war Gaza plan

Blinken emphasized to Israel’s Gallant the need for post-war Gaza plan
  • The Middle East remains on edge as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that a coming end to the intense phase of fighting in Gaza would allow Israel to deploy more forces along the northern border with Lebanon
  • Hamas came to power in Gaza in 2006 after Israeli soldiers and settlers withdrew in 2005, but the enclave is still deemed as Israeli-occupied territory by the United Nations

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday pressed Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on the need for Israel to swiftly develop a robust post-war plan for Gaza and ensure the tensions with Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border do not escalate further.
“He (Blinken) updated Minister Gallant on ongoing diplomatic efforts to advance security, governance, and reconstruction in Gaza during a post-conflict period and emphasized the importance of that work to Israel’s security,” a State Department statement following the meeting said.
Washington has repeatedly urged Israel to craft a realistic post-war plan for Gaza and warned that the absence of it could trigger lawlessness and chaos as well as a comeback by Hamas in the Palestinian territory. Palestinians have previously said only an end to Israeli occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state will bring peace.
“He also underscored the importance of avoiding further escalation of the conflict and reaching a diplomatic resolution that allows both Israeli and Lebanese families to return to their homes,” the State Department added.
The Middle East remains on edge as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that a coming end to the intense phase of fighting in Gaza would allow Israel to deploy more forces along the northern border with Lebanon.
Earlier in June, Hezbollah targeted Israeli towns and military sites with the largest volleys of rockets and drones in the hostilities so far, after an Israeli strike killed the most senior Hezbollah commander yet.
Gallant has been on a trip to Washington, D.C., and has also met Amos Hochstein and Brett McGurk, top aides to President Joe Biden, as well as CIA Director Bill Burns. He is set to meet with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday.
A small group of protesters chanted slogans while holding a Palestinian flag as Gallant, for whom the International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan is seeking an arrest warrant, entered the Department building.
The Israeli minister described his meetings in Washington, including the one with Blinken, as “critical,” according to comments released by his office.
“The meetings we are holding are extremely important and impactful on the future of the war in Gaza and our ability to achieve the goals of the war, on developments on the northern border, and other areas,” Gallant said.
Earlier at a news briefing, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters Washington hoped to make progress in its talks with Gallant, although said there was still no agreement with Israel on a post-war Gaza plan even as Israel was getting close to ending major combat operations in Rafah.
“We have been quite consistent that for there to be an enduring defeat of Hamas, there needs to be a plan for what replaces them and what replaces that needs to be Palestinian-led governance, needs to be realistic security plans,” Miller said.
“We do not want to see them reoccupy Gaza, which is why we continue to push for an alternative to that,” Miller said.
Hamas came to power in Gaza in 2006 after Israeli soldiers and settlers withdrew in 2005, but the enclave is still deemed as Israeli-occupied territory by the United Nations. Israel controls access to Gaza. Hamas has been gaining popularity among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent months.
The war started when Palestinian Hamas militants burst over the border and attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 250 others hostage, according to Israeli tallies.
The Israeli offensive in retaliation has killed almost 37,600 people, according to Palestinian health authorities, and has left Gaza in ruins.