Turkiye, Iraq strengthen ties amid regional challenges

Special Turkiye, Iraq strengthen ties amid regional challenges
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, right, and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attend a welcoming ceremony at Baghdad International Airport, in Baghdad on April 22, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 April 2024
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Turkiye, Iraq strengthen ties amid regional challenges

Turkiye, Iraq strengthen ties amid regional challenges
  • Baghdad’s acquiescence to backing Ankara’s fight against PKK will likely determine extent of cooperation on other thorny issues such as water and oil, analyst says
  • Senior officials in Ankara have recently hinted at plans for a major military operation against the PKK in northern Iraq this summer

ANKARA: As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid a much-anticipated visit to Iraq on Monday, the first in 12 years, the two countries are expected to deepen security and economic cooperation while seeking ways to promote regional stability.

Erdogan’s delegation includes the country’s Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya, Defense Minister Yasar Guler, Communications Director Fahrettin Altun, his Chief Adviser Akif Cagatay Kilic and other ministers.

The president’s itinerary includes key meetings with his Iraqi counterpart Dr. Abdullatif Rashid before talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani.

In the afternoon, Erdogan was to meet with Kurdish officials in the Kurdistan Regional Government’s capital Irbil.

Experts say the visit will mark a positive shift in Turkish-Iraqi relations.

Addressing Iraqi concerns over water resources and signing strategic agreements on security, energy, trade, transportation, and health are also expected to lay the framework for future avenues of cooperation.

Water supply has become a sticking point in recent years, with Baghdad demanding more water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers — two main rivers that flow from Turkiye to the Arabian Gulf and account for more than 90 percent of Iraq’s freshwater resources.

In his meetings with Iraqi and Kurdish officials, Erdogan is seeking support for counter-terrorism efforts by jointly tackling the threat posed by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK.

Dr. Bilgay Duman, coordinator of Iraq studies at the Ankara-based ORSAM think tank, said Turkiye’s aim with the visit was not to outdo any regional player, Iran or otherwise.

He told Arab News that Ankara “wants to create a regional dynamic given the current tension between Israel and Iran, the regional crises in the Red Sea, and the lack of a solution in Syria, which have necessitated some bilateral cooperation with Baghdad and Irbil.”

Berkay Mandiraci, a senior Turkiye analyst at the International Crisis Group, says a key question will be how Baghdad will support Turkiye’s campaign against the PKK.

Last month, Iraq’s National Security Council declared the PKK an outlawed organization in Iraq, signaling a growing willingness by the Iraqi authorities to fight the terrorist group. But now, the focus is on how Iraq can limit the PKK’s mobility on its territory.

Fidan, the foreign minister, and intelligence chief Ibrahim Kalin visited Baghdad last month. 

“As Turkiye, we will work for the stability of Iraq,” Fidan said recently.

“We don’t want Iraq to be associated with internal conflicts.”

For Mandiraci, Baghdad’s acquiescence to backing Turkiye’s fight against the PKK will likely determine the extent of cooperation on other thorny issues such as water and oil.

A series of operations launched by Ankara since 2019 succeeded in pushing the PKK from the northern mountainous regions to Iraq’s southern urban areas, such as Kirkuk, Sinjar and Sulaymaniyah.

“The PKK began to confront the Iraqi central authority while also posing a greater threat to Baghdad. But Iraq has no such experience in confronting the terrorist group on a large scale. That is why it needs to cooperate with Ankara in developing measures and increasing the capacity of its armed forces to fight the PKK more actively. Baghdad is striving to become a state that has full control over internal threats by suppressing the factors of instability,” Duman said.

However, bilateral cooperation should not be limited to the joint fight against the PKK, as it will encompass a broader agenda for regional development.

During the talks, the Turkiye-Iraq Development Road project, which will stretch some 1,200 km and aims to link Iraq’s nascent Grand Faw port to Turkiye’s southern border and then to Europe via railways and highways, also featured on the agenda as it opens a new page in Ankara-Baghdad relations.

According to Duman, Turkiye could propose enlisting the support of the UAE and Qatar in this project by preparing a four-way agreement and actively participating in creating industrial cities and trade centers along this route. This would boost economic dynamism and undermine instability factors by creating wealth.

Turkiye has significantly increased its exports to Iraq this year, with sales rising by nearly $691.5 million from January to March.

Baghdad and Ankara “share an interest in the progress of the Development Road project. As a new trade route, it could play a significant role in stabilizing Iraq in the longer term and bring important economic dividends to both countries,” Mandiraci said.

But he added that building the project would not be easy, with Iran worried about its territory being bypassed.

“And Iran could play spoiler,” Mandiraci said, adding: “It will require careful and multi-vector diplomacy to reduce and manage the security and geopolitical risks associated with the initiative.” 

During his visit, Erdogan planned to meet with the President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government Nechirvan Barzani, while talks were also expected with officials of the Iraqi Turkmen Front and Turkmen community leaders.

Through this visit, Duman said that Turkiye would mediate between Irbil and Baghdad on many fronts, as consensus between the two is crucial in the fight against the PKK and in the continuation of the Development Road project, as security must be restored in the regions crossed by the road. 

Senior officials in Ankara have recently hinted at plans for a major military operation against the PKK in northern Iraq this summer. 

Turkiye is also seeking to establish a 30-40 km security corridor along its border with Iraq and to supplement it with military installations in coordination with Baghdad. 

“For Turkiye, Irbil and Baghdad are not alternatives but complementary,” Duman said.

“During this visit, I expect a joint large-scale operation between Turkiye and Baghdad to eradicate the PKK’s presence in the region to be discussed. But such a joint effort is not limited to the military struggle because, at the same time, the PKK is trying to gain a foothold through civilian formations based in Iraq.

“As its military reach shrinks, it tries to infiltrate the civil and political sphere. Iraq and Irbil may try to deepen cooperation with Turkiye in this area.”


Israeli strikes kill at least 42 in Gaza, enclave’s government media office says

Israeli strikes kill at least 42 in Gaza, enclave’s government media office says
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Israeli strikes kill at least 42 in Gaza, enclave’s government media office says

Israeli strikes kill at least 42 in Gaza, enclave’s government media office says
  • One Israeli strike on houses in Al-Shati, a historic refugee camp, killed 24 people
  • Another 18 Palestinians killed in a strike on houses in the Al-Tuffah neighborhood

CAIRO: At least 42 people were killed in Israeli attacks on districts of Gaza City in the north of the Palestinian enclave on Saturday, the director of the Hamas-run government media office said.

One Israeli strike on houses in Al-Shati, one of the Gaza Strip’s eight historic refugee camps, killed 24 people, Ismail Al-Thawabta said. Another 18 Palestinians were killed in a strike on houses in the Al-Tuffah neighborhood.

The Israeli military released a brief statement saying: “A short while ago, IDF fighter jets struck two Hamas military infrastructure sites in the area of Gaza City.”

It said more details would be released soon.

Exchanges of fire across the Lebanese border between Israel and the powerful Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah have also escalated in recent weeks, raising fears of an even wider war.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday that the cross-border hostilities must not turn Lebanon into “another Gaza,” warning of the risk of triggering a catastrophe “beyond imagination.”

His warning came as Israel stepped up its strikes in the Gaza Strip, where one hospital in Gaza City reported at least 30 dead on Friday.

Fighting continued Saturday morning, with witnesses reporting gunbattles between militants and Israeli forces in Gaza City.

And in the city’s Zeitun neighborhood, Israeli helicopters fired at militants, witnesses said.

The Israeli military meanwhile said troops continued to carry out operations in central Gaza “eliminating several armed terrorists and dismantling terrorist infrastructure in the area.”

“Fighter jets and additional aircraft struck numerous terror targets in the Gaza Strip, including armed terrorists, weapons storage facilities, and additional terrorist infrastructure,” it added.

In southern Gaza, the ICRC on Friday said 22 dead and 45 wounded people were taken to a Red Cross field hospital after shelling with “heavy calibre projectiles” near its Gaza office.

“Firing so dangerously close to humanitarian structures puts the lives of civilians and humanitarians at risk,” the ICRC said on X.

The health ministry in the Hamas-run territory blamed the shelling on Israel, saying there were 25 killed and 50 wounded in the southern coastal Al-Mawasi area, where thousands of displaced people have been sheltering in tents.

An Israeli military spokesman did not acknowledge any role in the incident but said it was “under review.”

In the north of the Strip, the director of Gaza City’s Al-Ahli hospital was quoted by the territory’s health ministry as reporting 30 dead in strikes.

“It has been a difficult and brutal day in Gaza City. So far, around 30 martyrs have arrived at the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital,” doctor Fadel Naeem was quoted as saying.

Civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Basal said five municipal workers died when a garage in the city was bombed.

Lebanon-based Hamas ally Hezbollah meanwhile claimed a number of attacks on Israeli troops and positions near the border on Friday, including two using drones.

The Israeli army said it had carried out multiple retaliatory strikes on both days.

Israeli jets on Friday struck a “Hezbollah military structure in the area of Khiam, a Hezbollah military post in the area of Mais Al-Jabal, and Hezbollah terrorist infrastructure in the areas of Taybeh and Tallouseh in southern Lebanon,” the army said in a statement.

Experts are divided on the prospect of a wider war, almost nine months into Israel’s campaign to eradicate Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Amid the escalating exchanges between Israel and Hezbollah, Israel’s military said Tuesday that plans for an offensive in Lebanon had been “approved and validated.”

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said “no place” in Israel would “be spared our rockets” in a wider war, and also threatened nearby European Union member Cyprus.

Citing the “bellicose rhetoric” on both sides, UN chief Guterres warned Friday that the risk of all-out war was real.

“One rash move — one miscalculation — could trigger a catastrophe that goes far beyond the border, and frankly, beyond imagination,” he said.

Israel’s ally the United States has appealed for de-escalation.

The violence on the Lebanon border began after the October 7 attack on southern Israel by Hamas militants from Gaza. That attack resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza although the army says 41 are dead.

As of Thursday, Israel’s retaliatory offensive had killed at least 37,431 people, also mostly civilians, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Months of negotiations toward a truce and a hostage release have failed to make headway, but mediator Qatar insisted Friday it was still working to “bridge the gap” between Israel and Hamas.

The war has destroyed much of Gaza’s infrastructure and left residents short of food, fuel and other essentials.

On June 16 the army said it would implement a daily “tactical pause of military activity” in a southern Gaza corridor to facilitate aid delivery.

But on Friday Richard Peeperkorn of the World Health Organization said “we did not see an impact on the humanitarian supplies coming in.”

Hisham Salem in Jabalia camp said: “The markets... used to be full, but now there is nothing left. I go around the entire market and I can’t find a kilo of onions, and if I do... it costs 140 shekels ($37).”

Doctor Thanos Gargavanis, a WHO trauma surgeon and emergency officer, said the UN in Gaza was trying to “operate in an unworkable environment.”

According to the WHO, 17 of the 36 hospitals in Gaza are operational, but only partially.

Israel’s military on Friday identified two more soldiers killed in Gaza, bringing the death toll since ground operations began to at least 312.

The war has revived a global push for Palestinians to be given a state of their own.

Armenia on Friday declared its recognition of “the State of Palestine,” prompting Israel to summon its ambassador for “a severe reprimand.”


Algerian women pioneer eco-friendly farming

Algerian women pioneer eco-friendly farming
Updated 16 min 38 sec ago
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Algerian women pioneer eco-friendly farming

Algerian women pioneer eco-friendly farming
  • The plant ecology and biodiversity graduates now run one of the country’s rare ecological plots of land, where the produce is grown in harmony with the broader ecosystem and without using pesticides

ALGIERS: Ibtissem Mahtout and Amira Messous pick fresh strawberries and tomatoes on the eco-friendly smallholding the two women are working near Algiers, a pioneering initiative in Algeria’s male-dominated agricultural sector.
After graduating from university four years ago, they left the capital and started working on the small patch of land in Douaouda, some 30 kilometers (18 miles) to the west.
“As soon as I’m in the field I’m happy,” said Messous, 28, holding a bundle of fresh beetroot.
“From morning to night, we’re here. To me, it’s the most beautiful job in the world.”
The plant ecology and biodiversity graduates now run one of the country’s rare ecological plots of land, where the produce is grown in harmony with the broader ecosystem and without using pesticides.

Amira Messous (L) and Ibtissem Mahtout (C) speak to a customer at their vegetable and fruit stand during the Friday market at an educational farm in Zeralda on May 30, 2024. (AFP)

Messous said it was challenging at first to “have to integrate” into a sector in which most people who work the land are men.
According to local media, as of last October just four percent of workers registered with the Chamber of Agriculture in Tipaza province where their land is were women.
But some “male farmers are happy to see educated women working the land,” said Messous.
“They take the time to explain things to us, and it brings more value to their own work.”
Her 29-year-old partner, Mahtout, recalls that they launched the project with just 60,000 Algerian dinars (around $445) — “enough to buy basic tools” — after renting the patch of land.

With the help of Torba, an association that promotes ecological farming in Algeria, they “learned to plant, to sow, to work the soil.”
Today, their 1,300-square-meter farm even employs one male worker full-time — and up to eight part-timers at harvest time.
When they are not in the fields themselves, the two women make full use of social media to sell their produce.

Ibtissem Mahtout (C) speaks with a customer who has come to pick up or buy their produce, at the Friday market at an educational farm in Zeralda, west of Algiers on May 30, 2024. (AFP)

On Instagram, they advertise their baskets of seasonal fruits and vegetables each week, and take orders for the produce on WhatsApp.
Come Friday, the first day of the Algerian weekend, clients pick up their orders at a larger farm in nearby Zeralda, where other smallholders also sell produce including flowers.
“We want to eat something healthy from time to time,” said Fatma Zohra, a 72-year-old loyal customer and subscriber to the small farm’s social media account.
“I found these girls very nice, and when I discovered they sell to subscribers, I wanted to encourage them.”
Each week, the pair sell between 10 and 30 baskets of fruit and vegetables that are in season.
The farm in Zeralda where they market their produce is also educational, and runs themed programs for children.
In addition to the Friday farmers’ market, it is also a meeting space for local families and offers cooking classes, entertainment and cultural events.
 


Waving flags, tens of thousands rally against Israeli govt

Waving flags, tens of thousands rally against Israeli govt
Updated 23 June 2024
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Waving flags, tens of thousands rally against Israeli govt

Waving flags, tens of thousands rally against Israeli govt
  • Anti-government protest organization Hofshi Israel estimated more than 150,000 people attended the rally, calling it the biggest since the Gaza war began

TEL AVIV: Tens of thousands of protesters waving Israeli flags and chanting slogans against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government rallied in Tel Aviv Saturday, demanding new elections and the return of hostages held in Gaza.
Large protests have occurred in the Israeli city on a weekly basis over Netanyahu’s handling of the nearly nine-month-old war in Gaza started by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel.
Many protesters held signs reading “Crime Minister” and “Stop the War” as people poured into the biggest Israeli city’s main thoroughfare.
“I am here because I am afraid of the future of my grandchild. There will be no future for them if we don’t go out and get rid of the horrible government,” said 66-year-old contractor Shai Erel.
“All of the rats in the Knesset... I wouldn’t let any one of them be a guard of a kindergarten.”
Anti-government protest organization Hofshi Israel estimated more than 150,000 people attended the rally, calling it the biggest since the Gaza war began.
Some demonstrators lay on the ground covered in red paint in the city’s Democracy Square to protest what they say is the death of the country’s democracy under Netanyahu.
In an address to the crowd, a former head of Israel’s domestic Shin Bet security agency, Yuval Diskin, condemned Netanyahu as Israel’s “worst prime minister.”
Many are frustrated with the country’s right-wing coalition, which includes Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and other far-right ultra-nationalists, accusing it of prolonging the war in Gaza and putting the country’s security and hostages at risk.
Yoram, a 50-year-old tour guide who declined to give his last name, said he was attending every weekly protest as Israel needed elections “yesterday” because of Netanyahu.
“I really hope that the government collapses,” he said. “If we go to the original date of elections in 2026, it is not going to be a democratic election.”
Hamas militants seized 251 hostages on October 7, of whom Israel believes 116 remain in Gaza, including 41 who the army says are dead.
A separate Tel Aviv rally on Saturday night drew thousands of relatives and supporters of the hostages.
The attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza has killed at least 37,551 people, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.
 

 


Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid

Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid
Updated 23 June 2024
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Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid

Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid
  • A video circulating on social media and verified by Reuters showed a Palestinian resident of Jenin, Mujahed Azmi, on the jeep that passes through two ambulances

JERUSALEM: Israeli army forces strapped a wounded Palestinian man to the hood of a military jeep during an arrest raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on Saturday. A video circulating on social media and verified by Reuters showed a Palestinian resident of Jenin, Mujahed Azmi, on the jeep that passes through two ambulances.
The Israeli military in a statement said Israeli forces were fired at and exchanged fire, wounding a suspect and apprehending him.
Soldiers then violated military protocol, the statement said. “The suspect was taken by the forces while tied on top of a vehicle,” it said.
The military said the “conduct of the forces in the video of the incident does not conform to the values” of the Israeli military and that the incident will be investigated and dealt with.
The individual was transferred to medics for treatment, the military said.
Reuters was able to match the location from corroborating and verified footage shared on social media that shows a vehicle transporting an individual tied on top of a vehicle in Jenin. The date was confirmed by an eyewitness interviewed by Reuters.
According to the family of Azmi, there was an arrest raid, and he was injured during the raid, and when the family asked for an ambulance, the army took Mujahed, strapped him on the hood and drove off.
Violence in the West Bank, already on the rise before the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, has escalated since then with frequent army raids on militant groups, rampages by Jewish settlers in Palestinian villages, and deadly Palestinian street attacks.


ICRC official describes Rafah as a ‘ghost town’

ICRC official describes Rafah as a ‘ghost town’
Updated 22 June 2024
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ICRC official describes Rafah as a ‘ghost town’

ICRC official describes Rafah as a ‘ghost town’
  • Desperation among Gaza’s 2.4 million population has increased as fighting rages, sparking warnings from agencies that they are unable to deliver aid

JERUSALEM: Days after Israel announced a daily pause in fighting on a key route to allow more aid into Gaza, chaos in the besieged Palestinian territory has left vital supplies piled up and undistributed in the searing summer heat.
More than eight months of war have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip and repeated UN warnings of famine.
William Schomburg, International Committee of the Red Cross chief in Rafah, described Rafah City as a “ghost town.”
“It is a ghost town in the sense that you see very few people, high levels of destruction, and just another symbol of the unfolding tragedy that has become Gaza over the last nine months,” he said.
The UN food agency has said its aid convoys have been looted inside Gaza by “desperate people.”
Desperation among Gaza’s 2.4 million population has increased as fighting rages, sparking warnings from agencies that they are unable to deliver aid.
Israel says it has let supplies in and called on agencies to step up deliveries.
“The breakdown of public order and safety is increasingly endangering humanitarian workers and operations in Gaza,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, said in a briefing.
“Alongside the fighting, criminal activities and the risk of theft and robbery has effectively prevented humanitarian access to critical locations.”
But Israel says it has allowed hundreds of trucks of aid into southern Gaza, trading blame with the UN over why the aid is stacking up.
It shared aerial footage of containers lined up on the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom crossing and more trucks arriving to add to the stockpile.
With civil order breaking down in Gaza, the UN says it has been unable to pick up any supplies from Kerem Shalom since Tuesday, leaving crucial aid in limbo.