Archive for September, 2016

Barzani to Divide Mosul Post-ISIS into Three Provinces

Dalshad Abdullah

07 September 2016 Wednesday

Erbil-Kurdish politician Siru Qadir revealed on Tuesday that President of Kurdistan Regional Government Masoud Barzani has proposed a solution for Mosul’s post-ISIS stage.

Barzani’s solution, according to the Kurdish politician, lies in dividing the province into three new separate provinces and holding a referendum in which the citizens decide whether they want to join the region or not.

Qadir also said that during his last visit to Baghdad KRG’s Prime Minister Nechervan Barzani told Iraqi Prime Ministers and the other Iraqi parties that the solution for problems between Kurdistan and Iraq lies in dividing the region from Iraq.

Moreover, Qadir told Asharq Al-Awsat that a new stage will start after liberating Mosul from ISIS. “This stage,” according to Qadir, “is considered a dangerous one if there was no prior plan, and Masoud Barzani is stressing on the necessity of providing a plan for post-ISIS in Mosul since the region cannot return as it was and be threatened by those extremists.

Therefore, Peshmerga forces will not withdraw from the regions they liberated until these regions are put within an administrative framework and their fate is determined.”

Qadir added: “In the meantime, Mosul’s problem has become Iraq’s problem as the only problem remaining for Kurds is in Mosul.”

A Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian war is expected to be waged in Mosul too with the presence of Sunni forces, ISIS terrorist group and the arrival of Popular Mobilization militias to the province.

All these pave a way for religious and sectarian conflicts to occur if no prior plan was put to control it and prevent any sectarian bloodshed, Qadir said.

The Kurdish politician further explained that Barzani’s proposal indicates that Mosul should be divided into three separate provinces, each given to Shi’ite Muslims, Sunnis and Kurds.

This proposal is considered the best solution for Nineveh’s current problem, he said.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat.


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Qatar or Iran: Who will save Hamas?

Author Shlomi Eldar

September 7, 2016

Translator Ruti Sinai

The top Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud al-Zahar, left Gaza on Sept. 3 for the airport in Cairo through the Rafah border crossing, accompanied by a large delegation of some 50 Hamas officials. This appears to be the largest group of officials, activists and bodyguards ever to leave Gaza as a group. Haniyeh’s family members joined the delegation, too. Ahmad Bahar, a senior veteran Hamas official and the first deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, was supposed to join the group, but sources in Gaza told Al-Monitor that Egypt refused to grant him a travel permit at the border and he was forced to return home.

The Egyptians closely scrutinized every name on the list submitted by the Hamas leadership, and all members of the delegation were required to undergo extensive security checks at the border. From there, they headed for the airport in Cairo and boarded a flight to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. At the Rafah border crossing, Hamas officials could see hundreds of Gaza residents — hungry and desperate men, women and children who had left Gaza for medical treatment, as the Egyptian authorities imposed on them difficult procedures for entering the Gaza Strip upon their return.

The departure of the Hamas delegation is additional proof of the dramatic changes underway that will determine the movement’s direction and future.

Haniyeh was joined by his wife and three of his youngest children. His son Abed, considered to wield significant influence within Hamas, stayed behind to look after his father’s interests and maintain his link with the Gaza security forces in his absence. As Al-Monitor reported in June, from the moment the head of the Hamas political bureau, Khaled Meshaal, announced that he would not seek re-election in the upcoming balloting for the movement’s leadership, the road was paved for Haniyeh’s succession. No one else has dared run against him, not even Hamas senior Mousa Abu Marzouk, who established the political bureau and saved it from annihilation at least twice in the past.

Elections for the movement’s leadership will be held at the end of the year, but Haniyeh is planning to relocate with his family and close associates to Qatar, from where he will conduct Hamas’ affairs in the coming, most critical months in the movement’s history.

It is not yet clear whether he plans to follow in the footsteps of Meshaal, who moved to Doha permanently after escaping from Damascus in 2012, or only to stay there through the election process, until he is officially declared the movement’s leader and the outgoing leadership hands over the reins. Meshaal has headed the political bureau and steered it since 1996.

Upon arrival in Qatar, members of the delegation will be invited for a welcoming meeting with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who has enabled the Hamas political bureau to operate from his country. But the important point is that by moving to Qatar for the next few months, Haniyeh will be able to come and go as he pleases — contrary to his situation in the Gaza Strip. Thus, he will be able to manage freely the bureau and engage in the campaign to raise money for Hamas in those countries ready to accept him.

The delegation’s first stop is Saudi Arabia, where they will fulfill their hajj duty in the holy city of Mecca. The planned pilgrimage enabled the Hamas delegation to get Egypt’s permission to leave Gaza with relative ease. Not all the delegation members will then head for Qatar; Zahar intends to travel to Tehran and meet Iran’s top spiritual leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. While Meshaal has in recent years been a persona non grata in Iran, and all attempts at reconciliation between the sides failed, Zahar is the only one among the top Hamas officials to have maintained ties with Iran.

The future direction of Hamas will be determined in Doha and Tehran. If Zahar succeeds in appeasing Iran, mending the deep schism created by Meshaal between Hamas and Iran and getting Khamenei’s blessing, the movement’s leadership can breathe easy and hope for the removal of the stranglehold crippling it in recent years, especially in financial terms. A tightening of the ties with Iran would invariably lead to the loss of Saudi support and restore Hamas’ former obligation to take its marching orders from Iran.

The military arm of Hamas has long been pressing the movement’s leadership to reconcile with Tehran as the only way to strengthen the organization with weapons and military equipment and to prepare it for a possible military confrontation with Israel.

If Iran sends Zahar away with polite words, and does not restore the relationship and the extent of its aid to previous levels, before the crisis between the sides, the burden will fall on Haniyeh’s shoulders. Sources in Gaza believe this is the reason Haniyeh left for Qatar at this time, well before the elections. He wants to put out feelers to all the Arab states to open up new channels of aid, including from Muslim foundations around the world.

Haniyeh and Zahar are two arrowheads heading in separate directions. The direction that yields the most impressive results will dictate Hamas’ future moves. In the event the movement fails in its efforts to substantially increase aid from Iran and Qatar, Haniyeh and Zahar will be forced to adopt a third, least preferable option: reconciliation with the Fatah movement and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

If Hamas is forced to turn to the Palestinian Authority (PA) for help, it will have to cede partial control of the Gaza Strip. This is one of the reasons why senior Fatah officials believe Hamas wants the PA to win many municipal districts in Gaza in the upcoming local elections slated for Oct. 8. Hamas leaders understand, as Al-Monitor reported recently, that the presence in Gaza of Fatah heads of councils could encourage the European Union to resume the infusion of money to Gaza. Now it seems that Hamas also hopes that such a presence will open up a window for Fatah-Hamas reconciliation.

The Hamas delegation has left on a critical mission to save the movement. If its leaders know how to read the map of tensions and different interests of various Arab state blocs, and to draw relevant conclusions for their movement’s future, they also know there is not much reason to be optimistic.

Source: al-Monitor.


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Muslim pilgrims begin hajj, but this year without Iranians

September 10, 2016

MECCA, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Close to 2 million people from around the world began performing the first rites of the Islamic hajj pilgrimage on Saturday, which calls for entering into a state of physical and spiritual purity and circling the cube-shaped Kaaba with their palms facing upward in supplication and prayer.

Notably absent this year are Iranian pilgrims. Last year, some 64,000 Iranians took part in the hajj, but disputes with the Saudi government prompted Tehran to bar its citizens from taking part this year.

Saudi Arabia has blamed Iranian officials for the decision and suggests it was politically motivated to publicly pressure the kingdom. Iran says Saudi “incompetence” caused a crush and stampede during last year’s hajj that killed more than 460 of its citizens. On Friday, thousands of Iranians marched through the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities to protest Saudi Arabia, chanting prayers against the kingdom’s Sunni rulers after midday prayers.

The hajj is one of the world’s largest pilgrimages. It draws the faithful to the holy city of Mecca and areas around it for five intense days of rituals and prayers aimed at erasing past sins and drawing Muslims closer to God. The pilgrimage is required of all Muslims to perform once in their lifetime.

To begin the hajj, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims circle the Kaaba in Mecca’s Grand Mosque. In a sign of humility and equality before God, the pilgrims shed symbols of materialism, entering a state of “ihram.” Women forgo makeup and perfume and wear loose-fitting clothing and a head covering, while men dress in seamless, white terry cloth garments.

Since arriving in Mecca over the past several weeks, hundreds of thousands have chanted, “Labayk Allahuma Labayk,” or “Here I am, God, answering your call. Here I am.” While following a route the Prophet Muhammad once walked, the rites of hajj are believed to ultimately trace the footsteps of the prophets Ibrahim and Ismail, or Abraham and Ishmael as they are named in the Bible.

The Interior Ministry says more than 1.3 million people from 160 different countries have arrived to the kingdom to perform the hajj this year. Most pilgrims will spend the evening outside Mecca in a valley called Mina that houses more than 160,000 tents. They will head to an area called Arafat on Sunday for the pinnacle of the pilgrimage, an emotional day of repentance and supplication.

For the first time in more than three decades, Saudi Arabia’s top cleric will not be delivering this year’s prestigious hajj sermon on Sunday. Al-Riyadh newspaper reported Saturday that Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Sheikh, who has delivered the sermon since 1981, will be replaced by Sheikh Saleh bin Hamid.

Hamid previously served as chairman of the top consultative Shura Council and was appointed to the Supreme Judicial Council before serving as a royal adviser. The newspaper did not give a reason for the change.

The mufti sparked controversy this week when, in response to the Iranian criticisms, he was quoted as saying that Iran’s Shiite leaders “are not Muslims.”

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Hajj 2016: More than a million Muslims head to Mecca

09 September 2016 Friday

Millions of Muslims from around the world have started arriving in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, a central pillar of the Islamic faith that re-enacts the actions of the Prophet Muhammad from more than 1,400 years ago.

Worshipers from more than 150 countries began gathering on Friday in the city, one of the holiest sites in Islam, to prepare for the five-day pilgrimage which starts on Saturday, September 10.

A spiritual journey meant to cleanse the faithful of sin and bring them closer to God, this year’s Hajj is expected to be attended by more than 1.5 million pilgrims.

To address security concerns, nearly a thousand new surveillance cameras have been installed at Mecca’s Grand Mosque, which will monitor crowd numbers, and the Jamarat stoning (a symbolic stoning of the devil based on historic tradition) will be more tightly controlled than in previous years.

Also for the first time, pilgrims will be given electronic bracelets storing personal and medical information that will help authorities provide care and identify people.

Water-resistant and connected to GPS, the devices will also instruct worshipers on timings of prayers and a multilingual help desk will guide pilgrims around the various rituals.

Last year’s Hajj was marred by a stampede that killed more than 750 people. However, counts carried out by countries who repatriated bodies showed that more than 2,000 people may have died in the crush, according to news agencies.

The disaster deepened tensions between Riyadh and Tehran, as many of the pilgrims killed were Iranian.

Relations between the two countries hit a new low earlier this year when they failed to reach a deal on arrangements for Iranian citizens attending this year’s pilgrimage.

Source: al-Jazeera.


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Britain appoints first ambassador to Iran in five years

September 5, 2016

Britain has appointed an ambassador to Tehran for the first time since 2011 in an “upgrade” to its diplomatic relations with Iran.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the decision to designate Nicholas Hopton, previously charge d’affaires at the embassy, was “an important moment in the relationship between the UK and Iran”.

Johnson said in a statement on Monday: “The upgrade in diplomatic relations gives us the opportunity to develop our discussions on a range of issues, including our consular cases about which I am deeply concerned, and which I have raised with Foreign Minister [Javad] Zarif.

“I hope this will mark the start of more productive cooperation between our countries, enabling us to discuss more directly issues such as human rights and Iran’s role in the region, as well as ongoing implementation of the nuclear deal and the expansion of the trading relationship between both our countries.”

Ties between the two countries deteriorated in November 2011 after Britain imposed sanctions on Iranian banks over accusations they were assisting Iran’s nuclear program.

Within days, Iran’s parliament voted to expel Britain’s ambassador and protesters stormed the British embassy in Tehran.

The embassy eventually reopened in August 2015 in the wake of an international deal over Iran’s nuclear program.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


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Iraqi troops enter Qayyarah in push to Mosul

By Allen Cone

Aug. 23, 2016

MOSUL, Iraq, Aug. 23 (UPI) — Iraqi forces moved to within 37 miles of Mosul on Tuesday, storming into Qayyarah as the United Nations relief agency scrambled to assist more than 1 million people expected to be displaced.

Troops entered Qayyarah from three locations.

“Priority of the operation is to save and protect civilians in the area, as they are being used by ISIS as human shields,” Maj. Gen. Sami Al-Ardedi, commander of special operations for the Iraqi army, said in a statement.

Mosul is Iraq’s second largest city and the Islamic State’s last major urban stronghold in Iraq.

Qayyarah was captured by the Islamic State in 2014. The air base near the city was recaptured in July.

Gen. Najim al-Jobouri, the commander of Iraq’s Nineveh operations, said his forces are weakening ISIS. “I think that they have a lack of foreign fighters,” he told CNN.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry has urged Qayyarah residents to evacuate within this week and head toward a settlement near the district’s airfield or to Tibna village, which is under the control of Iraqi forces.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced plans Tuesday to set up additional camps for those displaced with a prediction of up to 1.2 people affected.

Contingency plans have been drawn up to provide shelter for up to 120,000 people fleeing Mosul and the surrounding areas.

“Already, in recent months, some 213,000 people have fled their homes in different parts of the country,” Adrian Edwards, a spokesperson for the Office of the UNHCR told journalists at the regular press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday. “This includes 48,000 people from the Mosul area; 87,000 from the Fallujah region; and 78,000 from Shirqat, Qayyarah and surrounds.”

Since January 2014, some 3.38 million people have fled their homes – including families being displaced multiple times, UNHCR said.

“UNHCR is doing what it can amid enormous challenges to build more camps to accommodate people and mitigate suffering, but additional land for camps and funding is still needed,” Edwards said.

The U.N. agency provides shelter, emergency relief kits and legal aid.

UNHCR’s overall appeal for $584 million for displaced Iraqis was only 38-percent funded.

Source: United Press International (UPI).


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Iraqi in Polish jail for paint trace on luggage, father says

August 19, 2016

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Ahead of a visit last month to Poland by the pope, with security extremely high, Polish police arrested an Iraqi man for possessing “trace amounts” of an explosive. A month later, the man is still in a Polish prison and his father is appealing for his release, insisting that his son is innocent and that the suspicious material was nothing more than a bit of paint on his suitcase.

“He is a good man, athletic, and artistic. He is not even religious. He is not seeking to harm anyone,” Ahmed Al-Haboubi said of his son, Sinan Al-Haboubi, in an interview with The Associated Press in Cairo. “He is a peaceful guy.”

Sinan Al-Haboubi, 48, was arrested on July 21 in the central Polish city of Lodz on charges of possessing explosives, a crime that carries a prison sentence ranging from six months to eight years. A spokeswoman for prosecutors, Ewa Bialik, told the AP this week that Al-Haboubi had “trace amounts of organic chemical compounds.”

The country’s Internal Security Agency, which handles matters of terrorism, is involved in the investigation and authorities have refused to give more details about the case, which they are treating as highly classified.

The father, once a government minister who fled Saddam Hussein’s takeover of the country in the 1970s, said that chemical came from a bit of paint on his son’s luggage. “His suitcase hit the wall, and it scratched some paint onto it. They analyzed it as if it had traces of something, I think something that is from the production of the paint,” he told the AP. “This cannot be evidence.”

The arrest came as Polish security officials were on high alert following a string of extremist attacks in Western Europe, and as the country imposed tight security at borders and across the country ahead of a visit by Pope Francis to Krakow from July 27-31.

Two others, a Tunisian and an Algerian, were also arrested in that period. Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said they were all treated as “possible terrorist threats.” The Tunisian and Algerian have since been released without charge.

Ahmed Al-Haboubi said that his son, an electronic engineer by training, had been living for the past 16 years in Switzerland, where he had received asylum, and was traveling around Poland to find a place to start a business. A diplomat in the family once posted to Poland was partial inspiration for his son’s move, as was his appreciation for the country’s beauty, he said.

“He was looking for a place to settle and start his own work; he wanted to open a business, something simple like a pizza shop,” Ahmed Al-Haboubi said. He added that the timing proved unfortunate, and “it seems that Polish authorities have Islamophobia, a negative attitude toward Arabs and Muslims.”

Poland’s right-wing ruling party, Law and Justice, came to power last year on a strongly anti-migrant message. The government has refused to accept any migrants in a European Union plan to settle refugees across the continent. Many Poles strongly oppose accepting Muslims, seeing them as threats to security and the country’s strong Catholic identity. In recent months there have also been xenophobic attacks against Arabs or people with dark skin.

Al-Haboubi has also sent a letter to Polish authorities telling them that his son comes from a Shiite family, stressing that he could not have connections to the Islamic State group or other extremist organizations, which are based on the Sunni branch of Islam.

“Sinan belongs to a prominent Shia family which has been known for its intellectual and cultural activities and has no connection to extremism,” he wrote in a letter addressed to the Polish president, prime minister, foreign minister and interior minister, and which he shared with the AP. “In no way Sinan can have links or any kind of connections to radical or extremist groups.”

Al-Haboubi’s lawyer, Lukasz Banatkiewicz, said that he is seeking the release of Al-Haboubi, who is in a prison in the central Polish city of Piotrkow Trybulanski, not far from Lodz, where he was arrested. He is in a two-month preventative detention which ends Sept. 19. Authorities have not said if they will seek to extend the detention.

“He said he is not guilty and, as his attorney, I can say that the evidence to date is insufficient to accuse him and for sure it’s not enough to put him in detention,” Banatkiewicz told the AP.

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Iran deploys S-300 air defense around nuclear site

August 29, 2016

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran has deployed a Russian-made S-300 air defense system around its underground Fordo nuclear facility, state TV reported. Video footage posted late Sunday on state TV’s website showed trucks arriving at the site and missile launchers being aimed skyward. It did not say whether the system was fully operational.

Gen. Farzad Esmaili, Iran’s head of air defense, declined to comment on the report in an interview with another website affiliated with state news. “Maybe if you go to Fordo now, the system is not there,” he was quoted as saying Monday. He added that the S-300 is a mobile system that should be relocated often.

Russia began delivering the S-300 system to Iran earlier this year under a contract signed in 2007. The delivery had been held up by international sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program, which were lifted this year under an agreement with world powers.

The Fordo site, built at a depth of 90 meters (300 feet) below a mountain some 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the capital, Tehran, was revealed by Western nations in 2009. Critics of Iran’s nuclear program pointed to Fordo as further proof of Tehran’s intention to secretly develop nuclear weapons. Iran insists it has never sought nuclear arms, and says the security around the site is intended to protect it from U.S. or Israeli airstrikes.

Iran halted nuclear enrichment at Fordo under the nuclear agreement and says the facility is now being used for research and the production of medical isotopes. In separate comments on Sunday, Esmaili insisted there had been no change in how Iran defends its nuclear facilities, adding that “since they are national achievements of Iran, they must be vigorously protected.”

“We carry out defense exercises in non-nuclear facilities once a month but we do them several times a month in our nuclear facilities,” he added. On Monday Iran inaugurated a new radar system it says is capable of detecting radar-evading aircraft like the U.S.-made U-2, RQ-4 and MQ-1, state TV reported. It said the Nazir system is located in a remote area and is capable of detecting ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as drones flying at an altitude of over 3,000 meters (9,800 feet).

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