Archive for December, 2017
TEHRAN- Iran shut primary schools in the capital and other parts of the country on Sunday due to choking levels of air pollution.
Local authorities late Saturday announced the closure of all primary schools in the province of Tehran, which is home to 14 million residents, except in two towns.
A blanket of smog has covered neighborhoods in the capital in the past few days.
Airborne concentration of fine particles (PM2.5) hit 185 micrograms per cubic meter in the south of Tehran and 174 in its center on Sunday morning, local authorities said.
That is far above the World Health Organization recommended maximum of 25 micrograms per m3 over a 24-hour period.
Authorities also ordered mines and cement factories in Tehran province to close and reinforced regular traffic restrictions in the capital’s center.
They called on the elderly, children, pregnant women and people with heart problems to stay indoors.
In the northwestern cities of Tabriz and Urmia, schools remained closed for the second day straight on Sunday, official news agency IRNA said.
Every year, Tehran suffers some of the worst pollution in the world when cool temperatures cause an effect known as “temperature inversion”.
The phenomenon creates a layer of warm air above the city that traps pollution from more than eight million cars and motorbikes.
In 2014, almost 400 people were hospitalized with heart and respiratory problems caused by pollution in Tehran. Nearly 1,500 others required treatment.
The health ministry estimated that pollution in 2012 contributed to the premature deaths of 4,500 people in Tehran and about 80,000 across the country.
Source: Middle East Online.
Sunday, 10 December, 2017
An Iraqi military parade celebrating final victory over Islamic State is underway in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, Reuters quoted an Iraqi military spokesman as saying on Sunday.
Almost one year after the launch of military operations from Mosul, north Iraq, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on Saturday that his country’s forces have “completely controlled” the Syrian-Iraqi borders, declaring that the war against ISIS has officially ended.
“Our forces are in complete control of the Iraqi-Syrian border and I, therefore, announce the end of the war against ISIS,” Abadi told a conference in Baghdad.
The Prime Minister added that Iraq’s enemy “wanted to kill our civilization, but we have won through our unity and our determination. We have triumphed in little time.”
In another speech delivered at the Defense Ministry in the presence of representatives from the entire armed forces, Abadi announced that Iraq’s next battle would be to defeat the scourge of corruption.
“Weapons should only be in the state’s hands,” Abadi confirmed.
He said that the rule of law and respect for it are the way to build the state and achieve justice, equality, and stability, adding that the unity of Iraq and its people is the most important and greatest accomplishment.
Authorities in Iraq announced a public holiday on Sunday “to celebrate the victory.”
The prime minister’s declaration came three years after the militant group captured some third of Iraq’s territory.
Meanwhile, Naim el-Kaoud, leader of the al-Bounmar tribes in Anbar told Asharq al-Awsat on Saturday the “battles that continued following the liberation of Rawa, including the western desert, were now completed and the area is now combined to the entire border with Syria after clearing ISIS militants.”
For his part, Hisham al-Hashemi, an expert on jihadist groups, told Asharq Al-Awsat that although the terrorist group was military defeated in Iraq, ISIS would still hold some pockets in some Iraqi areas.
He said that around 800 fighters were still present in the country, especially in east Tigris, and the Hamrin Mountains.
Source: Asharq al-Awsat.
December 09, 2017
BAGHDAD (AP) — After more than three years of combat operations, Iraq announced Saturday that the fight against the Islamic State group is over after the country’s security forces drove the extremists from all of the territory they once held. Iraqi and American officials warned, however, that key challenges remain despite the military victory.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi formally announced the victory in an address to the nation aired on Iraqi state television Saturday evening. “Honorable Iraqis, your land has been completely liberated,” he said. “The liberation dream has become a reality. We achieved victory in difficult circumstances and with God’s help, the steadfastness of our people and the bravery of our heroic forces we prevailed.”
“The flag of Iraq is flying high today over all Iraqi territory and at the farthest point on the border,” he added, standing before the most senior members of Iraq’s security forces. Following al-Abadi’s remarks, his office declared a public holiday Sunday in celebration of the victory, according to an official statement from the prime minister’s office.
Iraqi forces mopped up the last pockets of IS fighters from Iraq’s western deserts Saturday, securing the country’s border with Syria, a step that marked the end of combat operations against the extremists.
“All Iraqi lands are liberated from terrorist Daesh gangs and our forces completely control the international Iraqi-Syrian border,” said Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Rasheed Yar Allah, a senior Iraqi military commander, in a statement Saturday afternoon.
The U.S. applauded the prime minister’s announcement. The U.S. offers “sincere congratulations to the Iraqi people and to the brave Iraqi Security Forces, many of whom lost their lives heroically fighting ISIS,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a written statement, using an alternative acronym for IS.
“Our coalition will continue to stand with Iraq to support its security forces, economy and stabilization to help ensure that ISIS can never against threaten Iraq’s people or use its territory as a haven,” said Brett McGurk, U.S. special presidential envoy to the anti-IS coalition, in a statement posted to his official Twitter account.
“We mark today’s historic victory mindful of the work that remains,” he added. Iraq’s government remains faced with significant security threats, an economic crisis and the enormous task of rebuilding swaths of territory decimated by the IS fight.
IS fighters overran nearly a third of Iraqi territory, including Mosul, the country’s second largest city and Tikrit, the capital of Iraq’s central Salahuddin province in the summer of 2014. The following year, IS fighters also overran Anbar’s provincial capital of Ramadi.
Over the past 3 ½ half years, Iraqi ground forces closely backed by the U.S.-led coalition and mostly Shiite paramilitary forces backed by Iran have slowly retaken all of that territory. The pace of the anti-IS operation accelerated last year as coalition-backed Iraqi ground forces prepared for the assault on Mosul that was formally launched in October 2016.
After more than nine months of mostly grueling urban combat, Al-Abadi declared victory over IS in Mosul in July. In the months that followed Iraqi forces retook a handful of other IS held towns including Tal Afar in August, Hawija in September and Qaim in October. In November, Iraqi forces retook the last Iraqi town held by IS — Rawah, near the border with Syria.
However, IS fighters remain capable of carrying out insurgent attacks in Iraq, and the group has recovered from past setbacks. IS insurgent networks continue to pose a threat to Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, a senior Iraqi security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. The official said intelligence gathering would become increasingly important in the post-military phase of the fight against IS.
“The triumph of military operations alone is not enough without stability,” government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said, explaining that rebuilding in the wake of military victories against IS remained a “big challenge” for the Iraqi government.
Additionally, some 3 million Iraqis remain displaced by the fight against IS, according to the United Nations. Al-Abadi also remains faced with a political and military stand-off with the country’s Kurdish region over a referendum held on independence.
Federal government troops remain deployed throughout a string of disputed territories claimed by both Baghdad and Iraq’s Kurds — who were also backed by U.S.-led coalition forces in the fight against IS. While Baghdad and Irbil have both stated a willingness to talk, negotiations to end the dispute have not yet begun.
As he closed his national address, al-Abadi acknowledged the challenges that remain for Iraq. “I urge everyone to refrain from returning to the inflammatory and sectarian discourse that empowered gangs to occupy our cities and villages,” he said.
“Our people have paid a dear price,” he added. “We must turn this page forever.”
Associated Press writer Sinan Salaheddin contributed from Baghdad.
Tuesday, 28 November, 2017
Despite continuous assertions by Shiite political figures and forces – led by Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi – on holding the parliamentary elections in mid-May, Sunni political figures insist on postponing the elections due to the absence of required conditions in Sunni provinces that were ruled by ISIS for around three years.
Several parties, including the UN and its mission to Iraq, are concerned over the lack of conditions to hold elections on its specific date. Special representative of the UN for Iraq Jan Kubis, in his report to the Security Council last week, said that the newly assigned council for Iraqi elections had a tough mission ahead.
Kubis sees that the council, that should completely comply with the constitution and hold the elections on time, “faces several challenges including the use of a new voting technology and holding two election processes (the parliament and the local councils) simultaneously and within a tight timeline and complex electoral laws.”
He further pointed to the security challenges, especially issues pertaining to the return of displaced people and urged Iraqi parties to confront these challenges in the coming months. In his report, before the Security Council, he declared that “holding elections while some parts of Iraq remain unsafe with large numbers of its citizens still displaced (namely from the Sunnis) may raise doubts about the credibility and comprehensiveness of elections.”
Media and political parties considered the last part of Kubis statement a call for postponing the elections.
Other deputies on the Iraqi National List share same concerns with the UN regarding the absence of required conditions for holding elections. Among them is Abdul Karim Abtan who told Asharq Al-Awsat that he agreed with on-time elections but “the question is, will the government provide these conditions?”
Abtan listed the conditions to be provided, saying they were the same conditions stated by the PM when he set mid-May as a deadline for elections. These include the return of displaced persons, the provision of a suitable environment, the non-participation of armed groups in the elections and a free and fair e-election system,” he stated.
Source: Asharq al-Awsat.
23 November, 2017
A proposal in Iraq’s parliament to lower the minimum age for Muslim girls to marry to nine years old has been withdrawn, the British embassy in Baghdad said.
The amendment stirred outrage among critics who viewed it as a licence “to rape children”.
Conservative Shia deputies on October 31 proposed an amendment to a 1959 law that set the minimum age for marriage at 18.
The initial legislation, passed shortly after the fall of the Iraqi monarchy, transferred the right to decide on family affairs from religious authorities to the state and its judiciary.
But the new bill looked to go back on that – and would have authorized the marriage of any girl if it had the consent of the religious leaders from the Shia or Sunni Muslim community to which her parents belong.
Campaigners across all sects and ethnicities voiced strong opposition against what they called a flagrant violation and backward step for the rights of girls and women.
“This amendment was tried by Islamic parties in 2014, but it failed miserably because of the strong opposition within the parliament.
“Today, the same parties are returning to parliament, exploiting the security situation of the country and the public’s preoccupation with the deteriorating security situation in the north of the country,” women’s rights activist Zeinab al-Waeli told The New Arab.
On Thursday, the UK’s consulate in Baghdad tweeted that parliament had withdrawn the amendment.
“Draft amendments to the Personal Status Law have been withdrawn from the agenda of #Iraq’s #Parliament,” it said. “The amendments would have been a major setback for the rights of #women & #girls.”
It added: “The UK stood shoulder to shoulder with civil society & parliamentarians to oppose these amendments & we welcome their withdrawal.”
Other amendments to the personal status law were also proposed.
The original personal status law grants mothers the right to custody and gives wives the right to inherit their husband’s estate, while the religious jurisprudence says the custody of children is a matter for the father and that women do not have the right to inherit real estate or land.
A spokesman from the British embassy confirmed to The New Arab “the full package” of draft amendments was withdrawn from the agenda.
Source: The New Arab.
BAGHDAD – The Iraqi army retook the last town in the country still held by the Islamic State group on Friday as the jihadists’ self-proclaimed “caliphate” faced collapse on both sides of the border with Syria.
The lightning recapture of the small Euphrates valley town of Rawa in an offensive launched at dawn came as the jihadists were also under attack for a second day in the last town they still hold in Syria, Albu Kamal just over the border.
The Islamic State group (IS) has lost 95 percent of the cross-border “caliphate” it declared in Iraq and Syria in 2014, the US-led coalition fighting it said on Wednesday.
Its losses include all of its major bastions, virtually confining it to pockets of countryside.
Government troops and paramilitary units “liberated the whole of Rawa and raised the Iraqi flag on all of its official buildings,” General Abdelamir Yarallah of Iraq’s Joint Operations Command (JOC) said in a statement.
An army general contacted at the front had predicted that the battle would be swift as “the majority of IS fighters who were in the town have fled towards the Syrian border.”
The JOC said appeals had been made for several days to the town’s Sunni Arab residents to listen to radio broadcasts for instructions on what to do when the army entered.
Rawa was bypassed in an offensive by the Iraqi army that resulted in the recapture of the strategically important border town of Al-Qaim earlier this month.
The stretch of Euphrates valley abutting the border with Syria has long been a bastion of Sunni Arab insurgency, first against US-led troops after the invasion of 2003 and then against the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.
The porous frontier became a magnet for foreign fighters entering Iraq from Syria, which Baghdad accused of turning a blind eye, and a key smuggling route for arms and illicit goods.
US-led troops carried out repeated operations with code names like Matador and Steel Curtain in 2005 to flush out Al-Qaeda jihadists.
The region swiftly fell to IS when its fighters swept through the Sunni Arab heartland north and west of Baghdad in 2014 before proclaiming its “caliphate”.
– Jihadist dream in tatters –
The jihadists once controlled a territory the size of Britain but they have successively lost all their key strongholds, including Raqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq.
Over the border in Syria, IS still holds around 25 percent of the countryside of Deir Ezzor province but are under attack not only by government forces but also by US-backed Kurdish-led fighters.
In the border town of Albu Kamal, the Syrian army was battling IS fighters who mounted a surprise counterattack last week, pushing out government forces who had retaken it last month.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war, said the new army offensive had successfully penetrated the town, with troops backed by Russian air strikes advancing from the west, east and south.
“More than 7.5 million people have now been liberated” from IS, Washington’s envoy to the coalition, Brett McGurk, said late Wednesday, adding that the group’s finances are now “at their lowest levels to date”.
With the jihadists’ dreams of statehood lying in tatters following the battlefield defeats, Western attention is increasingly pivoting to trying to block foreign fighters from returning home to carry out attacks.
McGurk insisted that flows of foreign IS fighters into Syria have “nearly stopped”, and that jihadists are increasingly being picked up as they cross borders.
“We are enhancing cooperation and border security, aviation security, law enforcement, financial sanctions, counter-messaging, and intelligence sharing to prevent ISIS from carrying out attacks in our homelands,” he said.
Analysts have warned that in some areas recaptured from IS, government control remains weak and the jihadists retain the capability to wage a low-level insurgency.
“We still have places by the Baghdad belt, areas including Ramadi and Fallujah… that are not well controlled at all,” Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said earlier this month.
“They (the jihadists) are back where they were in 2013… They will restart insurgency all over again.”
Source: Middle East Online.
Saturday 11 November 2017
LONDON: Self-designed homes based on traditional Iraqi architecture could be the solution to the drastic housing crisis facing Mosul, where hundreds of thousands are expected to return following the end of three years of Daesh occupation.
An award-winning design would see returning residents create their own neighborhoods in modules that can grow and evolve to suit their needs.
“The shape of the housing is completely up to the inhabitants,” said Ania Otlik, the winner of inaugural Rifat Chadirji Prize, which challenged architects to find a practical and sustainable solution to the Iraqi city’s housing needs.
“Having one measure that fits all is almost impossible, especially when it comes to such a diverse society … which varies in religion, culture, background (and) family size.”
Nearly 1 million civilians fled in the three years since Daesh militants took the city, which Iraq declared liberated in July, according to the UN.
Iraqi government officials have estimated it will take at least five years and billions of dollars to rebuild Mosul.
Otlik, a graduate of Wroclaw University of Science and Technology in Poland, researched traditional Iraqi architectural designs, poring over sketches and schemes to create her housing plan.
Each dwelling is constructed around a central patio, providing outside space around which rooms and spaces can be arranged.
“The plan of the house can be a little more open when the family decides it this way, or maybe another family is strictly Islamic so they will build it in their own traditional way,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Building materials that are easy to source in the battle-scarred city — such as rubble and mud — could be used for construction until more permanent replacements become available, she said.
Otlik drew inspiration from her native Poland, whose capital Warsaw was entirely rebuilt after it was razed by Nazi troops during the Second World War.
Other finalist designs featured garden bridges over the Tigris river to provide housing and urban farms, and homes connected via a metro repurposed from a system of subterranean tunnels constructed by Islamic State to aid its fighters.
“It was not a problem finding a winner,” said Ahmed Al-Mallak, founding director of the independent Tamayouz Excellence Award, which oversaw the competition.
Source: Arab News.
BAGHDAD – Iraqi forces Friday captured the biggest town under Islamic State group control in Iraq, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said, driving another nail into the coffin of the jihadists’ self-styled caliphate.
Abadi hailed the “liberation of Al-Qaim in record time” in a statement, just hours after Iraqi troops backed up by local Sunni tribal militia fighters entered the key town on the border with Syria.
The fall of Al-Qaim leaves IS fighters in Iraq holding just the smaller neighboring town of Rawa and surrounding pockets of barren desert along the Euphrates river.
That is all that remains in the country from the vast swathes of territory that the group seized in 2014 as it rampaged across Iraq and neighboring Syria.
The US-led coalition supporting Iraqi forces with air strikes had predicted that the battle for Al-Qaim would be the “last big fight” of the punishing military campaign to dismantle their brutal experiment in statehood.
But the town appeared to have fallen in lightning time after commanders announced that Iraqi troops pushed into the town of some 50,000 inhabitants on Friday morning.
Source: Middle East Online.
BAGHDAD – Iraqi forces said they recaptured an important crossing on the border with Syria from the Islamic State group on Friday as they advanced into the jihadists’ last bastion in Iraq.
Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said troops had “regained full control” of the Husaybah border post on the edge of the town of Al-Qaim after launching a push to oust the jihadists.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi released a statement congratulating the armed forces for “entering into Al-Qaim and liberating” the border crossing.
An Iraqi army officer said that the jihadists “deserted the border post after several of them were killed” and headed off into Syria.
Al-Qaim and the surrounding areas are the last remnants of the self-styled caliphate IS declared after rampaging across Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Iraqi forces backed up by air strikes from a US-led coalition launched the operation last week to seize back the strategically located pocket of barren desert along the Euphrates river.
IS is simultaneously battling for survival in its holdouts across the border in Syria, where government troops said they ousted the group from the key city of Deir Ezzor on Friday.
Source: Middle East Online.
BAGHDAD – Iraq plans to hold parliamentary elections on May 15 to choose a prime minister, a statement from the prime minister’s office said late on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi hasn’t yet said if he plans to seek a new term. Most executive power is held by the prime minister, who is also commander of the armed forces.
The May 15 date, agreed at a government meeting on Tuesday, has yet to be approved by parliament.
Abadi took over the premiership in 2014 from Nuri al-Maliki, a close ally of Iran held responsible for the army’s collapse as Islamic State militants swept through a third of Iraq.
Abadi is credited for quickly rebuilding the army and defeating Islamic State in its main Iraqi stronghold, Mosul, last July, with strong assistance from a US-led coalition.
Maliki holds the ceremonial title of vice-president. As head of the Shiite Dawa party and the largest block in parliament, he remains a powerful political figure.
The prime minister’s office is reserved for Iraq’s majority Shiite Arab community under a power-sharing system set up after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Arab.
The largely ceremonial office of president is reserved for a Kurdish member of parliament. The speaker of parliament is drawn from Sunni Arab MPs.
Source: Middle East Online.