Contains selective news articles I select

2017-11-03

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.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85756.

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2017-11-01

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.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85705.

2017-10-31

ANKARA – Iraqi government forces on Tuesday took control of the key border crossing with Turkey in the Iraqi Kurdistan region after weeks of tensions between Baghdad and Arbil, the Turkish prime minister said.

The border crossing “has been handed over to the central government” of Iraq, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told his ruling party at a televised meeting in Ankara.

He said all controls at the border will now be carried out by Iraqi and Turkish officials on their respective sides.

The Iraqi forces deployed at the Ibrahim Al Khalil crossing alongside Turkish forces with whom they have been carrying out joint exercises over the last weeks, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

They were to raise the Iraqi national flag and take down the flag of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) which had until now controlled the crossing, it said.

The border crossing was closed while the handover was being carried out, leading to long queues, it added. There were no reports of any clashes.

The Kurdish region has found itself increasingly isolated after holding a non-binding independence referendum on September 25 that was opposed not just by Baghdad but also Iran, Turkey and the Kurds’ Western allies.

Turkey, which over the last years had cultivated strong trade ties with the KRG, reacted with fury to the referendum, fearing the move could encourage separatism amongst its own Kurdish minority.

Deemed by many analysts to have severely overplayed his hand by holding the referendum, the KRG’s leader Massud Barzani said at the weekend that he was stepping down.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85691.

2017-10-31

BAGHDAD – Iraqi forces on Tuesday battled up to the edge of Al-Qaim, the largest town still held by the Islamic State group in the country, as they pushed a final assault on the jihadists.

Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said government troops — backed by US air strikes and Sunni tribal fighters — captured the village of Al-Obeidi, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Syrian border on the eastern outskirts of the town.

“IS fighters resisted the advance of the troops, but the majority retreated to positions in the center of Al-Qaim,” it said in a statement.

Al-Qaim and the surrounding pocket of barren desert territory along the Euphrates river is now the last remnant in the country of the self-styled caliphate IS declared after rampaging across Iraq and Syria in 2014.

Iraq launched the offensive on the Al-Qaim region — which also includes the smaller town of Rawa — on Thursday to finish off a punishing campaign that saw it force the jihadists out their major urban stronghold Mosul in July.

Al-Obeidi was “one of the most important locations for IS fighters, who were there in great numbers,” local tribal militia commander Qatari al-Obeidi said.

“They had arms caches and production lines for making explosives and preparing suicide bombers.”

Since the start of the offensive last week government forces have also retaken a cement plant and phosphate processing facility, said operation commander General Abdel Amir Yarallah.

As Iraq makes its final push, IS is also battling for survival against competing offensives backed by the US and Russia in territory just over the porous border in Syria.

Long before the rise of IS, Al-Qaim became renowned as a hotbed of jihadist insurgency in the wake of the US-led invasion in 2003.

The roughly 150,000 people living in the Al-Qaim region — with 50,000 inside the town itself — are Sunni Muslims from a small number of influential tribes.

Under IS, the town has been a vital supply route between its forces in Iraq and the oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor it once dominated over the border in Syria.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85701.

Sunday, 10 December, 2017

The appearance of the head of an Iran-backed Iraqi militia during a visit to Lebanon’s border with Israel, accompanied by Hezbollah fighters, sparked a wave of anger, especially as it came shortly after the government announced the adoption of a policy to dissociate the country from external conflicts.

In a video released on Saturday, Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Iraqi paramilitary group Asaib Ahl al-Haq, declared his readiness “to stand together with the Lebanese people and the Palestinian cause”, just four days after the Lebanese political parties announced the adoption of the policy of “dissociation” from external and regional conflicts.

The video showed an unidentified commander, presumably from Hezbollah, gesturing toward military outposts located along the borders, while Khazali was talking to another person through a wireless device, telling him: “ I am now with the brothers in Hezbollah in the area of Kfarkila, which is a few meters away from occupied Palestine; we declare the full readiness to stand together with the Lebanese people and the Palestinian cause.”

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri ordered the security apparatus to conduct the necessary investigations into the presence of the Iraqi leader on the Lebanese territories, which he said violated the Lebanese laws.

Presidential sources told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that President Michel Aoun has requested further information about the video, while military sources denied that Khazali has entered the Lebanese territories in a legitimate way.

“The entry of any foreigner to this border area requires a permit from the Lebanese Army, which did not happen,” the sources said, stressing that Khazali has entered the area illegaly.

A statement issued by the premier’s office said: “Hariri contacted the concerned military and security officials to conduct the necessary investigations and take measures to prevent any person or party from carrying out any military activity on the Lebanese territory, and to thwart any illegal act as shown in the video.”

The Lebanese prime minister also ordered that Khazali would be banned from entering Lebanon again, the statement added.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat.

Link: https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1108901/lebanon-investigates-visit-iraqi-militia-leader-south.

Sunday, 10 December, 2017

Morocco’s ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) held on Saturday its 8th national congress to elect a new leader, after its former leader Abdelilah Benkirane bid the party farewell, confirming that the party is determined to proceed with the reforms despite the party’s difficult situation.

Speaking at the inaugural session at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium, Benkirane indicated that national congress comes this year following several issues the party suffered from and after its success in the 2016 elections.

He stated that PJD managed to win the elections and defeat its opponents, hinting at its political rival Authenticity and Modernity opposition party.

King Mohammed VI chose Saadeddine Othmani as Prime Minister, which Benkirane described as a “huge blow” to the party.

“The party was supposed to take a very difficult stance and become part of the opposition, however, we eventually decided to react positively to the statement of the Royal Court,” stated Benkirane

“I know that a lot of brothers and sisters in the party treasure me, if not all,” he said. “But I am also human, anything could happen to me. In all cases, even if I were a good man, eventually I would have to leave the party,” he added in his farewell speech.

Benkirane had previously condemned PJD members who did not support him in his re-election for a third term.

“It is because of me that the party made political and electoral progress,” he said, adding that: “despite the tense and difficult conflict the party witnessed, we made the decision based on our internal laws and democracy, despite the fact that they suffer from shortcomings.”

“Perhaps, we made a mistake. We could have discussed the issue within the congress, but it’s too late for that now. You will have to choose a new secretary general. I ask you to listen to all candidates and make the right decision. May God be with you,” he concluded.

The leader of PJD is supposed to be announced on Sunday, following Benkirane’s two mandates, which started in 2008, where he led the party to three major wins in Morocco’s local and parliamentary elections, in 2011, 2015 and 2016. He also led the government from 2011 to 2017.

However, after failing to form a government following five months of post-election deadlock, King Mohammed VI decided to replace PM Benkirane with Othmani, which created a huge political turmoil within the party.

The king took the decision “in the absence of signs that suggest an imminent formation” of a government and due to “his concern about overcoming the current blockage” in political negotiations, the royal statement said.

The king thanked Benkirane for his service as prime minister, praising him for his “effectiveness, competence and self-sacrifice”.

Observers expect Othmani to rule the party following Benkirane, in order to avoid any conflicts between the positions of party’s secretary general with the presidency of the cabinet.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat.

Link: https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1108916/moroccos-justice-and-development-party-elect-new-secretary-general.

December 12, 2017

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Macedonia’s prime minister reiterated his will on Tuesday to reach a solution with Greece following more than two decades of disputes over his country’s name. Zoran Zaev said Macedonian and Greek officials were working “to reconfirm their will of resuming essential talks … to reach a solution.”

Zaev, in power since spring, has vowed to improve relations with Greece, which has opposed Macedonia’s name since it declared it and won recognition by the United Nations after Yugoslavia’s breakup in 1991.

Greece says Macedonia’s name harbors territorial pretensions on Greece’s northern province of the same name. Greece blocked Macedonia from joining NATO in 2008 under its provisional name. In Kosovo on the first-ever visit by a Macedonian prime minister to its neighbor, Zaev also vowed to warm ties there.

He said Skopje would acquiesce to Kosovar demands for a new, international investigation into a 2015 attack by militants from Kosovo in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo. Eight police officers and 10 militants were killed in fighting that was hotly disputed by both sides and was the worst outbreak of violence in Macedonia since a nine-month insurgency by fighters from its Kosovar minority in 2001.

“Such an issue is in the interest of our cooperation and that should not remain an obstacle to our ties,” Zaev said at a news conference with his host counterpart Ramush Haradinaj. Macedonia has a large ethnic Albanian minority — which is the main single ethnic group in neighboring Kosovo and also Albania — that regularly plays an important part in creating governing coalitions.

“We share the same aspirations for membership into the European Union and NATO because the future of the whole Western Balkans is in EU and NATO,” said Zaev.

Associated Press writer Llazar Semini contributed from Tirana, Albania.

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