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Posts tagged ‘The Shi’ism Plague’

Sadr becomes first Iraqi Shi’ite leader to urge Assad to step down

by Mohamed Mostafa

Apr 9, 2017

(Reuters) Iraq’s influential Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to “take a historic heroic decision” and step down, to spare his country further bloodshed.

Sadr, who commands a large following among the urban poor of Baghdad and the southern cities, is the first Iraqi Shi’ite political leader to urge Assad to step down.

But his call was wrapped in kind words about the Syrian president and condemnation of the U.S. strikes carried out on a Syrian airbase on Friday, in retaliation for a chemical attack on civilians in a rebel-held area of Syria.

Sadr said the U.S. strikes would “drag the region to war” and could help “the expansion of Daesh,” the militant Islamic State group, which controls parts of Iraq and Syria.

Iraq’s Shi’ite-led governments have maintained good relations with the Syrian government throughout the six-year Syrian civil war. Sadr is the only Iraqi Shi’ite leader to keep some distance from Iran, a main backer of Assad along with Russia.

“I think it would be fair for President Bashar al-Assad to offer his resignation and step down in love for Syria, to spare it the woes of war and terrorism …and take a historic, heroic decision before it is too late,” Sadr said in a statement.

The Shi’ite-led Iraqi government issued a statement on Friday that reflected the difficult balancing act it maintains between its alliance with the United States and with Shi’ite Iran. It condemned the chemical attack, without naming Assad, calling instead for an international investigation to identify the perpetrator.

The statement also criticized “the hasty interventions” that followed the chemical attack, in an apparent reference to the U.S. strikes.

A U.S.-led coalition has been providing air and ground support to Iraqi forces battling Islamic State, allowing them to recapture most of the cities they had overrun in 2014 in Sunni areas of northern and western Iraq.

Source: Iraqi News.

Link: http://www.iraqinews.com/iraq-war/sadr-becomes-first-iraqi-shiite-leader-urge-assad-step/.

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More than 200 killed in Iran-Iraq border tremor

2017-11-13

TEHRAN – More than 200 people were killed and hundreds more injured when a 7.3-magnitude earthquake shook the mountainous Iran-Iraq border triggering landslides that hindered rescue efforts, officials said Monday.

The quake hit 30 kilometers (19 miles) southwest of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan at around 9.20 pm (1820 GMT) on Sunday, when many people would have been at home, the US Geological Survey said.

On Monday morning, Iran gave a provisional toll of more than 200 dead, while only six others were reported killed on the Iraq side of the border.

“There are 207 dead and around 1,700 injured”, all in Iran’s province of Kermanshah, Behnam Saidi, the deputy head of the Iranian government’s crisis unit set up to handle the response to the quake, told state television.

Mojtaba Nikkerdar, the deputy governor of Kermanshah, said authorities there were “in the process of setting up three emergency relief camps”.

Iran’s emergency services chief Pir Hossein Koolivand said it was “difficult to send rescue teams to the villages because the roads have been cut off… there have been landslides”.

The official IRNA news agency said 30 Red Cross teams had been sent to the quake zone, parts of which had experienced power cuts.

In Iraq, officials said the quake had killed six people in the northern province of Sulaimaniyah and injured around 150.

Footage posted on Twitter showed panicked people fleeing a building in Sulaimaniyah, as windows shattered at the moment the quake struck, while images from the nearby town of Darbandikhan showed major walls and concrete structures had collapsed.

In Sulaimaniyah, residents ran out onto the streets and some damage to property was reported, an AFP reporter there said.

“Four people were killed by the earthquake” in Darbandikhan, the town’s mayor Nasseh Moulla Hassan told AFP.

A child and an elderly person were killed in Kalar, according to the director of the hospital in the town about 70 kilometers (40 miles) south of Darbandikhan, and 105 people injured.

– Residents flee homes in Turkey –

The quake, which struck at a relatively shallow depth of 25 kilometers, was felt for about 20 seconds in Baghdad, and for longer in other provinces of Iraq, AFP journalists said.

On the Iranian side of the border, the tremor shook several cities in the west of the country including Tabriz.

It was also felt in southeastern Turkey, “from Malatya to Van”, an AFP correspondent said. In the town of Diyarbakir, residents were reported to have fled their homes.

The quake struck along a 1,500 kilometer fault line between the Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates, a belt extending through western Iran and into northeastern Iraq.

The area sees frequent seismic activity.

In 1990, a 7.4-magnitude quake near the Caspian sea in northern Iran killed 40,000 people and left 300,000 more injured and half a million homeless. Within seconds the quake reduced dozens of towns and nearly 2,000 villages to rubble.

Thirteen years later, a catastrophic quake struck the ancient southeast Iranian city of Bam, famed for its mud brick buildings, killing at least 31,000 people and flattening swathes of the city.

Since then, Iran has experienced at least two major quake disasters, one in 2005 that killed more than 600 and another in 2012 that left some 300 dead.

More recently, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake near Iran’s border with Turkmenistan in May killed two people, injured hundreds and caused widespread damage.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85904.

Russia’s Putin in Tehran for official visit

2017-11-01

TEHRAN – Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Tehran on Wednesday for an official visit, with talks expected to focus on Syria, the Iranian nuclear agreement and bilateral ties.

Putin will also take part in a summit with his Iranian and Azerbaijani counterparts, Hassan Rouhani and Ilham Aliyev.

Putin is to hold separate talks with Rouhani and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as Russia and Iran cooperate on a range of issues including the conflict in Syria.

The Kremlin said Syria will be a focus of the talks, which come after Russia, Turkey and Iran pledged in Kazakhstan on Tuesday to bring the Syrian regime and its opponents together for a “congress” to push peace efforts.

Russia and Iran, which support President Bashar al-Assad’s government, and Turkey, which backs Syrian rebels, have organised a series of peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana this year, agreeing on the establishment of “de-escalation” zones in various parts of the war-torn country.

Wednesday’s talks will also focus on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which saw sanctions lifted in exchange for limits on Tehran’s atomic program and which is under pressure from US President Donald Trump.

Tehran signed the deal with six countries including Russia and the United States, but Trump last month refused to certify the agreement, drawing criticism from Moscow which slammed the US president’s “aggressive and threatening rhetoric” against Iran.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85710.

Hezbollah leader: Kurdish vote will sow division in region

September 30, 2017

BEIRUT (AP) — The leader of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group has warned that a controversial referendum on support for independence in Iraq’s Kurdistan will lead to dividing several countries in the region.

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech Saturday night that the referendum held on Monday does not threaten Iraq alone but also Turkey, Syria and Iran, which all have large Kurdish minorities. Iran, Turkey and Syria rejected this week’s symbolic referendum, in which Iraq’s Kurds voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence.

Nasrallah said the divisions would also reach other countries in the region including Saudi Arabia, a country that he harshly criticized in his speech. “The responsibility of the Kurds, Iraqi people and concerned counties … is to stand against the beginning of divisions,” Nasrallah said.

Iraqi Shiite militias push to take villages west of Mosul

February 22, 2017

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s government-sanctioned paramilitary forces, made up mainly of Shiite militiamen, have launched a new push to capture villages west of the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants.

The forces’ spokesman, Ahmed al-Asadi, said on Wednesday that the villages are located southwest of the town of Tal Afar, still held by the Islamic State group. He didn’t provide details but the move by the umbrella group of mostly Shiite militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces is likely coordinated with government effort to recapture western part of Mosul from IS.

Iraqi government forces this week took a hilltop area overlooking the Mosul city airport. The Shiite militias already hold a small airport outside Tal Afar, which is s located some 93 miles (150 kilometers) east of the Syrian border.

New Hamas leader says it is getting aid again from Iran

August 28, 2017

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Hamas’ new leader in the Gaza Strip said Monday his group has repaired relations with Iran after a five-year rift and is using its newfound financial and military aid to gear up for new hostilities with Israel.

The announcement by Yehiyeh Sinwar came as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was visiting Israel. At a meeting with the U.N. chief, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained about what he called rising anti-Israel activity by Iran and its allies in the region.

Iran was once the top backer of Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction. But Hamas broke with Iran in 2012 after the group refused to support Iran’s close ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, in the Syrian civil war.

During a four-hour meeting with journalists, Sinwar said those ties have been restored and are stronger than ever. “Today, the relationship with Iran is excellent, or very excellent,” Sinwar said. He added that the Islamic Republic is “the largest backer financially and militarily” to Hamas’ military wing.

It was the first time that Sinwar has met reporters since he was elected in February. The 55-year-old Sinwar, who spent two decades in Israeli prison after being convicted of masterminding the abduction and killing of two Israeli soldiers, has close ties with Hamas’ militant wing and takes a hard line toward Israel.

Israel and Iran are bitter enemies, and Israel has recently expressed concern that Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah are seeking a permanent military presence in Syria near the Israeli border. Both Hezbollah fighters and Iran have backed Assad’s forces in the Syrian war.

In his meeting with Guterres, Netanyahu alleged Iran is building sites in Syria and Lebanon to produce “precision-guided missiles” to be used against Israel. “Iran is busy turning Syria into a base of military entrenchment, and it wants to use Syria and Lebanon as warfronts against its declared goal to eradicate Israel,” Netanyahu said. “This is something Israel cannot accept. This is something the U.N. should not accept.”

Israel has also accused the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, of failing to prevent Hezbollah from smuggling huge quantities of weapons into southern Lebanon in violation of a 2006 cease-fire. UNIFIL’s mandate is up for renewal at the end of the month and Israel is pressing for the force to have an increased presence to better monitor and prevent the alleged Hezbollah arms buildup.

UNIFIL’s commander, Maj. Gen. Michael Beary, told The Associated Press last week that he has no evidence that weapons are being illegally transferred and stockpiled in the Hezbollah-dominated south. But Guterres promised Netanyahu that he will do everything in my capacity” to ensure UNIFIL fulfills its obligations.

“I understand the security concerns of Israel and I repeat that the idea or the intention or the will to destroy the state of Israel is something totally unacceptable from my perspective,” he said. Responding to Israeli claims that the U.N. is biased, Guterres stressed his commitment to “treating all states equally.” He said those who call for Israel’s destruction peddle in a “form of modern anti-Semitism” — though he also said he doesn’t always agree with the country’s policies.

Guterres heads to the West Bank on Tuesday and is scheduled to visit Gaza on Wednesday. The U.N. maintains major operations in Gaza, running schools and health clinics and delivering humanitarian aid. Guterres is not scheduled to speak to Hamas.

Late Monday, Guterres met with Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, commander of COGAT, the defense body that is responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs. Mordechai blamed Hamas for the poor conditions in Gaza, saying the group tries to exploit civilians and aid programs. He also said Hamas’ refusal to return the remains of two dead Israeli soldiers, along with two Israeli civilians it is holding, hinders Israeli efforts to assist Gaza.

“The terror organization Hamas does not hesitate at all and repeatedly exploits the Gaza residents by attempting to take advantage of Israel’s assistance, despite the severe civil hardships in the strip,” Mordechai said.

Guterres later met with the families of the dead soldiers and captive Israeli civilians. In his briefing with reporters, Sinwar would not say how much aid Iran provides his group. Before the 2012 breakup, Iran provided an estimated $50 million a month to Hamas.

Hamas wrested control of Gaza from the Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas’ forces in 2007. Since then, it has fought three wars with Israel. Hamas has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, shootings and other attacks. It is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

Sinwar stressed that the Iranian aid is for “rebuilding and accumulating” Hamas’ military powers for a larger fight against Israel that is meant to “liberate Palestine.” “Thousands of people work every day to make rockets, (dig) tunnels and train frogmen,” he said. “The relationship with Iran is in this context.”

But the shadowy leader said his movement does not intend to start a fourth war with Israel, instead preferring to remedy dire living conditions in the impoverished coastal enclave. Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after the Hamas takeover a decade ago. Trying to pressure Hamas and regain control, Abbas has asked Israel to reduce electricity supplies to Gaza, and he has slashed the salaries of thousands of his former government employees there.

The result is that Gaza suffers acute power outages of up to 16 hours a day, unemployment of nearly 50 percent and widespread poverty. Sinwar has turned to Egypt, which has begun to ease the blockade as it seeks Hamas’ help in controlling their border. The Egyptian military has been fighting an Islamic insurgency in the Sinai desert, near Gaza.

Relations with Cairo “have improved dramatically,” Sinwar said. Egypt has recently sent fuel to ease the power crisis in response to Hamas’ building of a buffer zone along the border. “We will knock on all the doors, except that of the (Israeli) occupation, to resolve the problems,” he said.

Sinwar was among more than 1,000 Palestinians released by Israel in 2011 in exchange for an Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit, whom Hamas kidnapped in 2006. Sinwar said there would be no new talks over a prisoner swap until Israel frees 54 prisoners released in the Schalit swap that have been re-arrested.

“We are ready to start negotiations through a mediator, but only when the table is cleaned. Freed prisoners must feel they are immune.”

Federman reported from Jerusalem.

Iranian president threatens to restart nuclear program

August 15, 2017

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s president issued a direct threat to the West on Tuesday, claiming his country is capable of restarting its nuclear program within hours — and quickly bringing it to even more advanced levels than in 2015, when Iran signed the nuclear deal with world powers.

Hassan Rouhani’s remarks to lawmakers follow the Iranian parliament’s move earlier this week to increase spending on the country’s ballistic missile program and the foreign operations of its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

The bill — and Rouhani’s comments — are seen as a direct response to the new U.S. legislation earlier this month that imposed mandatory penalties on people involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program and anyone who does business with them. The U.S. legislation also applies terrorism sanctions to the Revolutionary Guard and enforces an existing arms embargo.

If Washington continues with “threats and sanctions” against Iran, Rouhani said in parliament on Tuesday, Tehran could easily restart the nuclear program. “In an hour and a day, Iran could return to a more advanced (nuclear) level than at the beginning of the negotiations” that preceded the 2015 deal, Rouhani said.

He did not elaborate. The landmark agreement between Iran and world powers two years ago capped Iran’s uranium enrichment levels in return for the lifting of international sanctions. It was not immediately clear what Rouhani was referring to — and whether he meant Iran could restart centrifuges enriching uranium to higher and more dangerous levels.

He also offered no evidence Iran’s capability to rapidly restart higher enrichment, though Iran still has its stock of centrifuges. Those devices now churn out uranium to low levels that can range from use as reactor fuel and for medical and research purposes, but could produce the much higher levels needed for a nuclear weapon.

Iran long has insisted its atomic program is for peaceful purposes despite Western fears of it being used to make weapons. However in December, Rouhani ordered up plans on building nuclear-powered ships, something that appears to be allowed under the nuclear deal.

Rouhani’s remarks were likely an attempt to appease hard-liners at home who have demanded a tougher stand against the United States. But they are also expected to ratchet up tensions further with the Trump administration.

Iran has said the new U.S. sanctions amount to a “hostile” breach of the 2015 nuclear deal. “The U.S. has shown that it is neither a good partner nor a trustable negotiator,” Rouhani added. “Those who are trying to go back to the language of threats and sanctions are prisoners of their past hallucinations. They deprive themselves of the advantages of peace.”

But Rouhani also tempered his own threat, adding that Iran seeks to remain loyal to its commitments under the nuclear deal, which opened a “path of cooperation and confidence-building” with the world.

“The deal was a model of the victory of peace and diplomacy over war and unilateralism,” said Rouhani. “It was Iran’s preference, but it was not and will not remain Iran’s only option.”

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