Rival Iraqi factions make coalition deal and end Al-Abadi’s prime minister hopes
BAGHDAD: Pro-Iran parties in Iraq reached a deal on Thursday to join a parliamentary coalition overseen by anti-Tehran cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr that ends Haider Al-Abadi’s hopes of hanging on as prime minister.
The compromise means members of the ruling Shiite Dawa Party will be excluded from competing for the post to lead the next government, negotiators involved in the talks told Arab News.
Al-Abadi, the head of Dawa’s political bureau, who was looking to win a second term, was the biggest loser in the deal. Nuri Al-Maliki, the former Iraqi prime minister and head of the State of Law coalition, who was hoping to play a key role in nominating the new head of government also lost out.
Iraqi’s Shiite rivals have been frantically competing to form the largest parliamentary coalition, since elections in May.
Muqtada Al-Sadr, one of the most influential Shiite clerics, whose Sairoon list came first, formed a 154-seat coalition including Al-Abadi and his Al-Nassir list.
At the same time, Hadi Al-Amiri, who heads the pro-Iranian Al-Fattah list, formed a coalition of 108 members, including Al-Maliki and his State of Law alliance.
Both Al-Sadr and Al-Amiri tried to register their coalitions in the first session of parliament on Sept. 3. The federal court had been requested to rule between them.
Violent demonstrations broke out in Basra, Iraq’s main oil hub, shortly afterwards. At least 15 demonstrators were shot dead, scores wounded and dozens of government and political party buildings set on fire, including the Iranian consulate.
Some political leaders saw the violence as an attempt to pressure negotiations in Baghdad, and Al-Sadr agreed to resume negotiations with Al-Amiri.
Several meetings were held between the two men in the last week at Al-Sadr’s residency in the holy city of Najaf, sources said.
“We have reached preliminary understandings with Al-Sadr and are working to turn them into agreements under the umbrella of Marjiyaa (the highest Shiite clerics in Iraq),” a key Al-Fattah negotiator told Arab News.
“Both Abadi and Maliki are out. Abadi is a part of the (new) coalition but he is not a candidate for the prime minister post.
“Amiri also is not a nominee anymore. As long as Abadi will not be nominated (by Sadr or his allies) then Amiri will not be nominated.”
The offer, which was presented by Al-Fattah through the UN delegation in Iraq, suggests that both Al-Sadr and Al-Amiri had to make some concessions to form the coalition.
Al-Abadi as a candidate for prime minister and Al-Maliki and his alliance as part of the coalition were sacrificed for the agreement, negotiators told Arab News.
Both men are cornerstones of the Dawa Party and have been the heads of successive governments since 2005 but they had a bitter fall out in 2014. Al-Abadi stood in as a compromise candidate for prime minister when Al-Maliki’s nomination for a third term was widely rejected because of his sectarian policies. Those policies were blamed for fueling the resentment that allowed Daesh to seize a third of Iraqi territory.
“Everyone is angry at the Dawa Party and they blame its leaders for what happened in Iraq since 2005. So it was not difficult to abandon it and its candidates,” a negotiator for Al-Sadr’s alliance said.
Al-Abadi’s nomination for the prime minister post had been backed by Al-Sadr and Ammar Al-Hakim, the head of Hikma, who controls 22 seats and is one of Al-Sadr’s key allies.
Both invested a large effort in promoting Al-Abadi during negotiations with the other blocs. They said he had not enough time to achieve his program in government because the first three years of his last term were dominated by fighting Daesh, the sources said.
“The problem of Abadi is he has not helped himself and has not helped us. He was creative in making mistakes along the last six months and his negotiating and media teams are weak,” a second Al-Sadr negotiator told Arab News.
“Now we have to find a candidate who is acceptable for Iran, the US and Najaf.
“Najaf is deeply involved this time and they (the clerics) have been using Sadr as their stick to pressure the political rivals.”
Najaf is led by Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani the most revered Shiite cleric. The city’s clergymen are seen by Iraqis as the sponsor of the political process that emerged after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and allowed the majority Shiites to take the reins of power through elections.
Sistani has been reluctant to interfere directly in the political process, but on Monday he made a rare intervention that changed the course of forming the next government.
Sistani’s office issued a statement saying he refused the nomination for the post of prime minister any politician who had previously exercised power.
“Abadi is out. That’s it. None of us would publically challenge the desire of Sistani,” a senior Shiite politician involved in the talks told Arab News. “We have many other more important things to worry about, so we moved on.”
The final decision over all the details related to the new ruling coalition and the nomination of the next government, including the president, the speaker of the parliament and the prime minister have to be concluded before Sept. 15.
Iran and the United States, the two main international players in Iraq’s political and security scene since 2003, seem to have agreed on this scenario, three negotiators from the various sides told Arab News. The US has backed Al-Abadi for a second term while Iran saw him as a threat to its interests in Iraq specifically after he announced his support for the economic sanctions imposed on Iran since Donald Trump withdrew America from a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
“It becomes clear for the Iranians that going without Sadr is not in their interest and that they have to deal with reality,” a key Al-Sadr negotiator told Arab News.
“The reality indicates that Fattah cannot form a government, which would be accepted by local, regional and international forces. The US would topple it within weeks.
“The Iranians do not have the ability to open a front against the Americans in Iraq, so they are satisfied by the blow that they directed to the Americans by burning Al-Abadi.
“Now, they (the Iranians) have decided to step back to let Sadr and the Americans to lead the negotiations and form the new coalition.”
Yemeni Information Minister says Houthis hiding in food stores, civilian sites in Hodeidah
The Yemeni army found operation and communication underground chambers on Thursday belonging to the Iranian-backed Houthi militia in the Kataf district of Saada province in northern Yemen, Saudi State TV Al-Ekhbariya reported. “The army found operation and communication chambers as they progressed in the field in the Bujbara Valley,” Brigadier General Raddad Al-Hashemi said. “They were underground…
The Yemeni army found operation and communication underground chambers on Thursday belonging to the Iranian-backed Houthi militia in the Kataf district of Saada province in northern Yemen, Saudi State TV Al-Ekhbariya reported.
“The army found operation and communication chambers as they progressed in the field in the Bujbara Valley,” Brigadier General Raddad Al-Hashemi said.
“They were underground and connected to a mountain cave, consisting of 5 rooms, each room was carrying out specific hostile tasks,” he added.
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“The Houthi militias used this secret underground network to carry out its hostile operations and to communicate with its elements in various locations, as well as to hold meetings,” Al-Hashemi said.
He explained that inside the rooms wireless communication devices were found along a number of signs used by the militias to communicate between elements.
Sectarian leaflets and pictures of the Houthi leaders were also found.
UN renews Libya mission but no date for elections
BEIRUT: More than 360,000 people have been killed across war-ravaged Syria in seven years, a monitoring group said Thursday, in a new toll for the brutal conflict.It came amid rising international concern that a looming Syrian government assault against rebels in the northwest province of Idlib would be a “bloodbath.”The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights…
BEIRUT: More than 360,000 people have been killed across war-ravaged Syria in seven years, a monitoring group said Thursday, in a new toll for the brutal conflict.
It came amid rising international concern that a looming Syrian government assault against rebels in the northwest province of Idlib would be a “bloodbath.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had recorded the deaths of 364,792 people, nearly a third of them civilians, since protests erupted in March 2011 against President Bashar Assad.
The toll represents an increase of about 13,000 people in the past six months, according to the Britain-based monitor, which uses a vast network of sources including fighters, officials and medical staff.
The war has killed 110,687 civilians, including more than 20,000 children and nearly 13,000 women.
More than 124,000 pro-government fighters have died, around half of them regime troops and the rest an assortment of Syrian and foreign militiamen loyal to Assad.
Among them are 1,665 from Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.
The Observatory recorded the deaths of 64,000 hard-line Islamists and Islamist extremists, including from the Daesh group and former Al-Qaeda affiliate factions.
Another 64,800 fighters from other forces, including non-Islamist rebels, soldiers who defected and Kurdish factions, were also killed since 2011.
The Observatory said it had confirmed the deaths of another 250 people but could not specify their identities.
With help from his Russian and Iranian allies, Assad has recaptured nearly two-thirds of Syrian territory.
The lion’s share of the rest is the Kurdish-controlled northeast.
The largest chunk of rebel-held territory left comprises the province of Idlib and surrounding areas, where an estimated three million people live.
Assad’s troops have been amassing around the area for weeks ahead of a threatened assault.
The United Nations, world powers, and aid groups alike have warned a full-fledged offensive on Idlib could create a humanitarian calamity.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres this week urged the regime to pull back and for all sides to find a peaceful solution, saying Idlib “must not be transformed into a bloodbath.”
Syria war has killed more than 360,000: monitor
GENEVA: The UN said that the situation in Gaza was “catastrophic” after 11 years of “economic siege” and warned that Washington’s decision to halt assistance to Palestinian refugees would create “more misery.” “The situation in Gaza is becoming less and less livable,” said Isabelle Durant, the deputy head of the UN development agency (UNCTAD). “It…
GENEVA: The UN said that the situation in Gaza was “catastrophic” after 11 years of “economic siege” and warned that Washington’s decision to halt assistance to Palestinian refugees would create “more misery.”
“The situation in Gaza is becoming less and less livable,” said Isabelle Durant, the deputy head of the UN development agency (UNCTAD).
“It is catastrophic,” she told reporters in Geneva.
In a new report, the UN agency said the Palestinian economy, long stifled by the Israeli occupation, was being hit hard by a sharp drop in international support to the Palestinians, even before Washington’s dramatic cuts.
Last year, international development assistance to the Palestinians shrunk by more than 10 percent compared to a year earlier.
And at $720 million, it stood at just a third of the $2 billion received a decade earlier, the UNCTAD report showed.
That dramatic drop in support came before US President Donald Trump’s government decided to completely halt its funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), which had previously stood at around $350 million a year.
The Trump administration has also scrapped around $200 million in payments by USAID to the Palestinians, and at the weekend said it would cut $25 million more in direct aid to six hospitals that primarily serve Palestinians in Jerusalem.
The declining international support, coupled with “a freeze in the reconstruction of Gaza and unsustainable credit-financed public and private consumption, paint a bleak picture for future growth,” UNCTAD said in a statement.
The widespread restrictions on the movement of people and goods, confiscation of land and natural resources, and the accelerating expansion of Israeli settlements were also damaging, it said.
Wednesday’s report slammed the shackling of the economy in the Palestinian territories, which are struggling with the world’s highest unemployment rate — of more than 27 percent overall and around 44 percent in Gaza alone.
Women and youth are disproportionately impacted by the lack of jobs, it said, with half of Palestinians under the age of 30 out of work, while only 19 percent of women participate in the labor force.
In a report last year, the UN agency said that the Palestinian economy could easily double and that sky-high unemployment and poverty would plummet if the Israeli occupation were lifted.
And in its latest report, UNCTAD suggested that simply removing some of the Israeli restrictions on Palestinian trade and investment could allow the territory’s gross economy to swell by up to 10 percent.
Removing restrictions on Gaza was particularly important, UNCTAD said, warning that the Strip had been “reduced to a humanitarian case of profound suffering and aid dependency.”
Mahmoud Elkhafif, who coordinates UNCTAD’s Assistance to the Palestinian People Unit, said that the agency had not yet analyzed the impact the US cuts might have on the Palestinian economy, but stressed they would certainly result in “more misery” in Gaza especially.
In 2012, UNCTAD warned that the area risked becoming “uninhabitable” by 2020 unless trends were reversed, but on Wednesday the agency said conditions “are worse” than when they made that prediction.
In the past decade, Gaza has been subjected to three major military operations and a continuous and crippling air, sea and land blockade, which have “eviscerated” its productive capacity, it said.
Gaza’s some 1.8 million residents currently count on average a real income per person that is 30 percent lower than in 2000.
And Elkhafif pointed out that half of the people in the Strip were considered food-insecure even before the US announced its cuts to UNRWA, which provides aid to some 80 percent of the population.
Simply lifting the blockade would quickly see its economic growth shoot up by a third, the report said.