LONDON: Iran-backed militias in Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) employ assassinations, kidnappings and other forms of violence in order to protect the income they derive from widespread and deep-rooted corruption in Iraq, a panel of experts said on Thursday.At an online event hosted by British think tank Chatham House and attended by Arab News, Mohammad Al-Hakim, senior advisor on economic reform to Iraq’s prime minister, said the country’s corruption crisis extends back to the days of Saddam Hussein’s rule, but is now systemic, politically sanctioned and backed by the threat of violence by Iran-backed groups.“There’s a deep problem with the structure of the Iraqi state. This is very much a legacy that needs to be addressed,” Al-Hakim said. “The Iraqi state system has been deteriorating over 50 years.”Iraq ranks in the bottom 20 countries in the world in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.Government employees from the bottom to the top of Iraqi governance are engaging in systematic corruption, said Al-Hakim.At the highest levels of the Iraqi state, civil servants have developed relationships with politicians that they use to line their own pockets and make money for their political allies.Maya Gebeily, Middle East correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, said one of the underpinnings of this system is the PMF, which operates as a “cartel,” using violence to suppress any opposition or attempt to upturn the status quo.“It’s important to think about this corruption as a cartel. There are players in the cartel who agree with each other on how to divvy up the spoils that are coming in either from tariffs, from a specific project, or into the ministry,” she added.“That’s why there are no ‘turf wars’ … because everyone is benefitting from this system. As soon as the bodies start showing up, that means an economic loss.”But that has not deterred the militias from violence, Gebeily said. They just do not use it against each other.“What they’re doing is using violence against anybody who’s trying to root out corruption. Researchers, activists and others who’ve been extremely vocal about corruption have been kidnapped, murdered or otherwise harassed,” she said.Law-abiding officials have been physically threatened, beaten up or had their families attacked when they refused to be complicit in corruption.“Armed groups use violence as an enforcement mechanism to make sure their economic interests are secured,” said Gebeily.“Let’s say you want to import cigarettes. Cigarettes are extremely lucrative to import, so you need an extremely powerful group — and the one I discovered was importing them was Kata’ib Hezbollah — to be involved in that import.”Iraq’s most powerful armed militia, Kata’ib Hezbollah has directly attacked US forces in the country.It is also widely believed to be behind a string of assassinations and kidnappings, including that of Hisham Al-Hashimi, a journalist who described the Iran-backed group as “the strongest and most dangerous group in the so-called Islamic resistance.”Renad Mansour, director of the Iraq Initiative at Chatham House, said: “If we’re talking about power and where it lies in the Iraqi state, you only need look at the attempt by the prime minister to arrest Qasem Muslih, the leader of a brigade in the PMF, and why the prime minister was unable to keep someone who he accused of having a role in assassinations in jail.”Mansour added: “Actually, these aren’t just militias. They have more connectivity to Iraq’s Parliament, to Iraq’s judiciary, than the prime minister does. They’re effectively connected to power in a more central way than the traditional and formal heads of state.”This reveals the true and farcical nature of power in Iraq, Mansour said. “Those sitting on top of the system struggle with access to the state that they’re meant to be head of,” he added.“Those apparently sitting outside the state actually have more connectivity to the essence, the power, the core of the state.”
Covid-19: Sydney cases ease amid strict lockdown rules
The military was summoned to help enforce restrictions in Australia’s largest city. Sydney on Friday reported a slight easing in locally acquired cases of Covid-19 amid a further tightening of restrictions in the worst-affected suburbs, with the military summoned to help enforce lockdown rules. Millions in Australia’s largest city began one of the country’s harshest…
The military was summoned to help enforce restrictions in Australia’s largest city.
Sydney on Friday reported a slight easing in locally acquired cases of Covid-19 amid a further tightening of restrictions in the worst-affected suburbs, with the military summoned to help enforce lockdown rules.
Millions in Australia’s largest city began one of the country’s harshest lockdowns since the pandemic started, after nearly five weeks of increasingly tough restrictions failed to quell an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant.
Although cases dipped for the first time in nearly a week, state Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned cases could again rise due to the growing number of people positive with the Delta strain moving around in the community.
“We are expecting to see those numbers bounce around,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
New South Wales reported 170 new local cases, most of them in the state capital Sydney, down from a record high of 239 set a day earlier. Of the new cases, 42 spent time in the community while infectious and 53 remained under investigation.
Berejiklian also implored people to avoid attending an anti-lockdown protest planned for Saturday in Sydney, warning they may be giving their loved ones “a death sentence”.
Thousands of people joined an anti-lockdown protest in the city last weekend, drawing condemnation from police and politicians who labelled it a potential “superspreader” event.
As the city of five million heads into its sixth week of an extended lockdown, due to run until Aug. 28, the tougher new rules will affect eight local council areas, where most new infections have been reported.
More than two million people must stay within 5 km (3 miles) of their homes and have to wear masks when they step outside.
Police have been given sweeping new powers to close businesses flouting rules, while the military will begin assisting police with ensuring compliance with restrictions from Monday.
Members of the military, who won’t be armed and will be under the command of the state’s police, will undergo training this weekend.
New South Wales police commissioner Mick Fuller used the case of a worker who allegedly attended his worksite after knowing he had tested positive to defend the tougher rules.
“That sort of behaviour is exactly why we need strong health orders, law enforcement,” Fuller said.
Officials are increasingly concerned about the strain on healthcare systems with hospitalisations and deaths expected to rise from the fast-moving Delta variant.
A total of 187 cases are in hospital, with 58 in intensive care, 24 of whom require ventilation. Thirteen deaths have been recorded so far in the latest outbreak.
Later on Friday, the country’s national cabinet – the group of national and state leaders – will meet to discuss the country’s exit strategies from the pandemic.
Australia has handled the coronavirus crisis much better than many other developed countries, with just over 34,000 cases and 923 deaths, but has been among the lowest in administering vaccines.
With about 18% of people aged over 16 fully vaccinated, Australia’s immunisation drive hit several roadblocks due to changing medical advice for AstraZeneca doses over blood clot concerns and supply constraints for Pfizer shots.
Queensland state, meanwhile, is on alert after a 17-year-old school student contracted the virus, baffling officials.
“(This) is quite concerning because I’m struggling to understand how she has acquired it,” state Chief Health Officer Jeanette Young told reporters.
German official sent home for racist slur at Olympics against Algerian athlete
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UAE’s artist community honours frontline heroes in ‘fashion show’
Doctors, nurses and support staff of Thumbay University Hospital walk the ramp at tribute event. The ‘models’ were confident enough as they sashayed down the ramp with elan. The cameras and mobile phones were on high-drive, as they went all click-a-click. Loud cheers followed soon. A typical fashion show? Nah! This was a show with…
Doctors, nurses and support staff of Thumbay University Hospital walk the ramp at tribute event.
The ‘models’ were confident enough as they sashayed down the ramp with elan. The cameras and mobile phones were on high-drive, as they went all click-a-click.
Loud cheers followed soon.
A typical fashion show? Nah!
This was a show with a difference — a big, big difference.
The ‘models’ strutting their stuff on the ramp were none other that our angels in white, who took their spot in the sun, coated in designer white coats.
And the venue for this ‘fashion show’ was a university — the Gulf Medical University in Ajman — to be precise.
Gulf Medical University in partnership with DCOM designs, Root Square, and the PaintBrush Art Community organised a fashion show where healthcare specialists swapped their stethoscopes for designer white coats and posed as models for the Walking Art event. The show was conceived as a tribute by the artist community to the UAE’s frontline heroes who have helped the UAE fight the pandemic.
Hossam Hamdy, the Chancellor of Gulf Medical University, was the chief guest along with Dr Bu Abdullah, chairman of the Bu Abdullah Group. Uttam Chand, Consul (visa and community affairs) at the Consulate General of India, was the guest of honour.
Hamdy said: “This is a historic event and a tribute from the UAE, the Gulf Medical University, and the team, to the healthcare heroes of the world, and we are very proud to host it.
“Today our superheroes don’t wear capes, they wear white coats” he added.
Gulf Medical University alumni Dr Ramita Bhargava, who along with Dr Afrah, Dr Kajal and Dr Sandra, staged the opening act at the show, said: “It was a great honour for me to conceptualise and manage the event in tribute and appreciation for the frontline force during the pandemic.”
Doctors, nurses and support staff of Thumbay University Hospital were on the ramp and the 27 white coats worn by the ‘models’ were hand-painted, embroidered, and sketched by many Dubai artists.
Students of the Gulf Medical University were also part of the fashion show. Mohammed Omar, a Pakistani student said: “It was a great honor to walk for the show. The medical fraternity left no stone unturned to fight the disease during the pandemic. This shows that people who wear white coats are superheroes,” he added.