Archive for April 11, 2017


by Loaa Adel

Apr 9, 2017

Baghdad (IraqiNews.com) Belgium has withdrawn its fighter jets, which are participating in the US-led international coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq, after being accused of massacring civilians in western Mosul.

Belgian Ministry of Defense revealed that it issued a final decree to withdraw its jets from the international coalition against the Islamic State terrorist group.

Belgian Minister of Defense Steven Vandeput declared that that the withdrawal came after accusing Belgian air force of bombing al-Mosul al-Jadida neighborhood, in western Mosul, killing hundreds of civilians, mostly women and children, while indicated that his country ordered a probe into the incident.

Meanwhile, the government of Belgium, on Saturday, suspended air force operations above Syria in response to the U.S. cruise missile attack Friday morning that led Russia to end its U.S. – Russian security coordination. The U.S.-led coalition continues operations, but for the time being without Belgian participation above Syria, according to NSNBC News.

Vandeput also hinted at the fact that the Belgian government doesn’t believes the risk of a direct confrontation between Russian and NATO air forces in Syria is too high when he said “The international coalition looks day by day how the situation evolves. … If the coalition says it’s safe enough and asks us to continue the missions, we will do that.”

Source: Iraqi News.

Link: http://www.iraqinews.com/iraq-war/belgium-withdraws-jets-coalition-isis/.

Advertisements

April 08, 2017

PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The United States is vowing to keep up the pressure on Syria after the intense nighttime wave of missile strikes from U.S. ships, despite the prospect of escalating Russian ill will that could further inflame one of the world’s most vexing conflicts.

Standing firm, the Trump administration on Friday signaled new sanctions would soon follow the missile attack, and the Pentagon was even probing whether Russia itself was involved in the chemical weapons assault that compelled President Donald Trump to action. The attack against a Syrian air base was the first U.S. assault against the government of President Bashar Assad.

Much of the international community rallied behind Trump’s decision to fire the cruise missiles in reaction to this week’s chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of men, women and children in Syria. But a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the strikes dealt “a significant blow” to relations between Moscow and Washington.

At the United Nations, Russia’s deputy ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov, strongly criticized what he called the U.S. “flagrant violation of international law and an act of aggression” whose “consequences for regional and international security could be extremely serious.” He called the Assad government a main force against terrorism and said it deserved the presumption of innocence in the chemical weapons attack.

U.S. officials blame Moscow for propping up Assad. “The world is waiting for the Russian government to act responsibly in Syria,” Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said during an emergency Security Council session. “The world is waiting for Russia to reconsider its misplaced alliance with Bashar Assad.”

Haley said the U.S. was prepared to take further action in Syria but hoped it wouldn’t be necessary. The official Saudi Press Agency reported that King Salman complimented Trump in a telephone conversation for his “courageous decision.”

Saudi Arabia, one of the most vehement opponents of Assad, said the missile barrage was the right response to “the crimes of this regime to its people in light of the failure of the international community to stop it.”

In Florida with the president, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said additional economic sanctions on Syria were being prepared. Thursday night’s strikes — some 60 cruise missiles fired from two ships in the Mediterranean — were the culmination of a rapid, three-day transformation for Trump, who has long opposed deeper U.S. involvement in Syria’s civil war. Advisers said he was outraged by heartbreaking images of young children who were among the dozens killed in the chemical attack.

The decision undercut another campaign promise for Trump: his pledge to try to warm relations with Moscow. After months of allegations of ties between his election campaign and the Kremlin — the subject of current congressional and FBI investigations — Trump has found himself clashing with Putin.

On Friday, senior U.S. military officials were looking more closely at possible Russian involvement in the poison attack. Officials said a drone belonging to either Russia or Syria was seen hovering over the site after the assault earlier this week. The drone returned late in the day as citizens were going to a nearby hospital for treatment. Shortly afterward, officials say the hospital was targeted.

The officials, who insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the sensitive matter, said they believe the hospital attack may have been an effort to cover up evidence of the earlier assault. White House officials caution that Trump is not preparing to plunge the U.S. deeper into Syria. Spokesman Sean Spicer said the missile attack sent a clear message to Assad, but he avoided explicitly calling for the Syrian to leave office.

The impact of the strikes was also unclear. Despite intense international pressure, Assad has clung to power since a civil war broke out in his country six years ago, helped by financial and military support from both Russia and Iran. Russian military personnel and aircraft are embedded with Syria’s, and Iranian troops and paramilitary forces are also on the ground helping Assad fight the array of opposition groups hoping to topple him.

Trump spent Friday in Florida, in private meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping. U.S. officials noted that the timing of the strike had the possible added benefit of signaling to China that Trump is willing to make good on his threat to act alone to stop North Korea’s nuclear pursuits if Beijing doesn’t exert more pressure on Pyongyang.

The missile strikes hit the government-controlled Shayrat air base in central Syria, where U.S. officials say the Syrian military planes that dropped the chemicals had taken off. Trump’s decision to strike Syria won widespread praise from other nations. Not everyone was cheering in Washington, where the president’s decision to act without congressional authority angered a mix of libertarian Republicans, Democrats and the far right.

Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Vivian Salama in Palm Beach, Florida, contributed to this report.

April 08, 2017

STAVANGER, Norway (AP) — Norway and Turkey — NATO’s northern and southern frontiers in Europe — have been pillars of the Western military alliance for more than 60 years. But the diplomatic temperature between the two has fallen steadily since Turkey recalled dozens of military officers as suspects in an aborted coup — and Norway became the first nation to grant some of them asylum.

The government in Oslo agreed last month to protect four Turkish officers who had been assigned to NATO and, like colleagues in Germany and Brussels, fear they could be imprisoned as terrorists if they go back to their country. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Norwegian ambassador for an explanation while the officers remain in Stavanger, a city on Norway’s west coast that lies 3,800 kilometers (2,360 miles) from Ankara.

“We see that this is a difficult decision for Norway because of the alliance, and it can cause big problems for NATO, so we appreciate that they have put human rights over political decisions,” one of the officers given asylum said. “Norway still says you are innocent until proven guilty … in Turkey, you have to prove your innocence.”

The men trying to forge new lives in Stavanger are among a cadre of commissioned Turkish officers who were working at NATO facilities around Europe during Turkey’s July 15 thwarted coup. The Turkish government suspects of playing a role in the failed coup, and the men have asked not to be named for fear of reprisals against their families in Turkey.

“Some of my colleagues in other NATO headquarters did return to Turkey. They were detained at the airport in front of their families, their children. It would be very difficult to go back to Turkey now,” one senior officer said. “We have small kids, and we have to save their lives.”

The former officers bristle at being branded “traitors.” Each man was on leave when the plot unfolded and claims he has a firm alibi. With their bank accounts frozen, their successful military careers suddenly cut short and hopes for fair trials in Turkey shattered, they say they had no choice but to seek asylum in Norway, where they filed for protection between August 13 and October 19.

One of the men was fired by telephone. Another received a call ordering him to leave Norway within three days. Two watched in horror as their names appeared on “blacklists” of soldiers commanded back to Turkey.

“When I saw the list and my name in the list, I tried to understand the reason … but there was nothing about this on the paper. There were just one or two or three sentences calling us back,” one said. “It was a terrible period. I knew I would lose my rights, my past, my family, everything.”

The men say they have seen social media videos of other Turkish officers being tortured in jail and have desperately tried to reach military friends back home. They say some have disappeared, while others were forced into giving confessions.

“After the coup, 160 generals and 7,000 military officers have been arrested,” one of the officers said bitterly. “If these persons were involved in this coup, the result must have been different.” The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan alleges that the coup was carried out by followers of a U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who denies orchestrating a takeover. More than 150,000 people have been taken into custody, fired or forced to retire from Turkey’s armed forces, judiciary, education system and other public institutions since the coup attempt.

Even Gulenists who did not take part in the coup attempt are considered a serious security threat now and are being purged from Turkey’s military. The four former officers in Norway deny being Gulen supporters and think the government is using the coup as an excuse to crush its critics.

“We are hearing that people’s wives are accused of being plotters and traitors. If one of your relatives has money in a certain bank, or you were using certain social media on the day of the coup, you are accused of being involved,” one said.

Turkey responded angrily to Norway granting the officers asylum, protesting that a NATO ally offered the men “support to abuse the country’s political, social and economic opportunities” instead of ensuring their return to Turkey.

The men’s lawyer, Kjell Brygfjeld, thinks the four cases were fast-tracked through the sometimes clogged Norwegian asylum system. One of the former officers said his asylum petition was approved without his needing to provide documents proving he was in danger.

“Norway can see what is going on,” he said. As political refugees, they face the possibility of never returning to Turkey and uncertain futures in NATO’s northern outpost. Dressed in the casual cold-weather wear of Norwegian civilians during an early spring evening on the Stavanger fjord, the four officers joked that they’ve already embraced a Nordic lifestyle.

And even though the winter nights seem long in Norway, they know that their situations could have been much darker. “It’s impossible for me to disconnect from Turkey,” one of the officers said. “All of my friends — most of the friends are now in jail. And their families suffer because of this. And there is just one voice in Turkey, so no one hears their screams.”

David Keyton contributed to this report in Stavanger.