Archive for December 6, 2017


October 07, 2017

BAGHDAD (AP) — Thousands of Iraqi Kurdish mourners, Iraqi officials and world dignitaries attended the funeral of Jalal Talabani, the country’s first president in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq and once a symbol of national unity.

Talabani was laid to rest Friday in Sulaimaniyah, the second-largest city in Iraq’s Kurdish region, after his casket — draped in the Kurdish flag — was flown back from Berlin where he died at a hospital earlier this week.

From the airport in Suleimaniyah, a motorcade carried the casket to a nearby hill for burial. Crowds poured into the streets, following the funeral procession on foot, carrying flags and posters bearing Talabani’s image and the emblem of the political party he founded more than three decades ago, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Many threw flowers on top of the coffin. While Talabani traces his roots to a small village in Iraq’s north, Sulaimaniyah is the seat of his political power. A long-time champion of Kurdish self-rule, Talabani, also established himself as a national statesman after accepting the largely symbolic office of the presidency two years after the 2003 U.S. invasion toppled Saddam.

He held the post from 2005 to 2014, but faded from Iraqi political life after suffering a debilitating stroke in 2012. During his time as president, Talabani was seen as a symbol of unity, a politician able to manage tensions between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds that in Iraq often erupt into violence.

Talabani’s death in Germany on Tuesday came as Iraq struggles to manage the fallout of a controversial referendum on Kurdish independence spearheaded by his long-time Iraqi Kurdish political rival, Masoud Barzani.

While Barzani was present at the funeral and laid a wreath of white flowers at Talabani’s casket, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was not in attendance. Interior Minister Qassim al-Araji came to Sulaimaniyah to pay his respects in al-Abadi’s place.

Also in attendance were Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif; Iraq’s current president and fellow Kurd, Fuad Masum; U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Douglas A. Silliman, and Jan Kubis, the top U.N. envoy in Iraq.

Baghdad, along with neighboring Turkey and Iran, has rejected the Kurdish referendum and is demanding Kurdish leadership do the same. While the vote in non-binding and will not immediately create an independent state, many saw it as a symbolic affirmation of the Iraqi Kurdish dreams for a state of their own.

Iraq’s central government has banned international flights from servicing the Kurdish region’s airports and Turkey and Iran, fearful of their own restive Kurdish minorities, have threatened further punitive measures.

Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan threatened a total blockade and has not ruled out the possibility of military invasion. As Talabani’s coffin arrived at Sulaimaniyah airport, Iraqi state TV hailed the late president as a national leader who would not have approved of the referendum, called by Barzani.

However, Talabani had not made any official statement on the vote and his political party was split on the subject. Iraq’s Kurds have been politically divided for decades. Shortly after securing an autonomous zone in the 1990s with the backing of a U.S.-enforced no-fly zone, Barzani and Talabani’s rival factions — mainly their Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party — were drawn into a bitter civil war that killed thousands of civilians and fighters on both sides.

Deep distrust remains to this day, but across the political spectrum, the dream of an independent state is a central rallying point. Both the referendum vote and Talabani’s death whipped up nationalist sentiment throughout the Kurdish region.

“Since the beginning of the Kurdish liberation movement until now, it was Mam Jalal who brought us to this point,” said Karim Mohammed, a Sulaimaniyah resident among the crowds gathered to pay their respects, “he always looked after us.”

“Mam Jalal” is Talabani’s Kurdish nickname that translates to Uncle Jalal. The United Nations described Talabani as “a leading voice of moderation, dialogue, mutual understanding and respect in Iraq’s contemporary politics” and a “patriot of unique wisdom and foresight.”

Talabani’s son and the Kurdish region’s deputy prime minister, Qubad Talabani, spoke at the funeral ceremony, saying that his family received condolences from across the Kurdish region. “He was an uncle to all of you. He belonged to all of Kurdistan,” Qubad said in remarks broadcast on local Kurdish television.

Associated Press writer Adnan Ahmed Qader in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, and Susannah George in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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October 06, 2017

BAGHDAD (AP) — Thousands of mourners gathered in the Iraqi city of Sulaimaniyah to pay their respects to late Kurdish leader and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who was to be buried Friday in the town that was the seat of his political power.

Talabani, once a champion of Kurdish self-rule, is being remembered as a national statesman after accepting the largely symbolic office of the presidency two years after the 2003 U.S. invasion toppled Saddam Hussein. He held the post from 2005 to 2014 despite suffering a debilitating stroke in 2012.

His death came at a charged moment in national politics, with Iraq’s Kurdistan region voting by an overwhelming majority to endorse independence in a non-binding referendum held last month. The results were rejected by Iraq’s central government and neighboring Turkey and Iran, who have threatened to take punitive measures against the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq’s north.

Iraq’s central government closed the airspace over Kurdistan to international flights, and Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan threatened a total blockade. The Turkish leader has not ruled out the possibility of a military invasion either. Ankara and Tehran are afraid their own sizeable Kurdish minorities will follow Iraqi Kurdistan’s example and agitate for self-rule.

With Talabani’s coffin arriving at Sulaimaniyah airport, Iraqi state TV hailed the late president as a national leader who would not have approved of the referendum called by his Kurdish rival and President of the Kurdish region, Masoud Barzani. Barzani and Talabani fought a bitter civil war in the 1990s that left thousands dead.

Talabani’s casket was received at Suleimaniyah airport draped in a Kurdish flag before being moved in a motorcade through the region’s second city. Supporters mobbed the procession, some waving the green flag of Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party.

Talabani’s casket was met at the airport by Iraqi leaders and foreign dignities, including Barzani and Iranian Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif. Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, mired in the fallout of the Kurdistani referendum, was conspicuously absent. Interior Minister Qassim al-Araji was there in his stead.

December 03, 2017

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albanian authorities say that despite less rainfall and lower river levels, thousands of homes and scores of schools have been damaged, and agricultural land is still submerged.

The government said Sunday that 600 families were evacuated Saturday in two southwestern districts. More than 3,000 homes, 56 schools and 16,000 hectares (40,000 acres) of agricultural land have been flooded. Many roads and 28 bridges have been damaged.

Authorities have started calculating the damage to consider financial compensation. At least one person has died in the last several days of heavy rainfall that has flooded many parts of Albania. Ports and the only international airport were temporarily closed for part of the weekend.

Schools were closed Friday and the Education Ministry will make a decision soon about Monday’s classes.

December 3, 2017

Five Jordanian nationals have gone missing in Saudi Arabia, according to a Jordanian foreign ministry source.

The five were on a hunting trip in the northwestern Tabuk region when they disappeared, the source told Anadolu Agency, requesting anonymity because he was unauthorized to speak to media.

He, however, denied reports that the five had been found dead.

There was no comment from Saudi authorities on the report.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171203-5-jordanians-go-missing-in-saudi-arabia/.

November 29, 2017

Independent bodies which deal with the fight against corruption, journalists’ rights and human rights in Tunisia have today united to condemn the government’s attempts to “marginalize” them by “emptying them of their content and reviewing their regulatory laws in order to control them”.

In a joint press conference, member of the Independent High Authority for Audiovisual Communication, Hisham Snoussi, said: “It has become clear to us that the executive authority decided to circumvent the Constitution and to empty the authorities of their content by introducing laws that contradict rights and freedoms. There is a real decline in the authorities’ role.”

Speaking to the Anadolu Agency, Snoussi added: “All the authorities feel that the retreat implies the government’s power and contempt for the Constitution, especially when President Beji Caid Essebsi expressed his intention to amend the Constitution, criticizing the authorities’ role.”

On 6 September, Essebsi said in an interview with a local government newspaper that “constitutional authorities exercise absolute powers without supervision, under the right of independence, and they threaten the state’s unity and existence.”

National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists Director, Naji Baghouri, said: “All authorities have concerns about marginalizing and emptying them of their content and authority, by reviewing their regulatory laws.”

He added that “the authorities play an important role in the process of democratic transition.”

The Tunisian National Instance for the Fight Against Corruption, the Independent High Authority for Audiovisual Communication, the Information Access Authority, along with the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists and the Tunisian Human Rights League have all condemned the government’s actions.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171129-tunisia-government-trying-to-control-independent-bodies/.

December 1, 2017

The African Union has chosen Algeria as the coordinator of its counterterrorism strategy. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his country were named by the chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki, in an official announcement made in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on Thursday.

Faki said that Algeria was chosen because of its “pioneering experience” in this area and its effective policy to combat extremism. “All African countries could follow Algeria’s experience in the fight against terrorism,” he added.

The AU official congratulated Algeria and President Bouteflika for their efforts in coordinating the bloc’s efforts towards preventing and combating terrorism.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171201-african-union-chooses-algeria-as-counterterrorism-coordinator/.

November 30, 2017

Algeria has joined Iran, Syria and Iraq and refused to join the Saudi-led Muslim Military Alliance, The Algeria Daily reported on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia leads two alliances including one against Houthi rebels in Yemen in addition to the Muslim Military Alliance.

While Saudi Arabia and its allies brand Lebanese Hezbollah and Houthi rebels in Yemen as terrorist organizations, Algeria does not agree with this position and maintains relations with Saudi Arabia at the same time with its rival, Iran.

The newspaper reported retired Algerian Colonel, Abdul Hamid Al-Sharif as saying that the alliance is an alliance of aggression that represents the conflicts of interests raging in the region which Algeria refuses to be part of.

Meanwhile, security expert, Ahmad Azimi said in a statement that the Muslim Military Alliance does not mean anything to Algeria because the member states are under Western influence.

“If the goal of the alliance is to liberate and defend Arab countries then we welcome it, but if it aims to attack Muslim countries then Algeria cannot be part of its”.

Saudi Arabia announced on December 14, 2015 the formation of the Anti- Terrorism Muslim Military Alliance with the participation of 41 countries, including Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia and Egypt.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171130-algeria-refuses-to-join-saudi-led-muslim-military-alliance/.

December 05, 2017

KUWAIT CITY (AP) — Kuwait’s emir on Tuesday quickly called an end to a planned two-day meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council within hours of its start amid the ongoing diplomatic dispute surrounding Qatar.

The sudden end of the meeting in Kuwait City raised new questions about the future of the GCC, a six-member Gulf Arab regional bloc formed in part to be a counterbalance to Shiite power Iran. Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah’s decision came after the United Arab Emirates earlier in the day announced a new partnership with Saudi Arabia separate from the GCC.

The Emirati Foreign Ministry said the new “joint cooperation committee” was approved by the UAE’s ruler and president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nayhan. The ministry said the new committee “is assigned to cooperate and coordinate between the UAE and Saudi Arabia in all military, political, economic, trade and cultural fields, as well as others, in the interest of the two countries.”

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have cultivated close ties in recent years. Emirati troops are deeply involved in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nayhan, also is believed to be close to Saudi Arabia’s young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Emirati announcement did not say whether any other Gulf Arab countries would be invited to join the new group, but the development puts pressure the GCC, whose members — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates — are all U.S. allies.

The United States and its European allies have told the council’s members that the region remains stronger with them working together as a whole, while the countries themselves still appear divided over their future.

The fact the GCC meeting in Kuwait was to take place at all is a bit of a surprise, given the unusually sharp criticism among the typically clubby members of the GCC pointed at Doha. The dispute began in June, following what Qatar described as a hack of its state-run news agency and the circulation of incendiary comments attributed to its ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Soon after, GCC members Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates closed off their airspace and seaports to Qatar, as well as the small peninsular nation’s sole land border with Saudi Arabia.

The boycott initially riled Doha, though it soon replaced food products with those flown in from Turkey and Iran. However, Qatar’s foreign reserves have dropped by some $10 billion — a fifth of their value — since the dispute began. Those reserves are crucial in supporting the nation’s riyal, which is pegged to the U.S. dollar, as well as funding the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup that Doha will host.

The boycotting nations allege Qatar funds extremist groups and has too-cozy ties to Iran. Qatar has long denied funding extremists but it restored full diplomatic ties with Iran during the crisis. Doha shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Tehran that gives its citizens the highest per-capita income in the world.

A similar dispute involving Qatar erupted in 2014. But this time positions have hardened against Qatar, whose support for Islamist opposition groups has angered the Arab nations now boycotting it. The UAE in particular views Islamists as a threat to hereditary rule in its federation of seven sheikhdoms. Egypt, angered by Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the nation’s deposed President Mohammed Morsi, is also boycotting Doha.

The U.S., which has some 10,000 troops stationed at Qatar’s sprawling al-Udeid Air Base as part of its campaign against the Islamic State group and the war in Afghanistan, also has sought to end the crisis. Its military has halted some regional exercises to put pressure on the GCC to resolve the crisis. However, President Donald Trump in the meantime made comments seemingly supporting the Arab nations’ efforts at isolating Qatar, complicating those efforts.

A Trump-prompted call in September between Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim and the Saudi crown prince that offered a chance at negotiations also broke down in mutual recriminations. Kuwait’s 88-year-old emir, Sheikh Sabah, has tried to mediate the dispute, so far without success.

Tuesday’s meeting in Kuwait City was to be a summit of the region’s rulers. However, only Qatar and Kuwait were represented by their ruling emirs, sparking anger online by Kuwaitis that the nations boycotting Qatar had slighted their leader.

Despite the troubles, Sheikh Sabah tried to stay positive. “I would like to congratulate all the people of the GCC nations for our success in holding this summit, proving how committed we are to this establishment and continuity,” he said.

After a closed-door meeting lasting around 15 minutes, Sheikh Sabah announced the end of the summit to applause.

Associated Press writers Hussain al-Qatari and Malak Harb contributed to this report.

By Alaa Shahine

November 29, 2017

Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, one of the most senior Saudi royals detained in the kingdom’s corruption crackdown, has been released after reaching a settlement deal believed to exceed the equivalent of $1 billion, an official involved in the anti-graft campaign said.

Prince Miteb, who headed the powerful National Guard until earlier this month, was released Tuesday, the official said on condition of anonymity in discussing matters under the supervision of the public prosecutor. At least three other suspects have also finalized settlement deals, the official said. It wasn’t immediately possible to reach Prince Miteb, son of the late King Abdullah, for comment.

The public prosecutor has decided to release several individuals and will proceed with the prosecution of at least five others, the official said. The prosecutor has complete authority over the investigation, including whether to accept or reject any settlement proposal and whether to take any suspect to court, the official said.

Prince Miteb’s release, less than a month since his arrest, shows the speed at which Saudi Arabia wants to settle the corruption probe that involved the sudden arrests of royals and billionaires such as Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. The crackdown has shaken the kingdom and reverberated across the world as analysts, bankers and diplomats assess its impact on power in the world’s biggest oil exporter.

$100 Billion Settlement

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s predominant leader known as MBS, said the majority of those being detained had agreed to pay back some of the money they had gained illegally in exchange for their freedom. The prince said authorities could recover as much as $100 billion in settlements.

Some suspects started making payments to settle cases in exchange for freedom, people with knowledge of the matter said last week. Businessmen and officials signed agreements with authorities to transfer a portion of their assets to avoid trial and have started to transfer funds from personal accounts to government-controlled accounts, the people said, asking not to be identified because the discussions are private.

“Most princes arrested will certainly try to buy their way out, and we will see more of them doing just that to avoid jail time,” said Raihan Ismail, an associate lecturer at the Centre for Arab & Islamic Studies at the Australian National University in Canberra. “This process lacks accountability and integrity. I doubt that detailed charges will ever be released, especially if settlements are reached.”

Five-Star Prison

The crackdown has turned the palatial Ritz Carlton in Riyadh, which hosted U.S. President Donald Trump in May, into a five-star detention center for about 200 of Saudi Arabia’s richest and most influential people.

The country’s Attorney General Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb said suspects had been granted legal access. His office, however, has yet to release details of the charges or allow access to the suspects and their lawyers, making it difficult to independently asses the cases.

King Salman fired Prince Miteb shortly before midnight Nov. 4 and announced the formation of an anti-corruption commission headed by the crown prince. Prince Miteb’s arrest fueled speculation that the crackdown was more about tightening the crown prince’s grip on power, a claim he dismissed as “ludicrous” in an interview with the New York Times’ columnist Thomas Friedman this month.

The opacity of the system doesn’t take away “from the political capital that MBS probably earned from this from the Saudi public” by declaring war on corruption, Hani Sabra, founder of New York-based Alef Advisory wrote in a report. “We continue to believe that MBS’s risky domestic gambits are likely to succeed.”

— With assistance by David Tweed

Source: Bloomberg.

Link: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-28/saudi-prince-released-after-1-billion-settlement-official-says.

November 30, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — Europe’s Muslim population will continue to grow over the next several decades even if all immigration to the continent should stop, according to a study published Thursday. The Pew Research Center report modeled three scenarios for estimating the number of Muslims who would be living in Europe by 2050. All three used a mid-2016 estimate of 25.8 million as a baseline, but assumed different future migration rates.

Under the “zero migration” scenario, an estimated 30 million Muslims would make up 7.4 percent of Europe’s population by 2050 compared to the 4.9 percent they comprised last year, the report projected. The researchers said that is mostly because Muslims are on average 13 years younger than other Europeans and also have a higher birthrate, the Pew researchers said.

The study estimates 58.8 million Muslims would account for 11.2 percent of the population in a “medium migration” scenario that has migration maintaining a “regular speed” — defined by the Pew researchers as migration motivated by economic, educational and family reasons — but not for seeking asylum as a refugee.

In the “high migration” scenario, the study projects that the record flow of migrants who came to Europe between 2015 and 2016 would continue indefinitely, resulting in 75 million Muslims in Europe, a 14 percent increase, by the middle of the century.

Even with the most immigration, Muslims would “still be considerably smaller than the populations of both Christians and people with no religion in Europe,” the researchers concluded. Muslim immigrants have been a politically sensitive topic in Europe following the influx of newcomers in 2015 and 2016. Some countries have seen backlashes that have included populist parties campaigning on anti-Islam messages.

The study was based on census and survey data, population registers, immigration data and other sources. The 30 countries it covered include the 28 European Union members, plus Norway and Switzerland.

Not all countries would be affected evenly by future immigration, according to the Pew report. In the high migration scenario, Germany and Sweden would have the biggest increases because both countries took in the most asylum-seekers during the height of the refugee crisis two years ago.

While Muslims made up 6 percent of Germany’s population last year, their proportion would go up to 20 percent by 2050. Sweden’s Muslims, who were at 8 percent in 2016, would account for 31 percent of the population in that same scenario.

Meanwhile, some countries that had comparatively few Muslim residents in 2016 would continue to have few by 2050 in all three scenarios.