Erdogan threats against Kurds will not stop Syria withdrawal, Pompeo says

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media at the US Embassy compound in the Iraqi capital Baghdad after his tour around Irbil in the Kurdish autonomous region of northern Iraq on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (File/AP/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds)
Updated 10 January 2019

Erdogan threats against Kurds will not stop Syria withdrawal, Pompeo says

  • The unannounced visits to Baghdad and the Kurdish regional capital Irbil came on the second day of a Middle East tour also taking in Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman
  • The US forces have been working with a Kurdish militia to fight against Daesh

BAGHDAD/CAIRO: The US troop withdrawal from Syria will not be scuppered despite Turkish threats against Washington’s Kurdish allies there, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday, promising to ensure that the Kurds would still be protected.
Pompeo met leaders in Iraq’s capital and its semi-autonomous Kurdistan region on Wednesday, aiming to reassure them about Washington’s plans following President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement last month of an abrupt withdrawal from Syria.
The unannounced visits to Baghdad and the Kurdish regional capital Irbil came on the second day of a Middle East tour also taking in Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman.
Pompeo has the task of explaining US policy in the region after Trump’s announcement of the withdrawal of all 2,000 US troops from Syria, which rattled allies and came as a shock to top US officials. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis quit over it.
The US forces have been working with a Kurdish militia to fight against Daesh. The Kurds control a swath of northeastern Syria, Washington’s foothold in a conflict that has drawn in Russia, Iran, Turkey and other regional powers.
Washington has repeatedly said its Kurdish allies will remain safe despite the withdrawal. But Turkey, which considers the US-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG militia an enemy, has repeatedly vowed to crush the group and repudiated any suggestion of protecting it once US troops leave.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan denounced visiting US National Security Adviser John Bolton on Tuesday for suggesting that protecting the Kurds would be a pre-condition of the US withdrawal, a suggestion Erdogan called “a serious mistake.”
Asked in Irbil if Erdogan’s pushback on the protection of the Kurds puts the withdrawal at risk, Pompeo told reporters: “No. We’re having conversations with them even as we speak about how we will effectuate this in a way that protects our forces...
“It’s important that we do everything we can to make sure that those folks that fought with us are protected and Erdogan has made commitments, he understands that,” Pompeo added.
Smooth over relations

The withdrawal of US forces in Syria strengthens the hand both of Turkey and of the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad, which is backed by Russia and Iran. Pompeo has stressed throughout his trip to the region that Washington still aims to counter Iranian influence.
In Iraq, Pompeo also sought to smooth over relations after political leaders were angered when Trump visited US troops on the day after Christmas at a remote desert air base without stopping in Baghdad or meeting any Iraqi officials.
Many politicians from the ruling coalition of mainly Shiite parties called Trump’s visit a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and demanded the United States withdraw troops.
In Baghdad, Pompeo met Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, Foreign Minister Mohammed Al-Hakim, Speaker of Parliament Mohammed Al-Halbousi and President Barham Salih.
President Salih, answering a reporter’s question on whether he wants the United States to keep troops, said Iraq “will need the support of the US” and expressed his “gratitude to the US for support over the years.”
“Daesh is defeated militarily but the mission is not accomplished,” Salih said, using an acronym for Daesh.
The United States withdrew its troops from Iraq in 2011 eight years after an invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, but sent thousands back after Daesh fighters swept into the north of the country in 2014. It now has around 5,200 there, and Trump has not announced plans to pull them out.
Daesh militants are still waging insurgent attacks in the north of the country and trying to make a comeback, although they were driven from all towns and cities last year.
Asked on Tuesday about what would be discussed during a possible meeting with Pompeo, Abdul Mahdi said deepening Iraq’s relationship with the US-led coalition fighting Daesh.
“He’s an ally, he represents a friendly country,” Abdul Mahdi said of Pompeo on Tuesday. “We will raise those issues, and how to deal with regional issues altogether and deepen our economic and educational relations with the United States.”


Lebanon is a sinking ship, parliament speaker warns

Updated 18 November 2019

Lebanon is a sinking ship, parliament speaker warns

  • Lebanon’s Berri says country a sinking ship
  • Hezbollah expects “political understandings” on new gov’t

BEIRUT: The speaker of parliament on Monday described Lebanon as a sinking ship at risk going under completely, underlining the depth of crisis in a country hamstrung by political deadlock and facing the worst economic strains since the 1975-90 civil war.
Banks, which have been seeking to prevent capital flight, were set to reopen on Tuesday as staff ended a one-week strike over security concerns posed by clients demanding their cash and protests at branches.
Struggling with a massive public debt and economic stagnation, Lebanon has sunk deeper into trouble since protests erupted against its ruling elite a month ago, leading Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri to quit on Oct. 29.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri told his visitors Lebanon was like a ship that was “sinking little by little,” the newspaper Al-Joumhuria reported.
“If we don’t take the necessary steps, it will sink entirely,” he said.
An-Nahar newspaper quoted him as likening Lebanon to the Titanic.
Berri, an ally of the powerful Shiite group Hezbollah, also said that efforts to form a new government were “completely frozen” and awaiting developments at any moment, Al-Joumhuria reported.
Efforts to form a new government, needed to enact urgent reforms, hit a setback at the weekend when former finance minister Mohammad Safadi withdrew his candidacy for the post of prime minister, drawing bitter recriminations.
Safadi had emerged as a candidate after Hariri, who is aligned with Western and Gulf Arab states, had been unable to agree with the Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies on the type of government that should replace the outgoing cabinet.
Hariri had said that he would only return as prime minister of a cabinet of specialist ministers capable of securing international aid and saving Lebanon from crisis.
Hezbollah, which is heavily armed and listed as a terrorist group by the United States, and its allies have insisted that the government include politicians.
Hezbollah’s deputy leader, in comments to Iranian media, said “political understandings” would take place between “the parties and even with leaders of the protest movement” to form a new government, without giving further details.
Sheikh Naim Kassem also said the new government’s agenda would help to calm down the streets.
Both Hezbollah and Berri have said their preference is for Hariri to return again as prime minister — a post reserved for a Sunni Muslim in Lebanon’s power-sharing system.
The nationwide protests have been fueled by the mismanagement and perceived corruption of the ruling elite.
Lebanon’s economic problems have been compounded by a slowdown of capital inflows, leading to a scarcity of US dollars and spawning a hard currency black market.
Dollars were being offered at 1,820 pounds, around Friday’s level, dealers said, but still some 20% weaker than the official rate of 1,507.5 pounds.
On Sunday, banks, which have mostly been closed since the protests began, announced temporary measures including a weekly cap of $1,000 on cash withdrawals and restricting transfers abroad to cover urgent personal spending only.
A union representing bank staff said banks would be operating as normal on Tuesday after a decision to end the strike. It cited an interior ministry security plan and the newly declared measures announced by the banking association as the reason for the decision to go back to work.
“Tomorrow the banking sector will no longer be on strike. Tomorrow is a normal working day in all banks and all branches,” George Al-Hajj, President of the Federation of Syndicates of Bank Employees, said.

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