Turkey’s Erdogan meets Iran minister over Syria

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on April 17. (AFP)
Updated 17 April 2019

Turkey’s Erdogan meets Iran minister over Syria

  • Turkey supports Syrian opposition rebels and Iran backs Assad in Syria’s long war
  • The two sides have been expanding contacts amid international efforts to end the fighting

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday met with Iran’s foreign minister, who arrived in Ankara to brief him on his meeting with Syria’s President Bashar Assad.
Turkey supports Syrian opposition rebels and Iran backs Assad in Syria’s long war, but the two sides have been expanding contacts amid international efforts to end the fighting.
Kazakhstan will host a fresh round of Syria talks on April 25-26 in its capital, recently renamed from Astana to Nur-Sultan.
“I had a long interview with Bashar Assad. I will be giving details of these discussions to Mr. Erdogan,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters in translated comments.
Ankara broke ties with Damascus in 2011 after the start of the Syrian war, and Erdogan has in the past described Assad as an “assassin.”
But Erdogan acknowledged in February that low-level contacts have been taking place and his rhetoric has also softened in tone in recent months.
“In Syria, from the start, on the ground, we do not agree with Iran on many issues,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday. “But we have decided to cooperate with Iran for a political solution.”
Repeated rounds of UN-backed Syria peace talks have failed to end the bloodshed, and Iran, Russia and Turkey have sponsored the parallel so-called Astana negotiations since early 2017.
Talks among the three countries have focused on the militant-held bastion of Idlib in northwestern Syria, local Syrian media have reported.
That region bordering Turkey, is mostly held by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, and is in theory protected from a massive Syrian regime offensive by a Russia-Turkey deal.
The September accord aimed to set up a buffer zone around Idlib, but was never fully implemented as militants refused to withdraw.


Iraqi protesters block commercial ports, split capital

Updated 19 November 2019

Iraqi protesters block commercial ports, split capital

  • Iraqi civilians are increasingly relying on boats to ferry them across the Tigris River as ongoing standoffs shut key bridges in Baghdad
  • The Jumhuriya, Sinak and Ahrar bridges connect both sides of the city by passing over the river

BAGHDAD: Anti-government protesters blocked access to a second major commercial port in southern Iraq on Tuesday, as bridge closures effectively split the capital in half, causing citizens to rely on boats for transport to reach the other side of the city.
Since anti-government protests began Oct. 1, at least 320 people have been killed and thousands wounded in Baghdad and the mostly Shiite southern provinces. Demonstrators have taken to the streets in the tens of thousands over what they say is widespread corruption, lack of job opportunities and poor basic services, despite the country’s oil wealth.
Security forces have used live ammunition, tear gas and stun guns to repel protesters, tactics that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday would be punished with sanctions.
“We will not stand idle while the corrupt officials make the Iraqi people suffer. Today, I am affirming the United States will use our legal authorities to sanction corrupt individuals that are stealing Iraqis’ wealth and those killing and wounding peaceful protesters,” he said in remarks to reporters in Washington.
“Like the Iraqi people taking to the streets today, our sanctions will not discriminate between religious sect or ethnicity,” he added. “They will simply target those who do wrong to the Iraqi people, no matter who they are.”
Over a dozen protesters blocked the main entrance to Khor Al-Zubair port, halting trade activity as oil tankers and other trucks carrying goods were unable to enter or exit. The port imports commercial goods and materials as well as refined oil products.
Crude from Qayara oil field in Ninewa province, in northern Iraq, is also exported from the port.
Khor Al-Zubair is the second largest port in the country. Protesters had burned tires and cut access to the main Gulf commercial port in Umm Qasr on Monday and continued to block roads Tuesday.
Iraqi civilians are increasingly relying on boats to ferry them across the Tigris River as ongoing standoffs between demonstrators and Iraqi security forces on three key bridges has shut main thoroughfares connecting east and west Baghdad.
The Jumhuriya, Sinak and Ahrar bridges, which have been partially occupied by protesters following days of deadly clashes, connect both sides of the city by passing over the Tigris River. The blockages have left Iraqis who must make the daily commute for work, school and other day-to-day activities with no choice but to rely on river boats.
“After the bridges were cut, all the pressure is on us here,” said Hasan Lilo, a boat owner in the capital. “We offer a reasonable transportation means that helps the people.”