Protests, explosions hit Iraq’s south as demos maintain strength

Protesters chant anti government slogans and fly Iraqi flags during minor clashes with Iraqi riot police, at a bridge in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (AP)
Updated 10 December 2019

Protests, explosions hit Iraq’s south as demos maintain strength

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s south saw further protests and explosions, as demonstrations against the government and its Iranian sponsor that erupted on October 1 persist unabated, according to security sources.
The southern city of Amara was rocked overnight by four near-simultaneous explosions targeting premises of two pro-Iran armed factions, according to police.
“Three sound grenades targeted two premises and the house of an Assaib Ahl Al-Haq leader and an improvised explosive device targeted the house of an Ansar Allah commander,” police said.
Asaib Ahl Al-Haq is one of the most powerful groups in Iraq’s Hashed Al-Shaabi security force, a network of armed groups integrated into the state, of which Ansar Allah is also a component.
Medical sources reported three wounded by the blasts.
Founded in 2014 to fight IS jihadists who had seized swathes of northern Iraq and neighboring Syria, the Hashed is made up of mostly Shiite factions, many of which have been backed by Iran.
According to security sources, the attacks were committed against the groups due to their loyalty to neighboring Iran, whose influence continues to grow in Iraq, in particular via armed groups that it has long trained and financed.
These attacks come shortly after the recent bloodshed in several Iraqi cities, the latest seeing 24 people killed, including four police officers, on Friday evening in central Baghdad.
Both the state and the demonstrators accuse armed men of perpetrating the violence, the former claiming that it is not possible to identify those responsible, while the latter point to pro-Iran entities.
Since October 1, Iraq’s capital and its Shiite-majority south have been gripped by rallies against corruption, poor public services, a lack of jobs and Iran’s perceived political interference.
More than 450 people have been killed and more than 20,000 wounded during the unprecedented protest movement demanding an overhaul of the political system.
In the holy Shiite city of Karbala, protesters rallied at the police station to demand information within 24 hours on the death of Fahem Al-Tai, a 53-year-old prominent civil society activist gunned down in a drive-by shooting on Sunday evening while returning home from protests.
Others blocked access to the courthouse to demand proceedings be launched against local leaders for corruption — a key priority of the protest movement in a country ranked the 12th most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International.
In Diwaniya, also in the south, protesters blocked the road to the Shanafiya oil refinery, according to police, demanding employment.
Despite Iraq being OPEC’s second-largest crude producer, one in five of its people live in poverty and youth unemployment stands at one quarter of the population, the World Bank says.
Protesters from several cities in the south on Tuesday joined thousands of demonstrators gathered for more than two months in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, which is the epicenter of the demonstrations in the capital.
“We came to support our brothers in Baghdad,” said an activist in the movement from Nassiriya, Haydar Kazem.


Trump: Mideast peace plan likely rolled out in days

Updated 25 min ago

Trump: Mideast peace plan likely rolled out in days

JERUSALEM: President Donald Trump said Thursday that he’ll likely release the long-awaited White House Mideast peace plan before his meeting early next week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main political rival Benny Gantz.
“It’s a great plan. It’s a plan that really would work,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One en route to a Republican Party meeting in Florida.
He said he was surprised that both Netanyahu and Gantz were willing to take a break from campaigning for the March 2 elections to join him Tuesday in Washington.
“They both would like to do the deal. They want to see peace,” Trump said. “Look, Israel wants peace, Palestinians want peace. They all want peace. Not everyone wants to say it.”
He said his administration has talked briefly to the Palestinians, who have rejected the administration’s peace plan before it even comes out.
“We’ve spoken to them briefly. But we will speak to them in a period of time,” Trump said. “And they have a lot of incentive to do it. I’m sure they maybe will react negatively at first, but it’s actually very positive to them.”
Vice President Mike Pence announced the invitation for Netanyahu and Gantz to visit during at a meeting with the prime minister in Jerusalem after addressing an international forum Thursday on the Holocaust. He said that at Netanyahu’s request, the invitation was also issued to Gantz, a former army chief.
The plan is expected to strongly favor Israel, and is unlikely to garner any international support if it is seen as undermining the prospect of a two-state solution.
“We have had no better friend than President Trump,” Netanyahu said. “With this invitation, I think that the president is seeking to give Israel the peace and security that it deserves.”
The Palestinians rejected Trump’s peace efforts after he recognized disputed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the US Embassy there in May 2018. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in the 1967 war and annexed, to be their capital.
“If this deal is announced with these rejected formulas, the leadership will announce a series of measures in which we safeguard our legitimate rights, and we will demand Israel assume its full responsibilities as an occupying power,” said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
He appeared to be referring to oft-repeated threats to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, which has limited autonomy in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. That would force Israel to resume responsibility for providing basic services to millions of Palestinians.
“We warn Israel and the US administration from crossing the red lines,” Abu Rdeneh said.
Israel’s Channel 12 TV, citing Israeli officials, said the plan is expected to be extremely favorable toward Israel and offer it control over large parts of the occupied West Bank. The Palestinians seek the entire territory, which was also captured by Israel in 1967, as the heartland of a future independent state. Most of the international community supports the Palestinian position.
Netanyahu has said he plans to annex the Jordan Valley as well as Jewish settlements across the West Bank, which would all but extinguish any possibility of creating a viable Palestinian state.
Netanyahu has tried to make that the cornerstone of his campaign for reelection following unprecedented back-to-back elections last year that left him in a virtual tie with Gantz, with neither able to cobble together a ruling coalition.
The deadlock was deepened by Netanyahu’s indictment last year on serious charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust stemming from three long-running corruption investigations. Netanyahu has asked Israel’s parliament to grant him immunity.
Next week’s meeting could produce an awkward scene. Gantz has made Netanyahu’s indictment the focus of his campaign to oust the prime minister. And his Blue and White party is leading an effort in parliament to block Netanyahu’s immunity request before the election. At the same time, they will be joined by an impeached president who is being tried in the Senate.
The US was believed to be holding back on releasing the peace plan until Israel had a permanent government. Those calculations may have changed as the deadlock in Israeli politics looks to be further prolonged.
Trump may also be looking for a boost from evangelical and pro-Israel supporters as the Senate weighs whether to remove him from office after he was impeached last month, and as he gears up for a reelection battle this year.
Pence was among dozens of world leaders in Jerusalem on Thursday for the World Holocaust Forum. Many of the participants, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron, also paid visits to the Palestinians in the West Bank.
A Palestinian official said Abbas asked the visiting French and Russian presidents to support the Palestinian position when the plan is published.
“He asked them to refuse and act against any Israeli annexation of Palestinian lands,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing closed meetings.
While the plan is expected to be friendly to Israel, it could still face opposition from Netanyahu’s hard-line partners.
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the ultranationalist Yamina party, called Trump a “true friend” of Israel and said the country likely stands before a “historic opportunity.” But he said his party would not allow the transfer of any land to Palestinian control or for a Palestinian state to be established.