Grave of slain Iraq commander, a new anti-US magnet

Iraqi paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis’ final resting place has gained near-holy status. (AFP)
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Updated 23 February 2020

Grave of slain Iraq commander, a new anti-US magnet

  • Paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis is now revered as a martyred icon of anti-American resistance
  • Muhandis was known for his virulent anti-Americanism long before the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq

NAJAF, Iraq: A minibus stopped outside the world’s largest cemetery in the Iraqi Shiite holy city of Najaf. Five women got out, telephone cameras filming the scene, and dashed excitedly toward a grave.
Clad in black, they joined wailing women and men beating their chests in grief at Wadi Al-Salam (valley of peace), an ever-expanding cemetery.
All eyes were on the grave of Iraqi paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis.
Killed alongside top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in a US drone strike in Baghdad on January 3, Muhandis is now revered as a martyred icon of anti-American resistance.
His grave has become a magnet for Shiites vowing vengeance against Washington.
Below a life-sized portrait of the deceased commander, a young man kneeled before his grave, the wailing of women ringing around him.
“May God avenge us from America,” the man screamed.
Located along aisle nine of Wadi Al-Salam, the commander’s final resting place has gained near-holy status.
It has become a stop for the thousands of Shiite pilgrims who pass through Najaf each day to visit the tomb of Imam Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad.
“It is not just a grave, it has been transformed into a shrine,” Abbas Abdul Hussein, a security official at the cemetery, said.
“Men, women and children... flock from Iran, Lebanon and Bahrain daily to visit Abu Mahdi,” he said.
Washington’s number one enemy in Iraq, Muhandis was head of the Hashed Al-Shaabi, an Iraqi military network largely incorporated into the state.
He was Soleimani’s top Iraqi aide and widely seen as Tehran’s man in Baghdad.
The US strike that killed Muhandis and Soleimani outside Baghdad airport dealt a severe blow to Tehran and its so-called axis of resistance that stretches across Iran, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.
Iraq’s armed factions, the most hard-line of which are financed, trained and armed by Iran, have vowed to avenge Muhandis’s death.
They said America’s 5,200 troops in Iraq would have “hell” to pay.
But almost two months after the assassination, there has yet to be a heavy response, apart from Iranian missile strikes on January 8.
As well as the grave at Wadi Salam, a small altar has been erected at the site of Muhandis’s death at the entrance to Baghdad airport.
Dressed in black from head-to-toe, Um Hussein said she made a 450-kilometer trek from Basra in southern Iraq to pay homage at the grave.
“Every time we come to visit (the tomb of) Imam Ali, we will make a stop to see the hero and martyr Muhandis,” she said.
“It is a duty.”
From the early hours of the day until after sunset, the entrance to the cemetery is bustling with minibuses ferrying visitors.
Standing over Muhandis’s grave, tears rolling down her cheeks, Souad said she also came from Basra to honor the “hero” who “defeated” the Daesh group.
“His death really affected us and the Hashed as a whole,” she said.
Wadi Salam is also the final resting place of thousands of Hashed fighters killed during the 2014-2017 battle against Daesh.
It was on this front that Muhandis — known for his virulent anti-Americanism long before the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq — became a revered figure.
Muhandis, accused of involvement in deadly 1983 attacks against the French and US embassies in Kuwait, oversaw the Hashed and its integration into the state.
He transformed most of his paramilitary fighters into regulars, but some have remained outside state structures, including those Washington accuses of attacking its personnel in Iraq.
Flanked by the graves of other Shiite commanders, Reza Abadi, an Iranian from Soleimani’s hometown of Kerman, recited a eulogy over the grave of Muhandis.
“We came here to show our respect for this man who is dear to Iranians and Iraqis,” he said. “The memory of the two martyrs, Hajj Qassem and Abu Mahdi, will never be forgotten.”


Yemen imposes curfew, frees low-risk inmates

Updated 03 April 2020

Yemen imposes curfew, frees low-risk inmates

  • At least five Yemeni provinces have begun releasing dozens of prisoners to protect them from the illness

AL-MUKALLA: Local authorities in Yemen’s southeastern Hadramout province have imposed a curfew in major cities as the country steps up its fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

The move came as other regions began releasing low-risk prisoners to help protect prisons from an outbreak of the virus.

Maj. Gen. Faraj Al-Bahsani, Hadramout’s governor, said that he was forced to impose the curfew after people ignored appeals to stay at home and avoid gatherings.

The streets of Al-Mukalla and neighboring cities appeared empty as police and military vehicles roamed major roads to monitor the curfew from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m.

Despite having not recorded a single case of the virus, at least five Yemeni provinces have begun releasing dozens of prisoners to protect them from the illness.

Authorities in Hadramout, Mahra, Shabwa and Dhalae have released 200, 49, 43 and 34 prisoners, respectively. All had completed the bulk of their sentences or were low-risk inmates. Officials said the release of the prisoners will ease crowded prisons and help isolate the remaining prisoners.

Since early last month, Yemen’s internationally recognized government has ordered provincial governors to take tough measures to prevent the spread of the disease in their provinces.

Yemen has shut down borders, and closed airports, schools and mosques as vital medical supplies have begun arriving in the country. Several quarantine facilities have been established in Aden, Haramout, Shabwa and Mahra, Sanaa, Baydha and other provinces.

FASTFACT

Maj. Gen. Faraj Al-Bahsani, Hadramout’s governor, said that he was forced to impose the curfew after people ignored appeals to stay at home and avoid gatherings.

But critics have questioned the effectiveness of the measures without cooperation between local authorities across the country.

While Hadramout imposes an overnight curfew, markets and shops in neighboring provinces are still bustling with people.

Other governors appeared reluctant to shut down qat markets that attract thousands of people daily.

Fatehi Ben Lazreq, editor of Aden Al-Ghad newspaper, criticized the lack of regional cooperation.

“Each governor has his own legislation,” he told Arab News on Thursday. “The central government is weak and absent.”

He warned that without tougher regulations and cooperation between health offices across Yemen, the disease could overwhelm the country’s fragile health system.

Despite the arrival of medical supplies in the past two weeks, local health workers have complained about a shortage of protective gear.

Doctors, nurses and health workers at Ibn Sina Hospital in Al-Mukalla staged a protest outside the facility on Thursday, demanding more personal protective items and claiming that current supplies will run out within two weeks.

The hospital, one of the biggest in Yemen, offers health services to the provinces of Hadramout, Mahra and Shabwa.

Alabed Bamousa, the hospital’s manager, told Arab News that he has alerted local health authorities and the World Health Organization office in Yemen to the scarcity of protective equipment at the hospital.

“I am waiting for those items to arrive,” he said.

Meanwhile, Yemeni activists have launched a social media campaign to pressure warring factions in Yemen to release prisoners, warning that poor conditions in prisons make them breeding grounds for the virus.

Under #SaveYemeniPrisoners, the activists urged rival Yemeni groups to honor their commitments to release prisoners under the UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement.

“With one voice, all human rights activists inside and outside Yemen say release the detainees before it is too late,” Hooria Mashhour, a former human rights minister, said on Twitter on Wednesday.

Mashhour said that she is taking part in the campaign as part of efforts to secure the release of hundreds of Yemeni activists, politicians and journalists detained in the past five years.

“If this epidemic enters Yemen, it will be a catastrophe for all Yemenis. It will severely affect prisoners and detainees who are crammed into dungeons that lack the most basic health standards,” she said.

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