Frankly Speaking: ‘More Western military support needed to head off terror groups’ in Iraq, says Peshmerga Gen. Sirwan Barzani

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Updated 25 July 2021

Frankly Speaking: ‘More Western military support needed to head off terror groups’ in Iraq, says Peshmerga Gen. Sirwan Barzani

  • Barzani commanded Kurdish troops in the bitter battles of 2015 and 2016 to regain territory lost to Daesh
  • Barzani spoke of Saudi humanitarian aid and the challenges of diversifying Kurdistan’s oil-dependent economy 

DUBAI: The US and other Western coalition members should increase their ground forces in Iraqi Kurdistan in order to head off the threat of a resurgent terror campaign in the region, one of the main fighters against Daesh and Iran-backed militias told Arab News.

General Sirwan Barzani, who commands a key unit of the Kurdish Peshmerga armed forces in northern Iraq, said: “The troops on the ground have been fighting against Daesh, but it was not easy and not so possible to defeat this terrorist group without the support of the coalition, especially the leader of the coalition, the US, and also the rest of the countries, the European countries.

“I think the administration of President Biden has to send more forces to Iraq.”

 

Barzani, who commanded Kurdish troops in the bitter battles of 2015 and 2016 to regain territory lost to Daesh, made his plea for more Western military assistance on “Frankly Speaking,” the series of video interviews with leading policymakers in the region. 

In the course of a wide-ranging conversation, Barzani — a member of one of the leading families of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and a prominent businessman through his ownership of Korek Telecom — also spoke of Kurdish independence aspirations, the incursions of Turkey’s Kurdish militant group PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan, the humanitarian assistance his people receive from Saudi Arabia and the challenges of diversifying Kurdistan’s oil-dependent economy.

But Barzani’s appeal for more US and other Western troops — in the face of President Biden’s apparent determination to end America’s “forever wars” in the region — was a key feature, underlining Kurdish concerns that the threat from Daesh was still the “biggest threat” to the whole of Iraq.

“Daesh is starting to reorganize themselves again; the militants are very active and almost every day they launch terror attacks against civilian targets, military or security services. There is an attack from Daesh there almost every day.




General Sirwan Barzani

“I’m responsible for Sector Six south and southwest of (Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital) Irbil. We have a permanent Daesh presence in those mountains. We are facing this problem every day and we have a permanent Daesh presence there.

“Even with all these operations, cooperating with the coalition, also with the Iraqi army, the fighters are still there. Daesh is not defeated like Al-Qaeda. Daesh is there still and without the support of the coalition, the group will become stronger and stronger,” he said.

Barzani called for renewed Western military support for the Peshmerga, which he said was not receiving any budgetary assistance from Baghdad to counter Daesh or Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.

 

 

Recent drone attacks on Irbil International Airport were claimed by Iran-backed militias against forces deemed to be pro-US in the region, he said, underlining the need for more defense assistance.

“The most important thing they have to do is to just give us as Peshmerga some new technology. For example, we don’t have any drones. Even technologies like night-vision or thermal cameras and defensive weapons — we still don’t have them. All the end users (for such equipment) are meant to be from Baghdad and, unfortunately, not from here (Irbil),” Barzani said.

He believes the Biden administration’s decision to end military operations in Afghanistan would have only limited repercussions for Iraq.

 

 

“I think it is different. You cannot compare Afghanistan and Iraq. The stability of Iraq is the stability of the Middle East and, of course, everybody knows that all of the world is looking for stability in the Middle East for many reasons, especially economic reasons,” he said.

Instability is also being fostered by the presence of large numbers of members of the PKK, the militant political organization that has been fighting for equal rights and autonomy for Turkey’s Kurdish population since 1984.

“The problem here is they are inside our region in Kurdistan. They’re making it an unstable area. They didn’t go back to the border because of this fight between the PKK and the Turkish military. Unfortunately, they provide an excuse for the Turkish army to come in. Almost every month they have a new position inside our region. It’s not acceptable and what the PKK is doing now is not good for the region,” Bargain said.

The KRG organized a referendum in 2017 that showed an overwhelming majority of Iraqi Kurdistan’s population was in favor of independence from Baghdad, but the result was not recognized by the Iraqi government and moves towards full independence had to be shelved.

“Unfortunately, what happened in Iraq was that nobody heeded the constitution and everybody started with sanctions. Even when we were fighting against Daesh, we were under sanctions from the federal government.

“Those reasons pushed us to go in for the referendum and to have our own state and independence. It was our right, of course, and it was legal, but because of the situation we postponed it,” he said, but added: “It (independence) is the dream of any Kurd.”

The Kurdish economy is heavily dependent on oil from the northern regions of Iraq, but this too has faced challenges because of squabbles over revenue with Baghdad. Barzani said that it was important for any economy to reduce reliance on oil products, and the KRG has put in place a strategy to do so. 

 

“It’s a risky thing to depend on oil only because nobody, no country can depend only on one resource or one revenue stream. So, especially in Kurdistan, even the KRG is launching reforms so as to not depend on oil, to diversify the economy. It is most important,” he said.

Barzani cited some alternative revenue streams for the region, notably agriculture, solar power and other technologies, but he singled out the potential of tourism.

“For Kurdistan we have many things, but the tourism side is very important. We have a very nice region geographically and weather-wise. What’s more, there is security for the economy and businesses. Thanks to the Peshmerga and our people, we have very good security in this region,” he said.

 

Barzani founded Korek Telecom in 2000, which has grown to become one of the leading corporate groups in Iraq despite the destruction inflicted by the Daesh occupation on large parts of the region.

Kurdistan also faces other challenges in terms of investment required in power supplies and telecoms infrastructure, he said.

Barzani added that he had been watching developments in Saudi Arabia and its Vision 2030 strategy to reduce reliance on oil revenues, which he said was a “great move.”

He also highlighted the strength of relations between the Kurdish region and Saudi Arabia. “There is a good relation with Saudi Arabia for sure. They are supporting many of our internally displaced persons and refugees here,” he said.

“There is a historical relationship with Saudi Arabia, and we continue to have very good relations with them.”

 

Barzani maintained that for Kurdistan, economic development and the opportunity to create a “peaceful oasis” would continue to depend on maintaining regional security in the face of multiple threats.

“Security is more important than anything else,” he said.

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Twitter: @frankkanedubai


Turkish minister aims to boost Palestinian economy in rare West Bank trip

Updated 24 May 2022

Turkish minister aims to boost Palestinian economy in rare West Bank trip

  • Turkey signed nine new pacts with the embattled Palestinian Authority
  • Cavusoglu will meet Israeli officials on Wednesday, the latest step in a diplomatic thaw between Ankara and the Jewish state

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: Turkey’s top diplomat announced Tuesday a raft of new agreements to bolster the struggling Palestinian economy, during the first high-level Turkish visit to the Israeli-occupied West Bank in 15 years.
During Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s trip to Ramallah, Turkey signed nine new pacts with the embattled Palestinian Authority, ranging from agriculture to education and trade.
Cavusoglu will meet Israeli officials on Wednesday, the latest step in a diplomatic thaw between Ankara and the Jewish state. He will also make a private visit to the Al-Asqa mosque compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
Alongside his Palestinian counterpart Riyad Al-Maliki, Cavusoglu pledged to push ahead with plans for the construction of an industrial zone in the Palestinian territories.
“The necessary order has been given; there is no luxury for evading and delaying this project,” he said, also setting a $2 billion annual bilateral trade target and pledging more scholarships with Palestinians to study in Turkey.
The World Bank warned this month that the Palestinian economy was in a “precarious” state, with the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority — a major West Bank employer — only paying partial wages since November.
Maliki described Cavusoglu’s visit as “historic” and reflecting the “special relationship between the two countries.”
Turkey has long been a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause, but visits to the West Bank had been obstructed by a 15-year diplomatic rupture between Ankara and Israel.
Israel and Turkey proclaimed a new era in relations following President Isaac Herzog’s visit to Ankara and Istanbul in March.
Cavusoglu’s Ramallah visit came as fresh violence rocked the West Bank flashpoint of Jenin.
Israel’s army said a shootout erupted between troops and Palestinians during the latest in a series of operations in the Jenin area, with a man suspected of “terrorist activity” arrested.
Three Palestinians were wounded, according to the Palestinian health ministry.


Three Turkish soldiers killed in Iraq

Updated 24 May 2022

Three Turkish soldiers killed in Iraq

  • Another four soldiers were wounded during fighting, said the ministry statement, which did not say where the clash took place
  • Turkey's official news agency Anadolu said the Turkish soldiers had clashed with fighters from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)

ISTANBUL: Three Turkish soldiers serving in northern Iraq as part of operations against Kurdish militants were killed Tuesday, the defense ministry announced.
Another four soldiers were wounded during fighting, said the ministry statement, which did not say where the clash took place.
Turkey’s official news agency Anadolu said the Turkish soldiers had clashed with fighters from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Ankara and its western allies say is a terrorist organization.
The PKK has training camps and bases in autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan and has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984, a conflict that has killed 40,000 people, many of them civilians.
Ankara has launched a series of operations against PKK fighters in Iraq and Syria, the latest one in northern Iraq beginning in April.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that Turkey would soon launch a new military operation into northern Syria which he said was designed to create a 30-kilometer (19-mile) “security zone” along their border.
Since 2016, Turkey has also launched three offensives into northern Syria against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian-Kurdish group it considers to be part of the PKK.
Turkey wants to use these security zones to keep Kurdish militants at a safe distance — and to house some of the 3.7 million Syrian refugees currently sheltering inside its own borders.


Thousands attend funeral for slain Guard colonel in Iran

Updated 24 May 2022

Thousands attend funeral for slain Guard colonel in Iran

  • The killing on Sunday of Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei bore the hallmarks of previous deadly shooting attacks in Iran blamed on Israel
  • There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack

TEHRAN, Iran: Thousands of mourners poured into the streets of Tehran on Tuesday to pay their respects to a senior Revolutionary Guard member fatally shot by two gunmen on a motorcycle earlier this week, punching the air with their fists and chanting “Death to Israel.”
The killing on Sunday of Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei bore the hallmarks of previous deadly shooting attacks in Iran blamed on Israel, such as those targeting the country’s nuclear scientists.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack. Iranian officials have blamed “global arrogance,” which is code for the United States and Israel, for Khodaei’s killing.
The funeral procession snaked through the main Tehran cemetery as mourners shouted anti-US and anti-Israel slogans. A prominent poster hailed Khodaei as a martyr along with Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the top Iranian general killed in a US drone strike in 2020 in Iraq, and featured tattered Israeli, American and British flags.
“Iran is a victim of terrorism,” the banner declared, overlaid with the logos of the Mossad and Central Intelligence Agency.
Guard commander Gen. Hossein Salami as well as Gen. Esmail Ghaani, leader of Iran’s expeditionary Quds Force, attended the funeral.
Ghaani also offered condolences at Khodaei’s home on Monday night. Iran’s nuclear negotiator visited the crime scene, underscoring the government’s shock. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi vowed revenge. A street in Tehran has already been named after the colonel.
The 50-year-old Khodaei remains a shadowy figure, and Iran has yet to offer biographic detail beyond saying that he was a member of the elite Quds Force that oversees operations abroad through Iran’s allied militias across the Middle East. The Guard has described him as “defender of the shrine” — a reference to Iranians who support militias fighting the extremist Daesh group in Syria and Iraq.
The manner of the slaying evoked previous targeted attacks by Israel in Iran. In November 2020, a top Iranian nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was killed while traveling in a car outside Tehran.
Women in black chadors wailed and wept over Khodaei’s coffin, an ornate box covered with flowers and draped with the Iranian flag and mourning symbols of the Shiite faith.
“We want revenge only,” Moghtaderi, one of the mourners, told The Associated Press at the funeral. She gave only her last name. “Enemies must be aware that we are loyal to the martyrs and their blood is so precious to us.”
Iranian security forces are still pursuing the assailants, who escaped, state media reported. Authorities have yet to make any arrests over the killing.
The procession took place as a sandstorm blanketed Iran, shuttering schools and government offices in the capital.
Meanwhile in the country’s central desert, a fighter jet crashed during a training exercise, killing two pilots, state media reported. Reports did not identify the cause of the crash at the Anarak training site near the central city of Isfahan. An investigation was underway.
Iran’s air force has an assortment of US-made military aircraft purchased before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It also has Russian-made MiG and Sukhoi planes.
Decades of Western sanctions have made it hard to obtain spare parts and maintain the aging aircraft. Crashes occasionally happen among its faltering fleet. In February, a fighter jet plunged into a soccer pitch in the country’s northwestern city of Tabriz, killing both pilots and a civilian.
Iran is believed to have modeled its F-7 fighter after China’s jet J-7 that is considered a copy of the Soviet-era MiG-21. Beijing built the aircraft for export to countries including Pakistan, Iran, Sudan and North Korea. Iranian pilots for years have used the F-7 for training, with some mishaps.
Four years ago, an F-7 similarly crashed near Isfahan during an aerial exercise because of what was later described as a technical problem.


Two killed, 120 injured in Abu Dhabi gas explosion

The blast on Monday set off a fire that damaged the facades of six buildings and a number of stores. (AP)
Updated 24 May 2022

Two killed, 120 injured in Abu Dhabi gas explosion

  • Two people were killed and 120 injured in a gas cylinder explosion in a restaurant in Abu Dhabi
  • The blast on Monday set off a fire that damaged the facades of six buildings and a number of stores

ABU DHABI: Two people were killed and 120 injured in a gas cylinder explosion in a restaurant in the United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi, police said.
Initial reports “showed that 64 people sustained minor injuries, 56 others were moderately wounded, and two people died,” police tweeted.
The blast on Monday set off a fire that damaged the facades of six buildings and a number of stores before being brought under control, they added.
Four of the damaged buildings were “safely” evacuated, with efforts underway to find their residents temporary housing “until the buildings are completely secured,” the police said.
Pictures released by Abu Dhabi police showed first responders tending to a person on a gurney, and debris and broken glass strewn across the pavement.
A witness told The National newspaper that he heard two explosions around lunchtime.
“The first sound was small and people started calling the fire and police,” said the man, who was not identified.
“Then soon, there was a big blast. It was a really big sound. The windows shook and in some offices, the windows shattered.”
The authorities gave no indication of foul play.
However, the UAE has been on heightened alert since a Houthi drone and missile attack killed three oil workers in Abu Dhabi on January 17.

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Death toll rises to 10 after building collapses in Iran’s Abadan city

Updated 24 May 2022

Death toll rises to 10 after building collapses in Iran’s Abadan city

  • The 10-story residential and commercial building partly collapsed on Monday

DUBAI: The death toll from a building collapse in the southern Iranian city of Abadan has reached 10, with some people still missing, the official IRNA news agency reported on Tuesday.
The 10-story residential and commercial building partly collapsed on Monday, leaving at least 80 people under the rubble, according to state TV.
“After hours of emergency efforts, 30 people trapped under the rubble were extracted alive and taken to hospital to treat their injuries,” a deputy governor of the Khuzestan province told IRNA.
The number of people still trapped under the rubble remains unclear.