Biden, Iraqi PM to announce end of US combat mission in Iraq

Above, US army soldiers at the perimeter of the International Zone on May 30, 2021 in Baghdad. US troops are to transition to a train-and-advise roles in Iraq. (Getty Images via AFP)
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Updated 26 July 2021

Biden, Iraqi PM to announce end of US combat mission in Iraq

  • Plan to shift the American military mission will be spelled out in a broader
  • The Daesh is a shell of its former self since it was largely routed on the battlefield in 2017

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi are expected to announce on Monday that they’ve come to an agreement to end the US military’s combat mission in Iraq by the end of the year, according to a senior Biden administration official.
The plan to shift the American military mission, whose stated purpose is to help Iraq defeat the Daesh group, to a strictly advisory and training role by year’s end — with no US troops in a combat role — will be spelled out in a broader communique to be issued by the two leaders following their White House meeting on Monday afternoon, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the yet to be announced plan.
The official said the Iraqi security forces are “battle tested” and have proved themselves “capable” of protecting their country. Still, the Biden administration recognizes that Daesh remains a considerable threat, the official said.
Indeed, the Daesh terror organization is a shell of its former self since it was largely routed on the battlefield in 2017. Still, it has shown it can still carry out high-casualty attacks. Last week, the group claimed responsibility for a roadside bombing that killed at least 30 people and wounded dozens in a busy suburban Baghdad market.
The US and Iraq agreed in April that the US transition to a train-and-advise mission meant the US combat role would end, but they didn’t settle on a timetable for completing that transition. The announcement comes less than three months before parliamentary elections slated for Oct. 10.
Al-Kadhimi faces no shortage of problems. Iranian-backed militias operating inside Iraq have stepped up attacks against US forces in recent months, and a series of devastating hospital fires that left dozens of people dead and soaring coronavirus infections have added fresh layers of frustration for the nation.
For Al-Kadhimi, the ability to offer the Iraqi public a date for the end of the US combat presence could be a feather in his cap ahead of the election.
Biden administration officials say Al-Kadhimi also deserves credit for improving Iraq’s standing in the Mideast.
Last month, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi visited Baghdad for joint meetings — the first time an Egyptian president has made an official visit since the 1990s, when ties were severed after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
In March, Pope Francis made a historic visit to Iraq, praying among ruined churches in Mosul, a former IS stronghold, and meeting with the influential Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani in the holy city of Najaf.
The US and Iraq have been widely expected to use the face-to-face meeting to announce plans for the end of the combat mission, and Al-Kadhimi before his trip to Washington made clear that he believes it’s time for the US to wind down the combat mission.
“There is no need for any foreign combat forces on Iraqi soil,” Al-Kadhimi said.
The US troop presence has stood at about 2,500 since late last year when former President Donald Trump ordered a reduction from 3,000.
The announcement to end the US combat mission in Iraq comes as the US is in the final stages of ending its war in Afghanistan, nearly 20 years after President George W. Bush launched the war in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
The US mission of training and advising Iraqi forces has its most recent origins in former President Barack Obama’s decision in 2014 to send troops back to Iraq. The move was made in response to the Daesh group’s takeover of large portions of western and northern Iraq and a collapse of Iraqi security forces that appeared to threaten Baghdad. Obama had fully withdrawn US forces from Iraq in 2011, eight years after the US invasion.
The distinction between combat troops and those involved in training and advising can be blurry, given that the US troops are under threat of attack. But it is clear that US ground forces have not been on the offensive in Iraq in years, other than largely unpublicized special operations missions aimed at Daesh group militants.
Pentagon officials for years have tried to balance what they see as a necessary military presence to support the Iraqi government’s fight against IS with domestic political sensitivities in Iraq to a foreign troop presence. A major complication for both sides is the periodic attacks on bases housing US and coalition troops by Iraqi militia groups aligned with Iran.
The vulnerability of US troops was demonstrated most dramatically in January 2020 when Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Al-Asad air base in western Iraq. No Americans were killed, but dozens suffered traumatic brain injury from the blasts. That attack came shortly after a US drone strike killed Iranian military commander Qassim Soleimani and senior Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis at Baghdad International Airport.
The US military mission since 2014 has been largely focused on training and advising Iraqi forces. In April, in a joint statement following a US-Iraqi meeting in Washington, they declared, “the mission of US and coalition forces has now transitioned to one focused on training and advisory tasks, thereby allowing for the redeployment of any remaining combat forces from Iraq” at a time to be determined later.
Monday’s communique is also expected to detail US efforts to assist the Iraqi government’s COVID-19 response, education system and energy sector.


Turkey could buy more Russian S-400 missiles despite US warnings

Updated 26 September 2021

Turkey could buy more Russian S-400 missiles despite US warnings

  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey would have to decide its defense systems on its own
  • The US strongly objects to the use of Russian systems within NATO and says it poses a threat to the F-35s

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s president has said he would consider buying a second Russian missile system in defiance of strong objections by the United States.
In an interview with American broadcaster CBS News, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would have to decide its defense systems on its own.
Speaking to correspondent Margaret Brennan in New York this past week, Erdogan explained that Turkey wasn’t given the option to buy American-made Patriot missiles and the US hadn’t delivered F-35 stealth jets despite a payment of $1.4 billion. Erdogan’s comments came in excerpts released in advance of the full interview being broadcast Sunday.
NATO member Turkey was kicked out of the F-35 program and defense officials were sanctioned after it bought the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system. The US strongly objects to the use of Russian systems within NATO and says it poses a threat to the F-35s. Turkey maintains the S-400s could be used independently without being integrated into NATO systems and therefore pose no risk.
The US also sanctioned Turkey in 2020 for its purchase under a 2017 law aimed at pushing back Russian influence. The move was the first time that the law, known as CAATSA, was used to penalize a US ally.
But Erdogan has remained defiant. “Of course, of course, yes,” Erdogan said after stating Turkey would make its own defense choices, in response to Brennan’s question on whether Turkey would buy more S-400s.
The issue is one of several sticking points in Turkish-American relations that also include US support for Syrian Kurdish fighters who Turkey considers terrorists, and the continued US residency of a Muslim cleric accused of plotting the failed coup attempt against Erdogan’s government in 2016.
Erdogan is scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sept. 29.


Israeli forces kill 4 Palestinians in West Bank raids — Palestinian health ministry

Updated 26 September 2021

Israeli forces kill 4 Palestinians in West Bank raids — Palestinian health ministry

RAMALLAH, West Bank: Israeli forces killed at least four Palestinians during a raid in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in a statement, said Israeli forces had mounted an operation against "Hamas terrorists who were about to carry out imminent terrorist attacks".

He made no mention of casualties and an Israeli military spokesperson had no immediate comment on the raids.

Israeli officials have long voiced concern that Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, intends to gain strength in the West Bank and challenge its rival, the Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA).

The PA Health Ministry said three Palestinians were killed in the West Bank village of Biddu, northwest of Jerusalem. It said another Palestinian was killed in Burqin, a village near the Palestinian city of Jenin.

Reports on Israel's main radio stations and news websites said that at least four militants were killed in raids on several locations in the West Bank aimed at capturing Hamas members.


Interim PM outlines ambitions, challenges for newly free Sudan

Updated 26 September 2021

Interim PM outlines ambitions, challenges for newly free Sudan

  • Abdalla Hamdok: Aim is to build ‘safe, stable’ country ‘where everyone lives in peace, prosperity, freedom, justice’
  • He thanked international partners, such as Saudi Arabia, who have provided assistance to Sudan’s fledgling government

NEW YORK: The prime minister of Sudan’s transitional government has outlined its plans for a “safe and stable” nation, and urged world leaders to work together to deliver more COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries.
“The transitional government in Sudan continues to implement policies aiming to lay the foundations for democracy and rule of law, and to promote human rights,” Abdalla Hamdok told UN General Assembly delegates.
“At the same time, it aims to tackle the chronic structural problems beleaguering our economy,” he said.
“These programs and these policies underpin a common goal — that is, building a safe and stable Sudan where everyone lives in peace, prosperity, freedom and justice, as expressed in the slogans of the glorious revolution of December.”
At the end of 2018 and into 2019, the Sudanese people overthrew Omar Bashir, bringing to an end 30 years of autocratic rule.
Since then, Hamdok said, “the reforms undertaken have had an effect on the most vulnerable people in our society. We’ve launched social protection programs … with the aid of regional and international partners.”
Among those international supporters is Saudi Arabia, which in May provided a $20 million grant to assist Sudan with servicing its debts to the International Monetary Fund. More investment by the Kingdom is expected.
But while Sudan’s revolution achieved its initial goal of establishing a civilian government, the country faces a plethora of systemic and economic challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic.
Hamdok said Sudan has witnessed an influx of refugees from neighboring countries, and it does not have the resources to effectively manage this.
“Host communities are the first providers of protection and solidarity to these people. They share their scant resources and don’t, unfortunately, receive the support they require,” he added.
“Conditions in refugee camps are better than those in many host communities. The international community needs to effectively contribute to the development of these communities as part of distributing the burden involved. More money is needed.”
Hamdok also urged regional countries to reach a lasting agreement on Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam, which has fueled tensions between Addis Ababa on one hand and Egypt and Sudan on the other because of the Nile’s critical importance to each country.
He commended the role of the World Health Organization in combating the pandemic, which he said has hit poor nations particularly hard.
“International cooperation and multilateral action” are required to ensure people in poor countries are able to access COVID-19 vaccines, he said.
A cooperative and global approach to ending the pandemic is “the only way to give true meaning to the slogan ‘no one is safe until everyone is safe’,” he added.

(With AP)

 


Tunisia’s Islamist party falling apart as over 100 key members resign amid crisis

Updated 26 September 2021

Tunisia’s Islamist party falling apart as over 100 key members resign amid crisis

  • Party leader Rached Ghannouchi chided for making “bad political choices” and forming “inappropriate alliances”

TUNIS/JEDDAH: Tunisia’s main Islamist political party was on the verge of collapse on Saturday after more than 100 key members resigned in protest against their leader.

Among the 113 members who resigned from the Ennahda party were key figures from the party leadership, including members of parliament and former ministers.

They directed their anger at veteran party leader Rached Ghannouchi, 80, who co-founded the party in 1981 inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood and has led it ever since. “The current party leadership is responsible for Ennahdha’s isolation and largely for the deteriorating situation in the country,” the former members said.

They blamed Ghannouchi for making “bad political choices” and forming “inappropriate alliances” with other movements that “undermined Ennahdha’s credibility.”

Ghannouchi had “failed” and “refused all the advice” that was given to him, they said.

Former Minister of Health Abdellatif Mekki, one of those who resigned, said: “I feel deeply sad ... I feel the pain of separation ... but I have no choice after I tried for a long time, especially in recent months ... I take responsibility for the decision that I made for my country.”

Ghannouchi was Tunisia’s parliamentary speaker until July, when President Kais Saied sacked the government, suspended parliament, removed the immunity of lawmakers and put himself in charge of prosecutions.

On Wednesday, Saied announced decrees that strengthen the powers of his office at the expense of the government and parliament, and said he would rule by decree.

Ennahdha, the largest bloc in parliament, claimed the president had carried out a coup, but Saied’s actions remain overwhelmingly popular with Tunisians. They blame Ennahda for the country’s political and economic paralysis since the removal of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, and for the failure to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Fractious coalitions and short-lived governments since the uprising have failed to resolve mounting social and economic crises. Ennahda officials have demanded that Ghannouchi resign over the party’s response to the crisis, and strategic choices he has made since elections in 2019. Last month Ghannouchi dismissed the party’s executive committee in an effort to calm the protests against him.

Ennahda has been the most powerful party in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution, and has played a role in backing successive coalition governments. However, it has lost support as the economy stagnated and public services declined.

Ghannouchi admitted last week that his party was in part responsible for Saied taking executive power. “Ennahdha is not in power but it backed the government, despite some criticism we had,” he said.

(With Reuters)

 


Sudanese protesters block key pipelines, says oil minister

Updated 26 September 2021

Sudanese protesters block key pipelines, says oil minister

  • Port Sudan is the country’s main seaport and a vital trade hub for its export-dependent economy

KHARTOUM: Sudanese protesters on Saturday blocked two key oil pipelines in Port Sudan, the main seaport on the Red Sea, over a peace deal with rebel groups, the oil minister said.

Warning of “an extremely grave situation,” Oil Minister Gadein Ali Obeid told AFP one pipeline transports oil exports from South Sudan while the other handles Sudanese crude imports.

“Entrances and exits at the port’s export terminal have been completely shuttered” since early Saturday, he said.

Last October, several rebel groups signed a peace deal with Sudan’s transitional government which came to power shortly after the April 2019 ouster of longtime President Omar Bashir.

The protesters, from Sudan’s Beja minority, say that the deal, with rebels from the Darfur region and Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, ignored their interests.

Beja rebels agreed on a peace deal with the Bashir regime in 2006 after a decade of low-level conflict in Port Sudan and the east.

Port Sudan is the country’s main seaport and a vital trade hub for its export-dependent economy.

The Khartoum government receives around $25 for every barrel of oil sold from South Sudan, according to official figures.

South Sudan produces around 162,000 barrels per day, which is transported by pipeline to Port Sudan and then shipped to global markets.

“There are enough (oil) reserves to last the country’s needs for up to 10 days,” Sudan’s oil ministry said in a statement.

It warned the export pipeline could sustain damage after demonstrators prevented a vessel from loading crude.

Protests against the October 2020 deal have rocked east Sudan since last week.

On Sept. 17, demonstrators impeded access to the docks in Port Sudan.

On Friday, demonstrators blocked the entrance to the airport and a bridge linking Kassala state with the rest of the country.

The unrest comes as Sudan grapples with chronic economic problems inherited from the Bashir regime.

Shortly after it began, the transitional government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said it had foiled a coup attempt by supporters of the ousted president.