US seizing tankers has failed to stop Iran’s oil exports, minister says

Above, an Iranian tanker docking at the platform of the oil facility in the Khark Island on the shore of the Arabian Gulf. (AFP)
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Updated 12 March 2022

US seizing tankers has failed to stop Iran’s oil exports, minister says

  • Javad Owji’s remarks follow reports of a recent seizure of an Iranian oil tanker in the Bahamas

The US seizure of Iranian tankers in recent months has not stopped sanctions-hit Tehran from increasing oil exports, Iran’s oil minister was quoted as saying on Saturday.
“The United States has on several occasions in the past months violated Iranian oil tankers to prevent export of shipments,” Javad Owji said in an interview carried by Iranian media.
“When the enemy realized it could not stop our exports and contracts, they went after our ships,” Owji said.
His remarks follow reports of a recent seizure of an Iranian oil tanker in the Bahamas, even as indirect Iran-US talks in Vienna to revive a 2015 nuclear deal could see the lifting of US sanctions in return for Tehran curbing its nuclear work.
A last-minute demand by Russia, a close ally of Iran, has forced world powers meeting in the Austrian capital to pause for an undetermined time, despite having a largely completed text.
On March 5, Russia unexpectedly demanded sweeping guarantees its trade with Iran would not be affected by sanctions imposed on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine — a demand Western powers say is unacceptable and Washington has said it won’t accept.
“Iran’s oil exports have risen under the toughest sanctions and without waiting for the outcome of the Vienna talks,” said Owji.
The increase was thanks to “different methods used to win contracts and finding different buyers,” Owji said.
The rise had “even increased the bargaining power of friends in Vienna,” he said, without elaborating.
Tehran’s oil exports have been limited since former US President Donald Trump in 2018 exited the 2015 nuclear accord and reimposed sanctions.
Iran views US sanctions as illegal and has said it will make every effort to sidestep them.
Its oil exports have risen to more than 1 million barrels per day (bpd) for the first time in almost three years, based on estimates from companies that track the flows, reflecting increased shipments to China.
Iran increased exports in 2021 despite the sanctions, according to estimates from oil industry consultants and analysts. But they remained well below the 2.5 million bpd shipped before sanctions were reintroduced.

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Cricket flourishes among Qatar World Cup migrant laborers

Updated 26 November 2022

Cricket flourishes among Qatar World Cup migrant laborers

  • The sport that spread across the reaches of former British empire remains favorite of South Asian laborers
  • The need for migrant labor has seen Gulf Arab nations draw cricket-playing workers to their shores for decades

DOHA: As dawn broke Friday in Qatar, the laborers who built this energy-rich country’s World Cup soccer stadiums, roads and subway filled empty stretches of asphalt and sandlots to play the sport closest to their hearts — cricket.

The sport that spread across the reaches of the former British empire remains a favorite of the South Asian laborers who power economies across the Arabian Peninsula, including more than 2 million migrant workers in Qatar.

It’s a moment of respite for workers, who typically just have Friday off in Qatar and much of the rest of the Gulf Arab nations. And it’s one they look forward to all week, batting and bowling before the heat of the day fully takes hold.

“It’s in our blood,” said laborer Kesavan Pakkirisamy as he coached his team at one sandlot, the skyline of Doha visible in the distance. “We’ve played cricket since a long time. It’s a happy journey for us.”

Laborer rights have been a focus of this World Cup since Qatar won the bid for the tournament back in 2010. Workers can face long hours, extortion and low pay. Qatar has overhauled its labor laws to put in a minimum wage and untie visas from employers, though activists have urged more to be done.

On Fridays, however, laborers control their day. Just down the road from the global headquarters of Qatar’s satellite news network Al Jazeera, workers gathered in a parking lot and another large desert expanse wedged between roads.

Some appeared nervous when Associated Press journalists stopped by their matches, with several asking if they’d be in trouble for playing cricket in vacant lots in this autocratic nation. Others, however, smiled and invited visitors to watch.

Hary R., an Indian from the southern state of Kerala, showed a reporter the mobile phone app he used to keep track of runs and overs. While Friday’s match was a friendly, there are tournaments organized among the Indian and Sri Lankan communities in Qatar to vie for supremacy.

“We are working throughout the week and we need to just get relaxed and meet our friends just for time pass and entertainment,” he said. His teammates on the Strikers, some of whom wore matching uniforms, shouted at him to keep track of the game.

Pakkirisamy, who shouted encouragement near two discarded couches used by players as a bench, praised his company for helping his colleagues take part in wider competitions.

“From my father and my grandfather, they have been playing in cricket since childhood age,” he said, describing a lifelong love of the game.

Pakkirisamy and his teammates, while lovers of cricket, still were excited about the World Cup being in Qatar.

“We are here for work, we are here for earning something for our family,” he said, adding that being in Qatar means, “It’s easy for us to be there, to see the game on ground, not only the TV.”

Cricket, with its lush green grass pitches, may seem like an anomaly in the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula. However, the need for migrant labor has seen Gulf Arab nations draw cricket-playing workers to their shores for decades.

The United Arab Emirates has a cricket team that qualified for the International Cricket Council’s T20 World Cup in Australia last month.

Dubai in the UAE is even home to the ICC’s headquarters and has hosted major cricket events, including the Indian Premier League, the Pakistan Super League and the T20 championships.

But for laborers in the region, any empty patch of ground can be turned into a pitch.

“You can be in any road. You can be in any place,” Pakkirisamy said. “Any small place, you can play cricket.”


Iran’s Khamenei praises Basij forces for confronting ‘riots’ — TV

Updated 26 November 2022

Iran’s Khamenei praises Basij forces for confronting ‘riots’ — TV

DUBAI: Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Saturday that Basij militia forces sacrificed their lives in “riots” sparked by the death in custody of a young Iranian Kurdish woman in September.
The Basij force, affiliated with the country’s Revolutionary Guards, has been at the forefront of the state crackdown on protests that have spread across the country. “They have sacrificed their lives to protect people from rioters,” Khamenei said in a televised speech.


Rockets target US Syria base in latest strike: Centcom

Updated 54 min 23 sec ago

Rockets target US Syria base in latest strike: Centcom

  • Rockets aimed at ‘coalition forces at the US patrol base in Al-Shaddadi, Syria’

BEIRUT: Two rockets targeted a US patrol base in northeastern Syria late Friday, the third such attack in nine days, US Central Command said.

Centcom did not indicate who fired the rockets but said, in a statement, that they aimed at “coalition forces at the US patrol base in Al-Shaddadi, Syria.”

The strike at about 10:30 p.m. (1930 GMT) caused no injuries or damage to the base or coalition property, said Centcom, which covers the Middle East region.

The US troops support Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which are the Kurds’ de facto army in the area and led the battle that dislodged the Daesh group from the last scraps of their Syrian territory in 2019.

Hundreds of American troops are still in Syria as part of the fight against Daesh remnants.

“Syrian Democratic Forces visited the rocket origin site and found a third unfired rocket,” Centcom added in its latest statement.

On November 17 rockets targeted the coalition’s Green Village base which is in Syria’s largest oil field, Al-Omar, near the Iraqi border, Centcom said at the time. There were no injuries.

A war monitor, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which has a wide network of sources in Syria, said that strike came from “a base of pro-Iranian militias.”

Such groups have significant influence in the Syria-Iraq border region.

In another attack, a Turkish drone strike on Tuesday killed two SDF fighters and posed “a risk to US troops,” Centcom said earlier.

That strike hit a base north of Hassakeh city, also in Syria’s northeast but farther north.

On November 20 Turkiye announced it had carried out a series of air and drone strikes in Iraq and Syria, a week after a bomb attack in Istanbul that killed six people and wounded 81.

Turkiye says it is targeting rear bases of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), designated as a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States, and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which dominate the SDF.

Both Kurdish groups denied responsibility for the Istanbul attack.


US official urges ‘de-escalation’ as Turkiye strikes Syria

Updated 25 November 2022

US official urges ‘de-escalation’ as Turkiye strikes Syria

  • Turkiye this week launched a wave of airstrikes on suspected Kurdish rebels hiding in neighboring Syria and Iraq
  • The developments are “unacceptably dangerous and we are deeply concerned,” said Granger

BEIRUT: A US official in Syria on Friday called for an “immediate de-escalation” following days of deadly airstrikes and shelling along the Syria-Turkiye border, saying the actions destabilize the region and undermine the fight against the Daesh group.
Turkiye this week launched a wave of airstrikes on suspected Kurdish rebels hiding in neighboring Syria and Iraq, in retaliation for a deadly Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul that Ankara blames on the Kurdish groups.
The groups have denied involvement in the bombing and say the Turkish strikes have killed civilians and threatened the anti-Daesh fight.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said that 67 civilians, gunmen and soldiers, have been killed in Turkish attacks in northern Syria since the airstrikes began.
Nikolas Granger, the US senior representative to northeastern Syria, said Washington “strongly opposes military action that further destabilizes the lives of communities and families in Syria and we want immediate de-escalation.”
The developments are “unacceptably dangerous and we are deeply concerned,” said Granger, who is currently in Syria, and added that the strikes also endanger US military personnel there.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened a new land invasion of northern Syria targeting Kurdish groups. On Friday, he said Turkiye would continue its “struggle against all kinds of terror inside and outside our borders.”
Turkiye and the United States both consider the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a terror group for the decadeslong insurgency and attacks the group has staged within Turkiye’s borders.
But they disagree on the status of the main Kurdish militia in Syria, the People’s Protection Units, or YPG. The Syrian Kurdish group has been a key US ally in the fight against Daesh.
Turkiye has carried out three major incursions into northern Syria since 2016 and its forces still control part of the country.
Kurdish officials in Syria have been warning that any new Turkish incursion would disrupt the fight against Daesh, which still has sleeper cells and has carried out deadly attacks in recent months against the Syrian Kurdish-led opposition forces as well as Syrian government forces.
“We take these threats seriously and prepare to confront any ground attacks,” Siamand Ali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces told The Associated Press.


Iran bolsters border security to prevent ‘infiltration’

Updated 25 November 2022

Iran bolsters border security to prevent ‘infiltration’

  • Deployment aims to prevent infiltration and the smuggling of weapons in the north by Kurdish opposition groups exiled in Iraq
  • Iran has several military bases near the Iraqi border and forces have been present there on a rotating basis for decades

BAGHDAD: Iran has sent additional units of special forces to fortify its northern border with Iraq and clamp down on what it says is infiltration by Kurdish opposition groups, Iranian state media reported on Friday.
Gen. Mohammad Pakpour, chief of ground forces of the paramilitary Iranian Revolutionary Guard, said “armored and special forces” units had been deployed to west and north-west provinces to bolster existing border security, the official IRNA news agency reported.
The deployment aims to prevent infiltration and the smuggling of weapons in the north by Kurdish opposition groups exiled in Iraq that Tehran claims is orchestrating country-wide anti-government protests. It is a claim the Kurdish groups deny and to date Iran has not provided any evidence to support it.
Iran has several military bases near the Iraqi border and forces have been present there on a rotating basis for decades.
The troop movement also comes after Iraq issued directives for boosting security along its side of the border to prevent further bombardment by Iran, according to a statement issued by Iraq’s military spokesman Maj. Gen. Yahya Rasool. Kurdish opposition groups have bases in Iraq’s Kurdish-run northern region.
Earlier this week, Iranian officials were quoted in state-run media as saying they did not have plans to conduct a ground military operation to root out opposition groups from the bases, despite having reportedly threatened to do so during the visit by top general Esmail Ghaani to Baghdad last week.
Country-wide protests engulfed Iran in September following the death of a young woman in police custody for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women. The protests have become one the greatest challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the chaotic years after its 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Mahsa Amini, 22, died Sept. 16, three days after her arrest by Iran’s morality police. Iran’s government insists Amini was not mistreated in police custody, but her family says her body showed bruises and other signs of beating after she was detained.